From the CEO: Talking Excellence with Billy Ray Taylor and David A. Behling

AME | March 7, 2024

It is always my honor to share a weekly letter with our membership. It is even more fun when we have guest columnists. This week, AME Champions Club member and columnist David A. Behling shares an interview with Billy Ray Taylor, AME’s Board chair-elect.

Billy Ray Taylor is a keynote speaker at the AME Cleveland 2023 Conference. Taylor is an American business executive, dynamic speaker and leadership guru. He is the founder and president of LinkedXL (Excellence), a business operating systems architecting firm, and the author of “The Winning Link.” He spent 30 years with The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT), serving as director of North America manufacturing and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

During his tenure at Goodyear, Taylor started on the plant floor and retired as global head of diversity and inclusion and executive director of commercial, off-highway, and support manufacturing in North America, where he led world-class operations.

David A. Behling, LSSMBB, CMQ/OE, MBA, leads the improvement journey at Merritt Aluminum Products. Behling is a results-orientated change agent who creates value and space for growth in diverse organizations (manufacturing, service, government and non-profit) by building cultures of trust, respect, daily problem solving and waste identification through servant leadership.




Talking Excellence with… Billy Ray Taylor

Interview and column by David A. Behling


Behling: What was your first exposure to Excellence?

Taylor: In my opinion, it was in my home. Unique at that time, it started with standards. My mother set standards and held us to those standards; from making up our bed, to what time we had to come in at night, how we went about our day, preparing to start our day... She was just eliminating waste. Even the way she prepared our meals; there wasn’t a lot of extra food, so there was no waste. So, I experienced excellence early on in life, but I didn't know what it was at that time.

I didn’t understand why it's important to have standards; what do those standards do in the long term? Standards are the most important thing with excellence. What I learned from it was you can go out and find all these different models, but if there's no governance, you're not going to sustain your gains. It just becomes the flavor of the month. When you have standards, even today, years later, when I speak to my mom or when I'm raising my own kids, I start with, what's the standard? And so, it's two things I always say. Define winning. If you don't define winning, my mother would always define winning, and then she'd put the standard down to how we're going to win.

Behling: How would you define Excellence?

Taylor: Excellence is not perfect, okay? It's those step-by-step incremental improvements, continuing to push and raise the bar, continuing to get better and better. If you don't achieve excellence, you can't say “I failed.” Now, when I say excellence, excellence is not about what you measure; it's the environment you're creating. How do you foster those environments to get people involved and engaged, to drive performance? I've seen some teams go about it with the Iron Fist or Iron Hammer, and when that leader leaves, everything falls apart. Worse is when people start doing unethical and immoral things to win.

So, when I’m talking excellence, it's the way of deliberate practice, that deliberate practice of doing things and getting better and better and better and better. That's excellence! So, as a father (which I am), excellence is my presence; I give my kids my presence. When I show up, my kid doesn't remember those bikes I bought him or say, “My dad was a great dad because he bought me bikes.” No, he says, “My dad was a great dad because he was there; he helped develop me to get better and better and better as a person.”

Behling: How do you develop Excellence?

Taylor: “LoDoTo! Learn one. Do one, teach one.” When I teach excellence, I start out with, again, define what winning is. At that point, once you define what winning is, you have to align yourself to win. Everybody needs to know what their role is in winning. Then you have to have a process to let you know if you're winning or not at each stage of the process. So, it's define, align and execute.

When you define what winning is, everybody knows; just set true north. Now, true north for a company may be being profitable; however, if you're the safety leader of this company to be profitable, your true north is keeping everyone safe. A leader needs to break that strategy down and let everybody know what they own in the process so that winning is very clear for the team and for the individual.

Therefore, when I say, LoDoTo is how do I do it, I teach so people can learn. We then have the process to where they do it and then have them teach you or teach someone else. The retention of learning is by doing. I can show you a Michael Jordan video on how to score and how to be ferocious, but if you don't have that type of deliberate practice where you can go in and teach others as well and practice, then you're not going to retain it, you're not going to get it.

I have learned we resist change when it's done to us. We as human beings are less likely to resist change when we are involved. When I was coaching youth teams, we would often be in the championship game even though we didn't have the best talent. We went through the process where I was doing change with them. What do you think? What's your role? At that point, they would try the things that I as a coach was saying, here's the standard. I was doing change with them, not to them. It's hard. Some of the best coaches in collegiate professional sports, the Nick Sabans, use the same process. People think Nick Saban is just so rigorous. No, he starts with a standard. He's relatable and he does change with the team, not to the team. And you know what… on game day, if you watch his teams, you don't know who's from where. One kid can be in the most lucrative neighborhood and one kid can come from extreme poverty, but on game day, the standard is the standard; what you see on the field is the standard. That's a good team.

So, how do you do excellence? Be very clear, deliberate clarity, next deliberate ownership and then deliberate practice. That is how you drive it. I think excellence is that operating or management system that drives predictable, repeatable and sustainable results.

Behling: How would you explain Excellence to an executive?

Taylor: I would first ask them a question before I go into explaining what it is. The question is: What do you say is winning for your organization (define winning)? Once the person would answer, I would then break it down into elements. I would then be able to say these are the key components to excellence. I would further ask, “Do you have a clear strategy of what you want to achieve?”

