Excellence Workshop – Toronto

This one-day interactive workshop for public and private sector leaders on business excellence, facilitated by the BEX core team, is being held in downtown Toronto in the Royal Canadian Military Institute, 426 University Avenue.

The day will involve a lot of learning about excellence and includes an active learning session using APEX, the Institute’s learning game which has lessons on leadership, strategy, decision making in the face of uncertainty, communication, and teamwork. There will also be presentation by Bill Smalley, author of Intelligent Selling. Lunch is included.

Date Venue Start End
20 June 2019 Royal Canadian Military Institute, 426 University Avenue 9:00 17:00

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Clara Shih, Feargal Quinn, & Henry Mintzberg are inducted into the Excellence Hall of Fame

The 2019 Excellence Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, on March 28 and, during the gala dinner, a fourth cohort of outstanding people were inducted. This year’s inductees were:

    • Clara Shih, Founder & CEO, Hearsay Systems & Board Member of Starbucks
    • Feargal Quinn, Founder, Superquinn & former Senator, Seanad Éireann
    • Henry Mintzberg, Professor of Management Studies, McGill University

Clara Shih FEBI
Feargal Quinn FEBI
Henry Mintzberg FEBI

You can learn more about them on the Excellence Hall of Fame website ExcellenceHallofFame.org .

The Pragmatic Manager

For the best part of two decades I worked in an organization as a manager, first of a department of one just managing processes, then in a department with staff; culminating in a role as Operations Manager. Outside of a BA in Psychology I had no formal management training. My training was of the ‘learn-as-you-go’ variety. I believe that this is a very common experience that is all too familiar.

The organization was not a pro-active one with regard to best practice and had no idea about business excellence. For example, my direct boss for a number of years was of the mind that all the motivation staff needed was ‘a pay cheque’; governance was thin on the ground; there was no formal strategy in place, and staff development was unheard of. I was, however, advised that in order to advance within the organization to board level I would need to obtain an MBA.

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This was a path I did not wish to take and, given the writings of Henry Mintzberg, and the current research indicating that those who have Arts (or Engineering) degrees, and do not also have an MBA, often out-perform typical MBAs and accountants as CEOs and managers, I am quite glad I did not pursue one. What I did do, however, is to learn about best practice. When I became Operations Manager, I brought in a consultant to help with the introduction of performance reviews, one-to-one meetings and to give some general guidance on how to improve our processes and operations (suffice to say, my old boss was no longer on the scene).

Short story: everything improved, including profits. Unfortunately, the effects of 15 years of sub-optimal management and the Financial Crisis hit the business badly and it shut down in 2011. I often look back and think of all that could have been done to keep that business active and to keep the company’s 85 or so people in their jobs. By exploring the principles of business excellence, I have learnt about many simple and practical lessons that leading organizations have used and that academics have known and made available for decades.

These lessons are not simply the remit of multi-national corporations or of MBAs. They are lessons that any manager can benefit from learning about. It might be the case that you have found yourself in a management position, in a small to medium sized organization, possibly a family business (a significantly underserved segment of the business community); with no formal training. That was the position I found myself in. Although I did my best my job would have been significantly easier if I had known what I know now. That is why I suggested we develop The Pragmatic Manager Development Program. I often wish it had been available back then for me; as a valid alternative to an MBA. It may just have helped save a business.

JP Donnelly elected a Fellow of the Institute


JP Donnelly

JP Donnelly FBEI

We are delighted to announce that JP Donnelly has been elected a Fellow of the Institute.

JP is Head of Country for WPP Ireland and CEO of the Ogilvy & Mather Group Ireland. A seasoned marketing and advertising professional, he has a wealth of experience in general and marketing management, digital strategy, media relations, and customer relationship management.

He has served on the Advisory Board and Emeritus Advisory Board of the UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business since 2001, as Chair of the Marketing Institute of Ireland (2002-2003), on the Board of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children since 2014, and on the Commercial & Marketing Committee of Leinster Rugby since 2012. He holds Bachelor of Commerce (University College Dublin) and an MBA (UCD Smurift Graduate School of Business) and is also a Fellow of the Marketing Institute of Ireland.

Corporate Values: Beyond the Bathroom

Pretty much every organisation has values. In many cases, they look remarkably similar from organisation to organisation; a result of “benchmarking” or, if you want to be cynical, a lack of imagination. But what are corporate values actually for?

One definition of corporate values is: “Corporate Values are the fundamental beliefs upon which your organisation and its behaviour are based. They are the guiding principles that your business uses to manage its internal affairs as well as its relationship with customers.”

Now, that’s quite an impressive statement. If they’re fundamental to YOUR ORGANISATION, why do we see so much similarity between the values chosen by different organisations? Surely, they should be as unique and diverse as each organisation, especially as none of them would describe themselves as “just like so-and-so”. And, especially in service-based industries, surely your organisational behaviours, attitudes and the relationship you build with your customers are key to differentiating you from “the rest”?


Part of the answer comes from the importance given to defining and, more importantly, living the values within organisations. In more than one organisation, I’ve seen the values proudly displayed as a poster on the bathroom wall. When I’ve mentioned it, the response given is normally “So everyone sees them, every day”. Unless one of your values is “Clean hands”, I’m not sure how effective this communication method is.

