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Creating a Culture of Excellence

It means something different for every company, but for all of them the key to success is the same: the person at the top.

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This story appears in the March 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ever since Tom Peters introduced the word excellence into the business world, companies have been madly scrambling after it. His 1982 book, In Search of Excellence, spawned a whole industry of excellence--management gurus and cultural consultants invading the workplace with formulas for total quality control, going from good to great, breaking all the rules, getting things done, busting e-myths and moving cheese.

But in the end, it turns out the quest for excellence is a little like stopping smoking--there are hundreds of plans, but in reality none of them work very well, at least without a strong commitment from the top. According to research by IBM and others, between 60 and 90 percent of organizational change initiatives fall flat. It's no wonder. Making the changes that lead to excellence is not an overnight pursuit--it's a long process that often means rewiring a company's fundamental DNA.

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