Business Excellence simply means being the best you can possibly be as an organization. The intent of this article is to outline what is involved if your organization decides to undertake this never-ending journey. When implemented properly, business excellence yields immense benefits to private, public and not-for-profit organisations.

However, let me issue a warning here… as a result of running my own businesses plus facilitating or advising on practical implementations for approximately 1,000 other businesses over the past 35 years, I have found that the traditional recommended implementation approaches are just not practical enough for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This overview is therefore written for any SME aspiring to excellence and is built on 3 foundations: Simplify; Integrate; Sequence.


Not surprisingly after some 60 years of application and testing, there is now a high degree of alignment between the nationally advocated frameworks for business excellence from around the world. But there are 3 major problems for an SME when trying to implement any one of these frameworks:


  1. Typically having 7-9 criteria for success, these frameworks are proving too complex for people to remember off by heart.
  2. There is no recommended sequence for addressing all the criteria over time.
  3. The recommended approach is to begin with a comprehensive review of the organisation’s current performance against each of the 7-9 criteria and then to address the highest priority areas for improvement – but this takes significant time and money and doesn’t involve all the employees.


We have found that a simplified framework is essential to integrate all the implementation activities. This framework is consistent with the internationally recognized frameworks but has only 5 Master Steps (instead of 7-9 evaluation criteria). We have also found that these 5 Master Steps should be implemented in a logical sequence. With Customer Focus as the overriding driver, the 5 Master Steps (all of which are prerequisites for Business Excellence) are:


  1. Shared Strategic Direction
  2. Process Design & Imnprovement
  3. Performance Measurement & Feedback
  4. Knowledge Capture & Leverage
  5. Leadership & Management of Change


1: Shared Strategic Direction

With customer focus as the all-pervasive fundamental driver, the first prerequisite for business excellence is a Shared Strategic Direction – effectively enabling every individual in the organisation to ‘pull the rope in the same direction’. The essence of strategy is to move everyone from where we are now to where we wish to be at some future point in time.

The evidence of great strategy is a clear and consistent pattern of decisions actually made by the organization as a whole!

2: Process Design & Improvement

Since all work is done through processes, it follows that Process Design & Improvement must be the second prerequisite for business excellence. In other words, Process Design & Improvement is HOW we will achieve our Shared Strategic Direction.

This Master Step usually yields the greatest net benefits for the organisation!

3: Performance Measurement & Feedback

As time goes by, of course we will want to know whether we are achieving our Shared Strategic Direction and whether our key processes which will get us there are healthy! Hence the next prerequisite for business excellence must be Performance Measurement & Feedback.

It works best when we measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a) achievement of our agreed Strategic objectives and b) for the health of our Key Processes that together make up ‘Operations’. Best practice is to limit the resultant number of KPIs to only those that are considered to be essential. This minimizes the effort required to keep them up to date and to present the information to those accountable.

4: Knowledge Capture & Leverage

Knowledge Capture & Leverage has become increasingly important over the past 40 years as organisational assets continue to become more knowledge-based and less finance-based. There are 3 compelling reasons why an SME needs to harvest its knowledge efficiently:


  1. Dramatic technological change (Internet; email etc) has enabled competitors to capture and leverage their knowledge with increasing ease.
  2. Globalisation demands that we keep on top of industry developments in order to remain competitive.
  3. Mobile Workforce – employees tend to take their knowledge with them when they leave unless we do something about it.


5: Process Design & Improvement

Finally, Leadership & Management of Change is critical because transformation towards business excellence can occur only if all your people are keen and able to participate in the changes.

Let’s now further explore each of the Master Steps in the recommended implementation sequence…


The organisation’s Strategic Plan is predicated upon having an agreed high level (1-page) Process Model for the entire business of the organisation. If any of the organisation’s Key Business Processes are sufficiently ‘broken’ to warrant being ‘process reengineered’ (ie from the ground up!) during the planning period (typically 3 years), then the organisation must incorporate these reengineering priorities in the Strategic Plan. This is because reengineering projects are so fundamental that they are strategic in their nature and impact.

This can be achieved readily via the following simple planning methodology reflecting the four ‘perspectives’ of Kaplan and Norton’s ‘Balanced Scorecard'(1).