Embracing Excellence is not an Option. It’s an Imperative!
By Dr Rudi Kimmie
Disrupt or be disrupted, that’s the new mantra driven by the 4th Industrial Revolution - the digital technology tsunami overturning established business practices in its rush to be bigger and better while in turn, making sweeping changes to our professional and personal lives.
Ask Standard Bank or its employees how app-driven banking by Discovery Bank, Zero Bank and Thyme Bank has impacted conventional banking.
There is no doubt that to thrive in this rapidly transforming world we not only need to ride the wave of change, we also need to embrace excellence as a professional ethic in light of globalisation and the increase in competition that comes with it. However, globalisation and digitisation are not only about technology - they are also about the quick uptake of opportunities, innovation, agility in how we apply our skills, and responsiveness to rapidly evolving trends. Failing to do so will see South Africa slip further in globally competitive rankings and exacerbate an already dire situation of a failing economy and a high unemployment rate.
Undoubtedly, high unemployment and the inability to create jobs remain the biggest failures of post 1994 South Africa. Albeit there are many factors that influence job creation, a key one is value excellence - that is the advantage an employee brings to an employer.
With large numbers of graduates in competition for fewer job opportunities, the key question they should ask themselves is: “What compelling value can I offer a prospective employer?”
New York Times columnist Thomas, L Friedman, once wrote: ‘Today, average is officially over.’ This is because in a world of increasing competition and where unique value proposition is becoming the norm, being average doesn’t cut it anymore. Surviving and indeed thriving in business, academic or professional spheres require above average and often excellent performance. Look around you, individuals and organisations who are sustainable and successful, are those who offer better value; who have transcended being “average”.
Higher education institutions, such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, are custodians of tomorrow’s leaders and need to insert “excellence” centrally into their teaching and learning mandates. Likewise, students need to realise that embracing excellence will bring out the best in them because - it taps into our highest potential and drives us to improve our abilities. As former American football coach Vince Lombardi explains: ‘The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their chosen field of endeavour.’ The University bristles with potential, from the sports fields to the classrooms and in the research labs. Unfortunately, much of this potential remains stillborn!
So how can we transform from being mediocre to excellence? It starts with choice! As late psychiatrist Victor Frankel stated: ‘Humans are choosers.’ We choose our destinies through our thoughts and then we create them in our actions. The Japanese nailed it down to kaizen or making small incremental improvements on an ongoing basis. William C. Taylor in Simply Brilliant – How Great Organisations do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways, shows how latter-day businesses have become successful through integrating excellence into their common business practices such as customer service.
Fortunately, technology has brought “excellence” within easy reach. Global best practice and role models can be readily accessed through online learning platforms. Online content has provided opportunities to learn from the best in the world and in so doing, enable us to become our better selves.
Thriving in South Africa requires that we break the “entitlement syndrome”. Despite its many promises, the South African government is not capable of providing the development and opportunities to enable growth. Revelations at the Zondo, Mpati and Mokgoro commissions show how state capture and cronyism have stripped value from our economy. Similarly, our education system doesn’t fare much better. The recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper: Struggling to Make the Grade: A Review of the Causes and Consequences of the Weak Outcomes of SA’s Education System, paints a dire picture of the basic education system.
South Africa’s economic and social challenges deserve nothing short of the very best solutions and the most qualified officials to implement them. Poor or lack of service delivery at all levels of our social development value chain show that excellence, whether in the academy or in any professional endeavour, must prevail above all else. It is no surprise that politically stable and economically successful Singapore, through upholding meritocracy, recruits the sharpest minds into its civil service so that the most efficient service is provided.
For the sake of South Africa’s growth and sustainability, it is imperative that a “culture of excellence” is embraced. Excellence is not a superhuman skill - it needs neither academic qualifications nor positional authority. The starting point is choice and then to commit that decision to action.
Dr Rudi Kimmie, a UKZN alumnus, writes in his personal capacity.