The climate of an organisation can be blown off course by one of many factors: market uncertainty; brain drain; natural churn of talent; a merger; a change in leadership. When we know which culture works in our organisation and we do our best to maintain it, we can find a way to bounce back. In those moments of turmoil everyone pitches in and gets their jobs done … IF trust and confidence exist.

In many companies the message put out into the world is one of excellence.

“We produce excellent results for our clients.”

“We only hire the best, we treat you well and we expect excellence in return.”

“Our service is the best in the sector, we’re always available and you can count on us to always get it done.”

Admirable? Yes. Sustainable? Unlikely.

And that’s because the message of excellence is exhausting, even though it’s seen as a virtue. The message is this:

“You may have achieved something ground-breaking, you may have exceeded everyone’s expectations. Now that you have, you need to do even better next time. You’ve raised the bar, you’ve raised our expectations. And so we’ve moved the goalposts.”

The truth sitting behind an expectation of excellence is actually a plethora of problems.

  • A fall in motivation – there is no room for error when you have to be excellent all the time
  • Mental exhaustion and stress leading to burnout
  • Increased turnover
  • No time to rest, recuperate, learn and innovate

Tom Peters writes in ‘Thriving on Chaos’: “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change.”

To create room for improvement we need a break from performing excellence, because improvement comes through trial and, all importantly, error.

That break is when we get a chance to build and maintain relationships with each other – peers, clients, customers and other stakeholders. Where we have rich discussions that enable us to innovate. Where we understand particular needs through asking deeper questions. This is the chemistry we see in teams that trust each other and have confidence in each other. The very thing that helps them weather the storms of uncertainty.

Us humans, we’re good at making mistakes, and we’re even better at learning from them and coming together to repair them (most of the time). Our best and most memorable successes are when we recover from failure.

So instead of chasing excellence, make room for failure and chase chemistry.


Legacy, by James Kerr

Tony Rea, Partner at HuBe Group