Best of Business Kansas City 2018: Our 30th Year

Why Excellence Matters

The readers have spoken—again. For a 30th year, Ingram’s readers have sounded off on the Best of Business Kansas City awards, applying their highly refined tastes to designate their favorite restaurants, theaters, charitable fund-raisers, nightspots, museums, family-outing venues and many other aspects that put capital-Q Quality into Kansas City’s quality of life.

Across four categories—Wining and Dining, Entertainment and Culture, Business Services and Business Products—we are awarding 72 Gold medals in 2018, and nearly more than twice that number in the Silver and Bronze categories, to companies, organizations and individuals who have set standards of excellence in the KC region.

To the short-sighted, the countless thousands reader choices over the years constitute little more than a cliquish set of preferences, a popularity contest of sorts, playing out within an elite group. Those who truly understand what it takes to win these honors year after year will have no trouble discerning the deeper meaning of Best of Business Kansas City recognition.

It’s all about excellence. In product, in service, in addressing customer or client needs. Organizations grounded in continual process improvement tend to be the ones we see back here year after year. Those who haven’t embraced it may be one-year wonders, but they have time to learn. Or else.

We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that reads “<Insert scatological reference here> Happens.” And it does. Nowhere, however, does excellence just “happen.” The path to superior performance, experts in the field say, is marked with data and metrics, and entails deeper understanding of both employee and customer experiences. 

But the first step on the journey toward that higher plane starts at the top of the organization.

“Leadership is the primary driver of organizational excellence.” So declares Charlotte Shelton, executive associate professor of management at Rockhurst University. “You can’t have excellence or perform at a level of excellence unless you have leaders performing at that level.”

And while it doesn’t just “happen,” it certainly matters.

Organizational excellence, says Shelton, “is critical to sustaining the organization long-term. Mediocrity can carry an organization, but only so far.”

She cites an old concept in business drawn from a linguistic combination of “satisfy” and “suffice”—“satisficing.” “It means settling for good enough vs. finding optimal solutions for a business,” Shelton says. “It’s the opposite of optimizing. Satisfying the minimal expectations of customers doesn’t lead to excellence; it requires courage, commitment and confidence.”

With those attributes in place, the next step is buy-in from the work force, where the key “is getting the right people on the bus with the selection process,” Shelton says. She cites Google as an example of taking the interview process to what many might consider an extreme, involving 20 or more separate interviews for even low-level jobs. But it makes sense, she says, “Most of us wouldn’t marry someone we went on two dates with, but we hire people we’ve interviewed just one or two times. You have to be more intentional about hiring and getting the right people.”

In the end, she said, organizations that attain excellence often do so by employing her preferred definition of leadership: “Someone who takes me to a place I wouldn’t go alone,” Shelton said. “That’s what leaders of excellent organizations do—they inspire people to accomplish things they didn’t know they could do.”