The Measure of Excellence
By Sue M. Paul OTR/L
“Excellence in Clinical Care” is one of those phrases we use all the time. It is Baker Rehab Group’s mantra. When John and I say “excellence”, we attach genuine passion to it, being careful not casually toss the word around like a meaningless ball of fluff.
But sometimes I think about the origin of rhetoric in organizations. Dilution of the mission statement and core values happens over time, especially when the owners repeatedly say the same popular buzz-phrase over and over again.
I recently read an article so profound I swooned, which isn’t normally the case from an organizational leadership publication. But the author tied together several themes of interest to me- philosophy, human behavior, and abstract concepts that are difficult to describe.
In his article Excellence: What is it? How to recognize it? How to Measure It?, Jim Sniechowski, PhD considers the value of excellence using three timeless metrics: truth, beauty, and goodness. He shares, “What I learned is that these three, along with the idea of unity, were called the Transcendentals because they transcend the limitations of place and time, and are rooted in being. They do not depend upon culture, religion, personal ideology and preference.”
Boom! I was hooked. Thanks to Plato and other deep thinkers, we have a way to describe that universal feeling of appreciation for something or someone regardless of societal influences. We have the collective definition of excellence.
But excellence is hard to measure. Sniechowski describes the external and internal forces of excellence. The external ones are easy to measure- they are the standards we use to measure someone against someone else. If you are faster, bigger, stronger, or smarter than someone else, that is easily measured. It is easy to prove claims that you “excel” compared to others. He writes, “The measure of excellence resides in surpassing someone and that makes excellence a social experience.”
But surely excellence is more than a shallow victory.
The internal driver of excellence comes from within. It is a self-generated desire to overcome a problem. It has nothing to do with how performance stacks against a competitor. This kind of motivation can lead to great discoveries and advancements.
But for something to be considered excellent, it really needs the balance of both external and internal measures. Do you know the empty feeling of achieving something that has little meaning to you? Do you also know the disappointing feeling of achieving something that has little value to others? The true measure of excellence lies somewhere in between.
The true measure of excellence is found in determining both the qualitative and the quantitative values in what we do as rehabilitation providers. The number-crunches and outcome-measures, “the qualitative”, are easy enough. The truth, beauty, and goodness of what we do are harder to put on paper.
I think Sniechowski defines them nicely:
“Truth (the intellectual dimension) is manifested as the rightness or exact coherence between intention and execution of the event;
Beauty (the aesthetic dimension) is the quality present in an event that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind from its meaningful design or pattern;
Goodness (the moral dimension) is the impact felt when witnessing mastery, i.e. conformance to a set of rules and obligations executed brilliantly.
Any moment of excellence will contain each of these dimensions as they interplay and weave together supporting and strengthening each other fusing into a unity of excellence regardless of the area of expression.”
As a therapist, you know when you’ve hit the mark on these things. You know when you’ve taught your patient well, when you’ve instructed a technique that enables him to put on his own shirt and the technique actually worked (truth). You also know the value in that smile that crosses your patient’s face the first time they walk across the room (beauty). You have helped your patients achieve goals they once thought impossible, and they got there by following the plan that you laid out and that you both executed together (goodness).
Just as putting excellence out into the world requires the balance of both internal and external drivers, the measure of excellence requires the awareness of both the measurer and the measuree. It is not for me to say exactly how driven you are to provide excellent care and whether you are motivated by a tugged heartstring or a hefty paycheck, but I will see the results in the truth, beauty, and goodness that comes out of everything you do.
We have the opportunity to be the Van Gogh’s and Einstein’s of our field. By aligning our passions and talents with the mechanical responsibilities of being occupational, physical, and speech therapists, we create a beautiful paradox…. we achieve excellence by helping others achieve theirs.