The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

Many companies proudly say how they strive for excellence in everything they do. It’s a high and worthy goal, so long as it doesn’t leave companies paralyzed without a product, service, or foot in the marketplace. On the other side of the spectrum is the “good enough” crowd. Mostly comprised of technology companies, they look for the Minimum Viable Product and launch with a product or service that is good enough to attract paying customers, but often rife with bugs and glitches that yield multiple updates and fixes.

The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

As with all things, operating in any extreme on the spectrum is dangerous. Holding tightly to one or the other often leads to disaster for companies.

Excellence does not equal perfection

The quest for excellence goes too far when it confuses quality for perfection. We’ve all heard the saying that perfect doesn’t exist, yet many will constantly tweak, revise, polish, scrap, rebuild, and torment themselves and their companies in the pursuit of perfection. In the meantime companies with lesser products are hitting the market and killing it.

Good enough does not equal sloppy

On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who don’t stop to think, test, or research before storming into the marketplace in search of customers. The sloppy approach is often fueled by greed and fails to deliver any value.

Finding balance

Balance is not a static state of being nor is it a state where each opposing idea is held equally. Balance is a tension fluctuating between each opposing point of view. Sometimes it is important to lean more toward excellence, especially if people’s lives are at stake as is often the case with medical, engineering, and other fields. In these situations mitigating risk means choosing how many lives are worth an error in design or execution, which quite frankly is zero.

For products and services that don’t deal in life or death situations, good enough is a way to get a new product or service out and earning revenue quickly. You start by striving for excellence but at some point you have to apply what I like to call the “Screw It Principle.” That’s when you say, “screw it,” run with it and see what happens. This is usually the way of the technology industry, which is known for quickly iterating, testing, adjusting, and getting a minimum viable product to market. From there they use customer feedback to prioritize feature development and bug fixes instead of guessing at what is most important to the customer.

For most companies the best option is to walk the line somewhere in the middle, finding balance between excellence and good enough, between creating quality products and services and having something to sell.

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a comprehensive approach to operating a social conscious business. CSR operates with the understanding that the firm affects many stakeholders and must function in a way that creates a positive impact. This includes providing good wages and working conditions, promoting sustainability, and other community focused endeavors. CSR differs from corporate citizenship in that corporate citizenship only looks at community involvement in terms of donations or other limited efforts, or what author Richard Levick calls “passive check writing” (2012). Instead, CSR ensures that every aspect of the business is run in a socially conscious manner.

According to authors Gamble, Peteraf, & Thompson, CSR programs manifest in a few ways. The first is the commitment to operating an ethical business that is inclusive, principled, and fair. This includes programs that promote quality of life for employees and fair treatment of suppliers. The second are large-scale philanthropic initiatives that target disadvantaged groups, such as diversity programs, job programs, charity campaigns, and other endeavors. The third are sustainability or “green” programs that promote stewardship of the environment. In essence, Corporate Social Responsibility is concerned with the triple bottom line: people, the planet, and profit (2013, pg. 197-199).

The Perceived Trade Off Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility

Many argue that managing the triple bottom line requires trade-offs between social equity, ecological preservation, and profitability. Businesses need to consider the overall cost versus return of initiatives and the trade-offs associated with each. The investments in green and social practices need to produce enough of a return either in reduced costs, improved revenue, or reduced liabilities to meet the standards of business both in terms of sustainability and profitability (Halpern et al, 2013, pg. 6229-6234).

However, much of the research has shown that operating with a focus on a triple bottom line does not require trade-offs between profit and social responsibility. Because triple bottom line companies operate with concern and interest in the social and ecological environments they operate in, they are able to shape those environments in order to develop new markets and new capabilities. Also, by valuing the resources used to produce goods and services and operating with a focus on preserving those resources, triple bottom line firms have been able to identify sustainable sources that are both cheaper and ecologically sound. This reduces costs and insulates the business to fluctuations in the supply of raw materials. By better managing supply chains while developing new capabilities, triple bottom line firms are able to establish and maintain a competitive advantage over their peers (Glavas & Mish, 2014, pg. 630-632).

One key example of this is Starbucks. Starbucks’ Corporate Social Responsibility programs address every aspect while preserving a focus on profit. Their products, especially their coffee beans, are ethically and sustainably sourced. They have numerous hiring programs that support key community members such as veterans and their spouses. They promote volunteerism among their team members, and other key programs. Their commitment to sustainable coffee sourcing and biodiversity are especially forward thinking practices. The coffee supply under traditional farming practices is in serious danger. Traditional farming practices have eliminated biodiversity in many crops, leaving them susceptible to pests and diseases that have become more prevalent over the years. The NY Times recently shared a report on climate change that claims coffee crops will continue to be devastated by pest and disease as temperatures continue to rise. By promoting biodiversity and crops that are more resistant to these pests and diseases, Starbucks has a head start on protecting and preserving their supply chain.

Despite the growing body of research, many companies are slow to tackle the Corporate Social Responsibility challenge. As the body of research develops and more examples of profitable, socially responsible firms emerge, the pressure to change will grow. The change to CSR practices won’t be easy for existing firms, and will require a complete overhaul in how they are structured and how they do business, but the long term pay offs for both the company and its stakeholders is worth it.

 

 

References

Bromwich, J.E. (2016, September 22). Climate change threatens world’s coffee supply, report says. NYTimes.com. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/science/climate-change-threatens-worlds-coffee-supply-report-says.html?_r=0.

Gamble, J.E., Peteraf, M.A., Thompson, Jr., AA. (2013). Essentials of strategic management: The quest for competitive advantage. (4th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Glavas, A. & Mish, J. (2014, January 30). Resources and capabilities of triple bottom line firms: Going over old or breaking new ground? Journal of Business Ethics. 127, 623-642. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the EBSCOhost database.

Halpern, B.S. et al (2013, April 9). Achieving the triple bottom line in the face of inherent trade-offs among social equity, economic return, and conservation. PNAS. 110(15), 6229-6234. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the Highwire Press National Academy of Sciences database.

Levick, R. (2012, January 11). Corporate social responsibility for profit. Forbes.com Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardlevick/2012/01/11/corporate-social-responsibility-for-profit/#2f88c21646f1.