I would then say, “Let me give you the winning formula: strategy plus execution equals results.” The CEO would probably be looking at me thinking, if it's that simple, why do so many companies fail? I would say, “Let me give you the formula again. Strategy plus who owns what makes it easy to execute; and then you get results. Excellence is really your deliberate practice for continuous improvement. You're continuing to raise the ball. You have to be able to know if you're winning or losing at any given time.”

I would tell a leader that excellence is continually getting better. It's not the home run. It's a bunch of base hits. At the end of the game, the scoreboard tells you if you won. Unfortunately, most companies don't even know what their CPI (critical performance indicator) is. Often, leaders, as they go up the food chain or the ladder, want to measure everything. That's okay, but what's the main thing? Leaders have to be very deliberate on what their CPI is.

For example, when you go to a football game, you look up at the scoreboard and there is a lot of information. What is the first thing you look for when you look at that scoreboard? There is the time left in the game, what quarter it is, how many timeouts, etc.…, but what's really important is the CPI: the score. The score makes the time on the clock more important, and the remaining time outs more important. If you're up 40 to zero and it's one minute left, my CPI says just run the clock out, don't take that time out. If the CPI says the visitor team has seven, we have zero, one minute left, I'm going to use those timeouts because now I want the greatest opportunity. To do what? Win!

Behling: What is one of the main reasons to strive for Excellence?

Taylor: One of the main reasons to strive for operational and business excellence is to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage in the market. Excellence in operations can lead to enhanced efficiency, reduced costs, and improved product quality, all of which contribute to higher customer satisfaction. This pursuit often leads to personal and professional growth, as it encourages continuous learning, skill development, and the setting of ambitious goals. This, in turn, can result in increased market share, higher profitability, and sustainable business growth. Furthermore, operational excellence can promote a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging innovation and adaptability, which are critical for long-term success in an ever-changing business environment.

Behling: In your opinion, why don’t more organizations strive for Excellence?

Taylor: Within our world, leadership is often the problem. It's rarely the people doing the work. In some companies, 5% of the people think they make everything happen, 15% just watch and 80% wait to be told what to do. In the companies of excellence, that pyramid is flipped. Where you engage 80% of the people that work in the business to drive the business, 15% should do strategy deployment enabling, 5% should be doing the visioning. So, the 5% should be working on the business, supporting the 80% of the people working in the business. The 5% should give the 80% what they need to give them what they want.

Why does it fail? When I go into companies all over the world, it's frequent they have no idea if they're winning or losing until the end of the month. They have no process to let them know. The second thing is leadership is not willing to let go without letting loose. A parent must learn the same thing. I have kids I am raising. I've let go, but I do not let loose. I let go so they can grow up and mature, but I never let loose. If my 22-year-old son needs help, Dad's there; but he's got his own life. My daughter lives in another state; I still haven't let loose, but I've let go because that's how we grow.

Some leaders I know have these big egos, which erode effectiveness in some cases. They want to control everything and hurt their organizations when they do that. These leaders need to understand something; if I fight your battles, I steal your victories. When you look at leaders who are micromanaging, it's psychologically unsafe to go try something. It's psychologically unsafe to go out there. So basically, their teams try to survive by not saying anything.

When you talk about excellence, it's exposing things in a safe manner. It's exposing things because you can't manage a secret. If people don't know what your strategy is or they don't know, then it's a secret; you can't manage it and companies fail. I live this when I work with a lot of different companies. The ones that thrive are very deliberate around what winning is and what the standard is. They're very deliberate around who owns what in that strategy, and they're very deliberate around the daily deliberate practice, the daily management system, exposing things, embracing people.

The key to success is people. “Make people visible and they will make you valuable.” Leaders who help people see their value and understand their value proposition are great. People crave to be valued. Kids crave the attention of their parents. Often, leaders, as they grow in stature, become obnoxious and think it is about them. My style is to show that people are valuable, and I rarely say no to a person who wants to say hi. I know leaders who have earned millions of dollars and are now miserable because they are now on an island by themselves. Make sure to embrace people and embrace the situation, because before you know it, it may be gone. Excellence is not just about what we get, it is about what you do. It is two-fold, both sides of the coin. Titles get you so far; credibility and influence get you a long way.

Behling: What is the biggest opportunity for Excellence in today’s world?

Taylor: How we go about our business. The model has changed, and yet we keep going into organizations with the same old wrenches. It is almost like “airplane lean.” We fly in, get the book in the airport, read it, and come back in, and it is the “flavor of the month.” We need to become very simple and remain simplistic. As I see it, the greatest opportunity is hoshin at a different level, using a connected business model. Right now, we do these models and they are stuck on someone’s laptop where it is not connected to anyone. Everyone is getting extremely tool focused. I say, “Be hard on the process so you can be easy on the people.” The standard is what you walk by, not what you write down. So, if you are hard on the process, maintaining the standard becomes easy. Since everything is negotiable, a daily management system is important; it is your connected business model. This is the greatest opportunity right now for us.


Thank you, David A. Behling and Billy Ray Taylor, for your insightful interview. As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.