Making a Commitment to Excellence
At AFF, we’re always looking to broaden our skills and knowledge so we can provide better events and more meaningful community to our chapter members around the country. To that end, our AFF HQ staff just wrapped up our inaugural book club meeting, which began by looking at Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schulze. If you want to be the best at what you do and create joy and purpose for yourself and others in your career, I highly recommend it.
Schulze is the co-founder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and he knows a thing or two about running a world-class business. His journey will inspire and inform you regardless of your paygrade or your career field.
At the heart of Schulze’s book is a fervent obsession with customer service. He says the people we serve want three main things: a product or service with no defects, timeliness, and to be treated nicely by the person with whom they’re dealing. They also want individualization – to be able to customize the product or service to their unique needs. None of these ideas should be revolutionary, but if you ask yourself how many companies actually deliver all of these all the time, I’m sure the list will be short.
Schulze also goes to great lengths to convince us that customer service is something that is both external and internal. You can’t achieve excellent customer service for the public if it isn’t imbued in every aspect of your internal culture as well. He rightly points out that managers too often slip into thinking of their employees as “function fillers” rather than treating them as intelligent, autonomous beings. Instead, he says, we should avoid viewing employees as cogs in a wheel and rather invite them to join us in pursuing a challenging but inspiring vision.
Schulze emphasizes the importance of repeating the vision and core values of the company early and often so that everyone is inspired by the same vision and working toward the same goals. He does not underestimate the power of valuing and energizing employees daily. As he puts it in chapter six, “Very few people come to work to be negative or to do a lousy job. People come to contribute to a purpose. When we invite them to join us, to take on positions that befit them, their talents can blossom…As a result they become employees of excellence for a long, long time which benefits not only them personally but the organization as well.”
This emphasis on treating staff and customers with respect and dignity does not mean however that he does not hold employees to a high standard. I must admit, Schulze’s relentless commitment to excellence can be intimidating to us mere mortals. It’s clear that Schulze developed a penchant for digging and digging and digging for solutions and for perfection that not many could match. Schulze relates a story in chapter eleven where a one of his Boston hotel managers explained that a terrible blizzard kept the hotel from meeting their monthly occupancy goal. In response, Schulze pushed the manager to get busy finding ways to fill up the hotel, regardless of circumstances. He says, “I don’t pay people to think of ‘explanations’; I pay them to find answers…I won’t settle for less than the vision. No excuses allowed, either from myself or those who work with me.”
It’s a high calling. But there is a reason that the Ritz-Carlton is the only hotel company ever to receive the ultra-competitive and prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice. I hope we all will strive to serve our customers, our colleagues, and ourselves with the same level of commitment to excellence.