What does business excellence look like?

Revenue? Profit? Stock price? Customer satisfaction / retention / lifetime value? Net Promoter Score? Employee satisfaction?

You’re overthinking it.

My favorite definition of excellence comes from (of course) leadership expert Tom Peters, who wrote the book — literally — on the subject.

“Excellence,” Peters says, “is the next five minutes. Or it is nothing at all.”

In his latest book Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism, Peters explains this way:

Excellence is your next five-minute conversation in the real (or virtual) hallway.

Excellence is your next e-mail or text message.

Excellence is the first three minutes of your next meeting.

Excellence is sending flowers to the hospital where your top customer’s mom is having serious surgery.

Excellence is saying “Thank you” for something small.

Excellence is pulling out all the stops at warp speed to respond to a “minor” screw-up.

Excellence is the flowers you bring to work on a dispiriting rainy day.

Excellence is learning the names and school year of all 14 of your team members’ kids.

Excellence is bothering to learn the way folks in finance (or IS or purchasing) think.

Excellence is waaaay over-preparing for a three-minute presentation.

In In Search of Excellence, we defined excellence in terms of long-term performance. But that begs the question: How do you achieve that long-term super-effectiveness? And I strongly and passionately — and dogmatically — insist that the core, the bedrock of those standout long-term results is indeed the five-minute real / virtual / by-phone conversation you had right after the meeting that ended an hour ago, and the seven-line e-mail for which you are about to push the “send” button.

Did that passing five-minute conversation reek of thoughtfulness?

Did you, leader, spend 80 percent of your last conversation … listening?

Did that listening translate into 100 percent attentiveness?

Was the tone positive?

“Over the top,” you say.

“Think again,” I say.

As Peters himself might insist, read that passage again. Then re-read it. Then reflect on it.

Then ask yourself: What will the next five minutes of my life look like?

Will they be excellent? Or not?

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