Another part of the answer is that it’s not just about the words you chose; it’s also about how they are defined. The values should provide the “moral compass” for the organisation; the reference point when faced with a difficult decision. That’s what the “guiding principles” part of the definition means. And, like all things excellent, it’s not always easy to live the values; to actively put them into practice. But, it’s when decisions get hard, you find out how important values really are.

Let’s take Google as an example. They famously started with the value of “Do no evil”. A very honourable statement. But is this being lived? A quick look at the news quickly reveals a number of instances where this value is being questioned. To the extent that Google appear to have quietly dropped the “Do no evil” reference from their corporate materials.

From a personal perspective, I was asked to do something in an organisation I previously worked in which I felt went against its values and, whilst not illegal, was clearly unethical. I refused. After a number of heated discussions and my continued refusal, my position was made redundant (which was actually not a bad outcome as I’d already prepared my resignation). When asked what had happened about a year later by someone I know, I told them the story. Their response was “You can’t let ethics get in the way of business.” I replied, “If you can’t let ethics get in the way of business, how can you say you have ethics?”

And that’s the question you, and your organisation, should ask. Values, by their very nature, are something that we place value on. And, if we value something, we have to be prepared to make sacrifices; and is it worth sacrificing your values?

When children ask me about difficult decisions they face, I normally annoy them by not telling them what to do but to think about the impact of that decision; “Will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning?” If the answer to that is “no”, the decision is “don’t do it”.

And, for excellent organisations who actually value their values, the same should apply. The business world isn’t different to the real world; it’s the same. Why would you do something in business you wouldn’t do in your private life?

If you value your values, can you afford to ignore them?

Brexit through the excellence prism

Brexit is an issue that has the potential to impact not only the British and European economies but also the global market. The ongoing uncertainty, after more than 2 years of discussion, debate, and negotiation, will have to end, one way or another, as the deadline of the 29th March looms. Taking a step back, how does Brexit fair when viewed through the excellence prism?

It started with a referendum, a democratic vote. As reasonable starting point and the question put was clear – do you want to Leave or Remain in the EU? In excellence terms, a referendum is basically a perception survey on steroids. And, when we’re assessing a survey, one of the things we check is the sample – who was included? The referendum covered anyone registered to vote in the UK. That means foreign nationals, including EU citizens, living in UK could participate, so long as they were registered to vote.


But it excluded the estimated 1 million UK citizens who live and work in the EU, taking advantage of the “freedom of movement” that has been such a bone of contention and which was one of the contributing factors to triggering the referendum in the first place. Not good from an excellent perspective – that’s a relevant stakeholder group which was excluded. However, giving the difference between the “Remain” and “Leave” vote was more than 1 million, even if there had been a 100% turnout (extremely unlikely) AND all of them voted to remain (again, even in this population, extremely unlikely), whilst it might have made the margin closer, the outcome would have been the same.

The campaigns in the run-up to the vote were unlike a “normal election”, where people vote for a candidate based on their policies and the winner is then held accountable by the electorate for delivering against the promises made. In the referendum, the government wanted to remain – pretty easy to keep that promise as it effectively meant “doing nothing”. Who would deliver the “leave” vote wasn’t considered, and that’s been the problem ever since the vote to “leave” was cast.

There’s also the issue of the tactics adopted in the campaign. Probably the most memorable argument from the “Leave” campaign was plastered across the side of their bus – the claim the government could spend an extra £350 million a week on the National Health Service instead of giving it to the EU. No one is committed to delivering that promise. The “Remain” campaign adopted “Project Fear” tactics; focusing on the negatives of leaving, not the positives of staying. Neither side put forward a clear, inspiring and inclusive vision for the future; something that is a basic building block of excellence.

The “Irish backstop” issue that now dominates the news wasn’t even a consideration during the campaign. But the origins of the “backstop” are in the Good Friday Agreement; a legally binding agreement that makes a hard border illegal. Understanding and complying with the law is a basic requirement; it’s not even on the excellence scale.

Finally, once the political dust settled, the UK had a Government committed to delivering Brexit. Red lines were drawn and negotiations started with the EU. And those “red lines” have become a mantra over the last 2 years, along with “delivering the result of the referendum”. Whilst the result of the referendum cannot be debated, the “red lines” that have defined the deal that’s now stuck in Parliament can be. Where did those red lines come from?

They weren’t in the referendum question – that was a binary choice. They were in the Conservative Party manifesto of the 2017 election but that failed to return a majority in the House of Commons, let alone attract a majority of the public vote. The UK is now facing the choice of a deal that does not deliver what the majority of people want or a no-deal that not only damages the UK economy but also has significant impact on the EU, especially Ireland. People are being given a “lose-lose” option.

Excellence means creating “win-win” situations where no stakeholders opinion is ignored. Achieving a “win-win” means compromising; finding a middle-ground where no one feels like a loser. Whilst it might be too much to expect “excellence in politics”, is it too much to ask for a little bit once in a while?