Excellence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Different people have different standards of excellence. If you’re serious about pursuing excellence, you must decide what excellence means for your organization. You also need to be prepared to have your definition change, because as you learn and grow, your expectations will change as well. For businesses, it’s useful to think of excellence in terms of two broad categories. The first is customer excellence and the second is business excellence.

Customer excellence has to do with those attributes that are of direct interest to customers, such as quality, price, reliability, taste, speed, etc. This is the type of excellence that wins product reviews and is featured in advertisements and promotional material. One of the primary functions of business strategy is choosing the dimensions of excellence in which the company will pursue leadership. For example, some businesses may focus their efforts on price leadership, some on full service, or some on convenience.

In contrast to customer excellence, business excellence is more transcendent and includes characteristics which are valued and highly desirable, regardless of business type: growth, profitability, predictability, longevity, etc. Business excellence and customer excellence are mutually dependent, because neither can be sustained without the other. In other words, satisfied customers drive business success and business success enables investment to satisfy customers.

We can learn much about achieving excellence-not only for our customers, but for ourselves-by taking a lesson from franchises. The franchising concept has been wildly successful over the past 40 years. The appeal of a franchise is rooted in two promises. First, there’s a very clear promise to the customer that’s reflected in the brand. What comes to mind when you think of Starbucks?

Second, there’s a promise to the business owner (franchisee) of a well-considered and proven business model that delivers on the customer promise. The result is two-fold. It delievers something of excellence to the customer-a steaming hot, fresh-brewed cup of coffee. It also delivers something of excellence to the business owner-a predictable return on investment, established business procedures, employee training, staffing plans, marketing strategies and interested customers.

The point isn’t that all businesses should be franchised; the point is that all businesses would benefit from taking the same holistic approach to excellence that franchises take. Franchised businesses recognize that there really are two products-the product or service which the customer buys, and the business which the investor buys. The goal of Six Disciplines for Excellence is to help business leaders work on their businesses so they can be as satisfied with their businesses as their customers are with their products.

-Gary Harpst in Six Disciplines for Excellence