Companies, universities, athletes, hospitals and physicians, municipalities, and any other entity that can be compared in any way often claim to be “world-class.” Is this a quantitative or qualitative assessment? Can “world-class” be objectively determined, or is it subject to the biases inherent to the assessor? Does it mean, simply, that the entity – whatever type it may be – is “good enough?”
The first definition of world-class on Dictionary.com is “ranking among the world’s best; outstanding.” This sounds like a grand achievement and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, it is completely meaningless.
That is, until the term is accompanied by complete definition. World-class in what respect? How are entities compared on this scale? What entities are included in this class and how do they gain admittance? Without knowledge of the parameters, there is no way to know from what group the entity stands out! The term is merely a buzzword, fodder for marketers, alongside other unsubstantiated superlatives.
The second definition offered by Dictionary.com is “attracting or comprising world-class players, performers, etc.” Using the term in its own definition magnifies its already-glaring lack of utility. Restating this definition to capture the presumed spirit, “attracting exceptional talent” may be an acceptable alternative. In a business context – the usual realm of The Third Degree – this may refer to technical, marketing, managerial, or other talent. Though attracting exceptional talent to an organization is a desirable objective, it cannot be achieved without clarity.
Finally, Dictionary.com provides an informal definition of world-class: “being a notorious example of its kind.” Isn’t it ironic that the “informal” definition offers the greatest clarity, despite being quite broad and somewhat vague itself? At least we know that an entity described as world-class in this context is not “good enough.”
So, is a world-class organization good enough? Good enough to compete, certainly. Companies benchmark their operations’ performance against competitors as well as businesses in other industries. Comparisons are made of financial and nonfinancial indicators, including sales volume, margins, stock price, employee turnover, net promoter score, and myriad others. Results of benchmarking activities lead a company’s executives, or a third-party observer, to conclude that the company is world-class. The executive’s biases and motivations are obvious, but what of the third-party observer? Has this observer conducted an objective assessment, or simply provided marketing fodder as a service (MFaaS)? It can be extremely difficult to determine the observer’s qualifications or motivations to reach such a conclusion. Nonetheless, if a company has the wherewithal to engage in such exercises – benchmarking and virtue marketing – it can be assumed it is a competitive player in the marketplace.
Is a world-class organization good enough to be satisfied with the status quo? Never. The greatest risk to a world-class organization is complacency. A sense of invincibility creates blindness to competitive threats and the impacts that technological advancement will generate, among other risks – a recipe for disaster. A truly great company – or any organization – will regularly examine its effectiveness, seeking to improve performance in a number of ways: time to market, labor productivity, effectiveness of marketing campaigns, customer satisfaction, and so on. That is, it will adopt a continuous improvement mindset. Becoming world-class, or achieving any other objective, never justifies resting on one’s laurels. Opportunities always exist to improve the talent pool, customer engagement, innovation, and so many other aspects of the business. A constant pursuit of improvement – great or small – is what it takes to be JayWink-class.
Recognizing that there is room for improvement is a fundamental characteristic needed to join the ranks of the JayWink-class. If you’d like to join us, simply call, email, or use our contact page to tell us about your most pressing challenges. Together, we can guide your organization to its continuously-improving destiny.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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