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Posted on Apr 14, 2014

Defining The Value Of Excellence: It’s Harder Than You Think.

Next to Integrity and Respect, Excellence is the third most popular core value at Fortune 500 companies.

Some label it ‘Quality’. Others refer to it as ‘Performance’. But the theme is almost always the same: a commitment to being the best and/or delivering the best.

Most often this value is simply stated as a Commitment to Excellence

But what exactly does this mean?

Definitions of Excellence

Here are a few example definitions from Fortune 500 companies.

At Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, they Strive for Excellence where all 2.2 million employees are asked to

  • Innovate by trying new ways of doing things and improving every day.
  • Model a positive example as we pursue high expectations.
  • Work as a team by helping each other and asking for help.

This raises the question: is it more about being innovative or working as a team? Or is it simply the pursuit of high expectations? Based on my personal experience with this brand, it’s hard to see where this value is making an impact, at least on the front lines. This suggests their definition is either not well understood or not effectively encouraged.

At Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, they define Excellence to their 125,000 employees within their Code of Conduct document:

We set and achieve ambitious goals.

The quality of our products and services reflects the power and heritage of Caterpillar—the pride we take in what we do and what we make possible. We are passionate about people, process, product and service excellence. We are determined to serve our customers through innovation, continuous improvement, an intense focus on customer needs and a dedication to meet those needs with a sense of urgency. For us, Excellence is not only a value; it is a discipline and a means for making the world a better place.

While this is a bit wordy, it covers a lot. Maybe too much. Is it more about their heritage or new innovations? Is it about focusing on the urgent or being disciplined? My biggest complaint here is around the fact that Caterpillar’s values are hidden in their Code of Conduct document and are nowhere to be found on their website. If values matter, they shouldn’t be hidden.

At Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company, they Perform with Excellence where 120,000 employees are asked to:

“…strive to excel in every aspect of our business and approach every challenge with a determination to succeed.”

This appears to be a bit lofty, but the key focus is on determination. In other words, it’s more about an attitude than outcome. I sure hope employees here are rewarded for their attitude versus specific results.

At Aetna, a large U.S. health care benefits company, Excellence is promoted to their 35,000 employees by encouraging them to:

“…strive to deliver the highest quality and value possible through simple, easy and relevant solutions.”

What a great way to define the “how” by focusing on things that are simple, easy, and relevant. I would hope Aetna’s reward and recognition programs promote such decisions and behaviors.

Fluor, a global engineering and construction company, succinctly defines Excellence to their 40,000+ employees in their Code of Business Conduct:

“We deliver quality services of unmatched value, constantly raising the bar on our performance.”

This definition suggests they provide the lowest cost, or best value as defined by the customer. It also suggests they compete with themselves on raising the bar of quality. Let’s hope that‘s what they mean, and upon which they reward employees. Again, I just wish Fluor wouldn’t bury their values in the Code of Conduct document. Values need to be highlighted on the company website for all to see.

Additional Thoughts

Of course, many companies simply list Excellence as a core value but provide little or no explanation to what it means or how to deliver it.

Others define it in less-than obvious ways. A few examples:

  • Verizon semi-describes it through their Credo.
  • Microsoft buries it within a bulleted statement about their values.
  • Goldman Sachs only makes reference to it in their Prospectus.

As I wrote in a previous post, The Challenges with Marketing the Value of Excellence, this is one value that is not for the faint of heart. While it may be the third most popular value, Excellence is often defined too vaguely or treated too lightly.

As with all values, the best definitions:

  • are clear and concise, and easy to understand.
  • clearly state if it’s about attitude, actions, or outcomes.
  • make it easy to remember and share with others.


How would you define the value of excellence for your organization?


Today’s value was selected from the “Knowledge-Skillfulness” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Value.