Becoming Best in Class One Step at a Time | Stewart Leadership

Becoming Best in Class One Step at a Time

In a recent coaching session with a Chief Innovation Officer, we were problem solving how he might help his executive colleagues move the organization to be one of the best in their industry.  He equated his struggles and frustrations at work with something he had experienced the previous weekend when he and his wife met up with another couple and hiked along the beautiful shores of Lake Superior.

At one point during the hike the other couple suddenly stopped, looked up, and commented on the breath-taking view.  What they didn’t realize was that better views had been available to them throughout most of their walk.  Why hadn’t they seen them?

  • Had they been so focused on not tripping over the rocks and tree roots that they forgot to look up?
  • Had they missed the big picture because they had spent all of their time trying not to make a mistake and fall down?
  • Had they missed even better views because they were focused on taking each step instead of on the real reason that led them to hike their in the first place?

In discussing his experience with me, we’re able to conclude that the same phenomenon was occurring with his colleagues.  They were spending so much of their time trying not to make mistakes and were getting so involved in day-to-day operations, looking down so they wouldn’t trip over the rocks and roots, that they were failing to see the big picture and were not spending any time focusing on becoming one of the best in their industry.  Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to this organization.

The journey to “best” starts with having a clear and vivid picture of what “best” really means to you and a willingness to make the needed sacrifices and do the hard work to get there.  Exploration can begin by asking a few questions of ourselves.

Questions To Consider

  • How do leaders help move their organization from its current performance to a level considered best-in-class?
  • Do they simply just announce that they are going to get better, put it in their vision statement and move blindly forward in hopes of making improvements or is there a more strategic approach that can be taken?
  • Do leaders continue to focus on the rocks and roots or can they learn to look up at the right moments so they can still achieve results, but not miss the opportunities to get better and ultimately “best”?  Where do they begin?

For years, organizations have sought to model themselves after those companies they have viewed as being best-in-class.  With the publishing of Tom Peters’ and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence (1982), organization after organization has pursued the specter of being the best. But how does one take an entire organization through such a perilous and arduous process?  The answer is more simple than one might expect – one step at a time!

One Step At A Time

For some organizations that means taking a more micro-approach to the process – one division (HR, IT, Finance, etc.) at a time. This approach allows the organization to experiment, study and learn as they make their journey to “best”.

Although there are a number of approaches that can be taken as organizations embark on the journey to becoming the “best”, one approach that I have successfully used to help move an organization forward is called “Best-In-Class Cloning”.  The key is starting small, within one team or division, instead of tackling too much at once.

The Seven Step Process a Division or Team Leader follows:

Step #1

Conduct a kick-off meeting:  The purposes of the meeting are to detail the process that will be used, determine the timeframe for each step of the journey and to develop a vision of what “best” might look like and mean.  Normally, someone of great influence in the organization is present and paints the inspirational picture of the need for change.  Using a facilitator is also recommended so all leaders can participate equally in the meeting.

Step #2

Identify an organization or organizations considered to be best-in-class in their discipline:  Leaders are given a timeframe to complete the process of gathering needed information (key metrics, process maps, flowcharts, organizational charts, etc.).

Step #3

Benchmark with selected organizations:  Leaders are tasked with connecting with those selected with the purpose of conducting best practice interviews and gathering key information (see Step  #2).  The goal is to learn as much about the best-in-class division/department as possible.

Step #4

Conduct an Information Sharing Session:  With the assistance of a facilitator, leaders meet to share information learned in Step  #3.  Initial thoughts are shared on how the learned information might be used to help move the division to “best” and tested against the vision developed during Step # 1.  Initial best practices are selected for next step development by division or team leaders in preparation for Step #5.  It is after Step #4 and before Step #5 that leaders share information with their individual teams, seek buy-in, and engage them in the process.

Step #5

Conduct a report-out meeting:  Division leaders (sometimes in conjunction with their teams) present proposed changes in processes, metrics, and structure design for discussion and decision. All are ultimately tested against the vision developed in Step #1. 

Step #6

Implement changes:  Changes approved in Step #5 are readied for discussion with team members and prepared for implementation. 

Step #7

Conduct a verification session:  Changes made in #6 are reviewed, verified, and altered as needed.  Did the changes result in moving the organization to “Best”?


Being the best at something takes tremendous focus and a strong desire to change for the better.  Taking a scaled approach by using the Best-In-Class Cloning process will help keep the journey manageable – much like hiking along a beautiful path

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