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Three keys to operational excellence

Operational ExcellenceIf you want to see an example of true excellence, watch Wimbledon. The two-week tournament showcases the very best players, playing the very best tennis, on the very best stage in the world. But look past the tennis. There’s a relentless focus on excellence throughout every aspect of the event. If you don’t know what I mean, just watch what goes on around the court during a game.

The moment the server leaves his or her seat, two perfectly synchronised hands shoot in the air at the service end, holding up balls; a subtle gesture brings a runner with a towel. As the server turns, six uniformed line judges unclasp their hands in unison, place them on their knees, and lean forward awaiting the serve. At the end of each game, the team of ball boys and girls, invisible during the points, instantly become a well-oiled machine of speed and precision.

Drinks and towels are handed to the players as they sit down, under the shade of an umbrella, held at arm’s length by an attendant who has suddenly appeared from nowhere, while military uniforms stand easy along the edge of the court, visible enough to deter, but never enough to intrude, before melting back into the crowd as the next game begins.

It’s an extraordinary display of operational excellence that none of the fans go to see, and few even notice. But if you listen to the players, it’s that flawless attention to detail that allows them to focus completely on their game and to play at the very pinnacle of their ability. This kind of excellence doesn’t just happen, it takes three specific things:

Obsessive recruitment and training – ball-boys / girls are recruited at a two week boot-camp and training is one day a week for four months

Absolute clarity of “what good looks like” – for every role, they can describe it, explain it and demonstrate it without hesitation

Relentless focus on detail – everyone understands that the smallest details are the most important; they set the standard for everything else

On a scale of 1-10, how would you compare your own organisation, in each of these three areas, to Wimbledon?

Bottom Line: At a gala dinner celebrating his life, the great hotelier Conrad Hilton was asked “What was the most important lesson you've learned in your long and distinguished career?” Without hesitation he replied, “Remember to tuck the shower curtain inside the bathtub.

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