A Resurgence Of Excellence?

A Resurgence Of Excellence?

Coincidences set my synapses firing and on Sunday I was triggered while multitasking at breakfast. As well as eating I was catching up on Sky's "Master of Photography" and browsing The Sunday Times.

"Master of Photography" is an eight part series in which 12 contestants drawn from both amateur and professional applicants are set a series of tasks with elimination at each stage. I was behind in my viewing, using catch-up. In this episode my ears perked as I heard Oliviero Toscani , one of the judges advise the contestants that,

"Every time you look for consensus you go straight to mediocrity".

At almost the same time my eyes scanned across the report that Boris Johnson, the UK's new Prime Minister in drawing up a blueprint for Brexit, will "adopt the same approach of backing 'excellence' that has catapulted team GB to Olympic glory as the master plan for economic prosperity outside the EU" and "unveil plans to turbocharge sectors of the economy where the UK can lead the world".

These two snippets set of a resonance in my thoughts as I started reviewing the implications.

Before I consider that I have been smiling as I considered the nature of cyclicality. When I started working in the early 1980s, a "must read" book for any aspiring manager was "In Search of Excellence" (Waterman & Peters), a weighty tome that analysed and packaged up the key behaviours that had contributed to corporate and product success in some of the US's most (then) successful organisations. It was a seminal text, but interestingly was last republished in 2004!

Since then I have witnessed the rise of consensus and purported efficiency in many firms. It has often been more important to one's career to have contributed to and then toed the party line than to have been right. The individuals who were considered Mavericks or just not aligned were weeded out and many functions dumbed down in the name of better regulation nd efficiency.

Now don't get me wrong, I full understand the value of different perspectives, the need to weed out the bad apples and the value of controlling costs in a competitive world, but like every pendulum the best of intentions can swing matters too far.

The pendulum seems to be swinging back now. Being excellent is again positive and there will be a need to change, something we know not everyone finds easy. Add the fact that there are many vested interests in retaining the status quo and we can see the implications through the economy, for organisation's, for leaders, for individuals. This also coincides (maybe not coincidentally!) with rise of the Millenial generation.

As I sit writing this I wonder:

  • How can a government that is reliant of democracy ( is consensus) be brave enough to really focus on excellence in the economy at the inevitable expense of older, less able industries? The likely timescale for real benefits will exceed the electoral cycle, which in the best of times distracts and impeded political progress.

  • How will regulators guard against (or maybe just slow) a race to the bottom and the mediocrity that entails? Some might say we have reached the bottom and need to lift back up, but that is a similar challenge

  • How will managers who have learnt their trade in consensus, embrace and lead in the "excellent" world that will be our future? Can they let go of their "command and control" instincts and instead recognise and back real talent rather than safe hands and clones?

  • How will our youth find the best focus and support to contribute to and benefit from economic developments that may not have even been thought of when they were in education? Personal reinvention will be an essential skill and as parents we must help our children learn this.

  • And how will the older generations adapt? They have financial plans and personal expectations vested from the last 30 years or so, but that world has changed and will change further. Politicians know that this large element has to be considered along with the youth.

Not many answers here, but maybe some food for thought? Please feel free to contribute your views too.

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  • Michael Lincoln

    Veteran managers want to make bold changes quickly to show that they're still in charge and it's a bad idea.

  • Nicola Fleming

    You can’t expect people to give their best if they don’t see you doing it

  • Jennifer Wright

    Being the leader of a country doesn’t mean you can ignore your own flaws. The UK is not moving in the right direction.

  • Terry Pearce

    We are living in a different time period.

  • John Nolan

    Instead of seeing how times have changed and encouraging change, older generations discourage it.

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.


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