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Moving Target

This month's editorial on measuring internal success by Katherine Burger, Editorial Director.

Regardless of the industry, today's business environment requires companies to achieve better results with fewer resources, to build market share and improve profitability—and also to transparently and honestly report progress on those fronts. That always should have been business-as-usual, but recent scandals remind us not to assume anything.

But what happens when there's disagreement about what constitutes success? What if there are varying definitions of excellence? These questions came up in a recent conversation with the TowerGroup insurance team: Deborah Smallwood, Jamie Bisker and Cynthia Saccocia. The best-seller of the 1980s, In Search of Excellence, might now be considered anachronistic, Bisker contended, since a number of the profiled companies have faced serious challenges to their stellar reputations (to put it mildly) in the 21 years since the book was published.

Some of that reassessment no doubt stems from missteps and flawed initiatives. But, as Bisker pointedout, standards are also changing constantly. Is excellence a strong stock price? Is it consistent profitability? Is it a happy workforce? Technology proficiency? Market share growth? Is it measured by awards and media profiles, or is a better measure a company's reluctance to blow its own horn?

The first reaction might be to say, "All of the above," but if we've learned anything in the post-dot-com world it's that few, if any, organizations can be all things to all people. It's pretty much accepted wisdom that insurers will gradually specialize into distributors, processors, advisors, etc. There will have to be different performance benchmarks; why not different measures of success, too? The challenge will be to avoid shifting with the business buzzwords of the moment.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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