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What is Business Excellence?



For many people, business excellence is a concept that simultaneously appears glaringly self-explanatory, and incredibly difficult to actually define. On the one hand, ‘business excellence’ should simply denote a business that is outstanding; a true leader in its field. On the other, drilling down into exactly how a business is exceptional, and then measuring this against other market-leaders can appear to be an especially complex task. How do you, for example, weigh excellent customer service practices against stunning employee engagement? Can you accurately compare an excellent business model from Europe with a successful one from the UAE?


This complexity comes from the range of factors that determine success in business. Perhaps most people might immediately equate excellence with results. A company delivering consistently brilliant performance figures and successfully navigating a market is, presumably, doing a great deal that can be considered ‘excellent’. You may also look at a company with a strong reputation for looking after its workforce as being particularly impressive. Providing staff with a dynamic and engaging workplace, complemented by training and development opportunities, is certainly a critical ingredient for a highly-productive and committed team.


How a business interacts with its various stakeholders can also very much affect the perception of excellence. From dealing with customers effectively, to maintaining healthy and productive relations with suppliers, excellent stakeholder interactions are crucial success factors for every business. Excellence in CSR-related activities is increasingly viewed in the UAE as something that is not simply a ‘nice to have’ from a branding viewpoint. Increasingly, it is seen as something that can produce positive outcomes for both company and society, in a virtuous circle where positive community relations boost company performance, prompting further community involvement.


Excellence may also be viewed in terms of good corporate governance, a focus on constant and cost-effective innovation, or management and leadership standards. You may also look to a winning corporate strategy, a particularly strong corporate image, or the slickness of workflows and operational processes.


What this shows is that excellence in business can be defined in many different ways, all of which are desirable and all not readily detached from the entire group. You are unlikely, for example, to opt to run your business to be outstanding at delivering world-class customer service, while being unconcerned that it never turned anything close to a profit. Conversely, you may be able to produce incredible profits, but a chronic lack of focus on corporate governance is likely to mean you won’t stay in business long. Business excellence is built from many necessary strands and they all need attention to make a business truly great.


Of course, saying this is one thing; actually delivering it is another. Many firms look to embed business excellence through a framework, such as the EFQM model which is very popular in the UAE. In creating this framework, firms often find that the demands of one aspect will actively pull against the development needs of another. So, for example, in seeking to pursue a more active and aggressive marketing strategy for current products, a manufacturing company may find that it stymies its capacity to innovate and create new products for the future. This doesn’t make the framework process invalid, but rather helps a company to recognise more effectively the balance it will need to strike. Individual businesses therefore need to approach the process with a clear focus on their own overarching mission and vision. They must be clear on what they want to achieve, and they need to consider how they want to achieve it.


At the same time, the definition of a gold standard of business excellence can only really ever be defined in static terms. What is excellent right now will always be bettered eventually, and a company that becomes complacent with its quality is not going to stay great long. Market leaders do not coast. Truly successful companies must consistently revaluate every aspect of how they are doing business. They must be continuously vigilant on their employee engagement levels, their management and leadership approach, their corporate strategy, and all of the other processes that contribute to success. They need to innovate to stay ahead, and they need to be ready to change direction before their current framework produces good, not great results. Avoiding mediocracy creep is a key challenge in maintaining business excellence, and in staying ahead of the competition!


If this all sounds like a great deal of work, well of course it is. But then, nobody ever said it was easy being excellent.


Michael Castle, Director, ADUKG
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