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The Pursuit of Perfection


The pursuit of perfection is a strategy for motivating organizations to innovate and reach levels of improvement and performance not previously seen as possible. Leveraging the pursuit of perfection as a strategy was developed and refined by quality leaders such as Bob Galvin and Paul O’Neill, and it has led to success in industries including health care, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Key steps along the path to perfection include:

  • Find gaps in strategy that the organization can rally around by establishing more powerful measures that reveal gaps in strategy and performance;
  • Identify the “theoretical limit” for each key measure to determine the size of the gap and envision what perfection would look like;
  • Leverage proven quality methods and new tools to find innovative ways to close the gap and establish new industry best practices;
  • Prototype and perfect the solution; and
  • Institutionalize a culture of quality leadership and continuous renewal within the organization.

Leading to Perfection
Prior to serving as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill was one of the most successful industrial leaders of the 20th century. As CEO of Alcoa from 1987 to 1999, he proposed and demanded a radical goal: zero work-loss incidents. No one would be hurt working at Alcoa, period. Alcoa moved toward perfection, becoming the safest industrial company in the world — as well as the most successful aluminum producer in the world.

Here Paul O’Neill describes a revolutionary kind of leadership — one that centers around the pursuit of perfection: