What’s it Going to Be? Pick One or Two, But Not Three

August 7, 2015

By Phil Ransom

Is it possible to achieve excellence, be the best in your venue, with cheapest-is-best as a key operative? I’ve come to the conclusion the answer is “No”.
Several years ago I interviewed to be a system installer for an audio video company with a stellar reputation. My previous position called for services and products similar to theirs but I couldn’t recall having seen any of their ads. So in the interview I asked which periodicals they advertised in.  “We don’t advertise,” was the quick and confident reply, “We don’t have to.”

He went on to say that once their reputation for best quality was established, the need to advertise ended.

  • They installed only state-of-the-art components and systems.
  • Their training was first-rate.
  • Their service department held a zero tolerance stance regarding equipment and software. It works, or we make sure it does!
  • There was no need to pay for advertising, ecstatic customers did that for them.

Naturally, I was disappointed when they hired someone else. How delightful that would have been: Excellence. Just excellence, all day, every day.

Conversely I have worked with those for whom cheapest is a core value. “Don’t spend it unless you have to.” “Low bid wins,” etc..
It should come as no surprise to you that organizations and companies that think that way grow slowly if at all.

One organization I served has gone from “state of the art, world-class house museum” thinking fifteen years ago, to a minimalist mindset, giving the impression of ongoing grandiosity while spending precious-little on time and resources to get the job done. Excellence is a word in their past. Leaders are leaving, and I’m not optimistic about the organization’s future.

I remember in one organization, I invited six key leaders to join me for a little exercise after hours but before dark.  Meeting them in the parking lot, I handed each of them a pair of dollar-store children’s sunglasses. “Those are visitor-glasses,” I told them, “I want you to imagine you’ve never been here before.”  I gave a tour to people who’d been in the organization for decades, looking through the lenses of a first-time visitor. At tour’s end we found a table and sat down to review what we’d discovered.  Walls that hadn’t been painted in 20 years.  One large white wall, we even discovered, had never been painted. It was texture and primer. That’s it.  We identified carpet with obvious traffic wear patterns. Signage to help visitors was glaringly absent. Audio-visual equipment for classrooms and the auditorium were pieced together from whenever / wherever / whatever’s cheapest.  We had lecterns in some classrooms that had actuality been bedside stands at an area hospital decades before, given to us when the hospital closed.  “We’ve got work to do!” they agreed, “no wonder visitors aren’t coming back.”

It took us 18 months of concerted, steady effort, but we brought about a culture shift in the organization.  “Cheapest is no longer a core value here.”
I shared with that team –and I say this whenever I get the chance– that there are three driving objectives for most companies and organizations, all begin with the letter “E”.

You can sell two, but not all three.
Life is best when you can focus on just one.
Those factors are:

  • Excellence, 
  • Efficiency,
  • Economy. 

One is best.  Two is possible.


  • You can sell Economy (best price) and Efficiency (fast delivery) but you’ll not be selling the best products.
  • You can sell Excellence and Efficiency, but not cheaply.
  • If you’re looking for Excellent products or services inexpensively, you’ll probably stand in  line a while. It won’t feel efficient.

Where are you on the spectrum?  Where is your company or organization?  Is that where you want to be?  Is that how you’re going to move into “your preferred future”, you dream?

Be honest with yourself, and about your true answers to those questions, the way that “we’ve got work to do” team was.  Then make the necessary changes.

A note from one who’s been there –  once you know, abrupt initial  improvements are a lot of fun!  Then once you see the difference, incremental changes can be worked into your schedule and budget.
What do you want to sell the most?  Move in that direction.  Now.


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