with top executives of organisations around the globe, a question I get asked most is, “How do we achieve operational excellence?” or “How do we identify and eliminate the roadblocks in our operations that are preventing us from achieving operational excellence?”

Although this is an intelligent question, as it is based on an underlying key objective of any successful business leader striving for growth and profitability, the question is incomplete. In the face of current unprecedented global economic, social and business challenges, the goals of operational excellence seem to be constantly changing, and operational excellence, itself, becomes an ever-elusive mirage for several organisations.  Thus, the right question to ask is “How do we achieve sustainable operational excellence™?” 

My answer to this question is simple – the key to achieving sustainable operational excellence™ is an awareness of three areas in which most organisational leaders fail during the pursuit of long-term operational excellence.

The great news is that these failures are not insurmountable and can be easily overcome once the executive leaders understand the three fundamental principles, or the ABC’s necessary for achieving Sustainable Operational Excellence™(SOpEx™).

The A, B and C’s of achieving SOpEx™ that executives need to be aware of are as follows:

Advance a Novel Mindset
Baseline the Journey, and
Customise and innovate the Transformation.


1) Advance a Novel Mindset

According to Vince Lombardi, the legendary US gridiron player, coach and executive, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavour.” In simple terms, what Lombardi was trying to convey here is that in order to enjoy high-quality fruits, you must begin with high-quality seeds. Thus, if you are seeking the fruit of sustainable operational excellence™, you must be prepared to plant the seeds of excellence within your mind, and in the mind of others within the organisation.

operational excellence
Lombardi Avenue: The Lombardi name transcends sport as this street sign clearly demonstrates.

The probability of success of achieving sustainable operational excellence is directly proportional to advancement of a mindset of excellence. But how does one define ‘excellence’ so as to simplify and operationalise the definition of ‘sustainableoperational excellence™?

Per my definition, “Excellence is a mind-set built on the foundation of precision, perseverance, and passion.”  Building on this definition, Sustainable Operational Excellence™ can be defined as:

“A collective mind-set of organisational leaders and empowered employees, built-on the foundation of precision in quality and design, perseverance in delighting the customers, and passion for perfection in thoughts, words and actions.™“

Leaders that are humble and eager to transform, automatically align themselves to this definition, and advance their mindset to make this their new vision. These leaders, who are willing to first transform themselves, gain the ability to lead their organisation through the arduous transformation and successfully achieve a new reality of sustainable operational excellence™ for themselves and for others.


2) Baseline the Journey

The baseball legend, Yogi Berra, who sadly passed away in September, said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” However, setting out on a journey, without knowing where you are starting from, can leave you driving in circles. The assessment needs to be of two kinds – a personal assessment of leaders and a collective assessment of the teams/departments.

The assessment needs to be comprehensive, consist of the forces supporting the journey and the forces that will potential resist the progress, and should be conducted at the onset of the journey to sustainable operational excellence™.

Once a baseline is created, a quarterly review of your progress is essential to the success of your journey – this will help the individuals and teams ‘adjust the sails’ along the path to sustainable operational excellence.™


3) Customise and Innovate

According to the late Steve Jobs, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” In order to reach the goal of sustainable operational excellence™ being a leader is critical. Thus, leadership, innovation and sustainable operational excellence™ all need to go hand-in-hand for a successful journey to SOpEx.™

operational excellence

However, it’s not only important to innovate the journey, but also the tools you use to get there, need to be innovative and should fit the needs of the organisation. Successful organisations have one factor in common– a strong culture.  In fact, astute leaders know that the only guaranteed strategy for long-term success is a strong culture.

But culture remains an esoteric and misunderstood topic. There is a false belief that merely implementing Lean or Six-Sigma will automatically change the culture for the better. However, culture transformation remains a distant dream for a majority of organisations. Leaders on the journey to sustainable operational excellence™must have the ability to accurately visualise their existing culture, understand the impact it has on the employees and customers and develop a practical plan for a dynamic culture transformation.

This can be achieved by seeking out innovative and proven approaches to your sustainable operational excellence™ journey that can be customised and tailored to fit your culture and requirements.

The secret to achieving sustainable operational excellence

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