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The European Union promotes its leading initiative on innovation and mandates its present and potential members to establish a national innovation initiative. Countries like Slovenia, Croatia and Portugal have formulated national policies for innovation and are attempting to deploy those policies.
In a recently organized Zagreb Economic Forum (www.zef2008.com), I had the opportunity to give a keynote about our Breakthrough Innovation (Brinnovation) framework. During my talk, someone asked, Why isn’t innovation sensational, sporty or sexy to attract more people and executives? It brought a point home that this is one reason excellence does not get attention. It is not sensational, sporty or sexy. Most of us believe we know what excellence means, but still we hear that more manufacturing companies are going to lay off people because of cheap competition. We know the automotive industry in Detroit has been struggling to produce quality cars that can compete head-on with the best in class. I am sure experts there know what excellence means. I am sure Ford, GM and Chrysler have pockets of excellence and sample cars that are unheard of.
Financial help can work to some extent, but the fundamental issue remains with the auto manufacturers-they are not up to the par with the competition. Whether it is set-up time, new model launch time, innovative designs, manufacturing defects, defect-free manufacturing designs, employee participation or even employee satisfaction, Detroit’s auto industry does not fare well competitively.
Market capital and sales numbers summarize the performance. How can we achieve excellence in everything the auto industry does? Excellence does not appear to be on the executive radar. Here is an opportunity to sensationalize excellence. But how?
Berating leadership is not an effective approach. Sensationalizing excellence may include cheering up the leadership; creating excellence trivia or games; organizing conferences on excellence; publishing stories of excellence about the auto companies in Detroit newspapers; teaching excellence in Detroit community colleges; or offering training in excellence for employees. We could even celebrate excellence in downtown Detroit with “shoot for excellence” games at bars and get free TV coverage and press.
Inside these corporations, quality and excellence must become a measure for performance evaluation for employees as well as executives. Marketing and sales must prepare a campaign that talks up excellence and the brand’s best-in-class performance. Just as Toyota is known for reliability, Honda for innovation, Volvo for safety and Lexus for perfection, GM, Ford and Chrysler must create their brands-which provide comfort, peace of mind and a sense of pride of ownership. Customer service, price and quality must be considered the minimum non-negotiable customer requirements to be fulfilled.
So, to make excellence sensational, sexy and sporty we must think outside the box. There must be a strategic intent to take a holistic approach to turn around the auto industry. Following are key steps that need be taken:
1. Sensationalize excellence by relentlessly talking about excellence, rewarding excellence and launching excellence-oriented initiatives.
2. Establish a strategic intent to make GM, Ford and Chrysler music to consumer and employee ears.
3. Drill down excellence messages, tools and practices through executive rank and files.
4. Lead knowing that it is a privilege to lead people and help them grow, and not an opportunity to tell them what to do.
5. Strive for perfection in everything.
6. Plan to make achieving excellence a fun task for employees.
7. Trust and treat employees as assets-even more important than machines-rather than an easily disposable liability.
8. Think how to help employees achieve more rather than ask them to do more.
We know bad news travels fast and far. To sensationalize excellence, we must love excellence and kill sloppiness at work.