The world is made up of "systems" - your body functions through a series of integrated systems, as does your car, your computer, and even nature itself. Exceptional organizational results - sustained over time - happen through a series of integrated systems and processes. But those systems and processes are operated by people - your workforce - and they operated for people - your customers (students, patients, taxpayers, etc). Put great people into poor processes, and you might have success from time to time, but sustained success will be hard to achieve. Put the wrong people into great processes, and the same is true. But when the right people are engaged in the right systems and processes, success - results - seem to follow and stick around for awhile.
But not just any results - those results that are most important to your organization . . . that are at the core of your organization's mission, that reflect the long-term vision you have for your organization, and that are strategically important to deliver on the promises you make to your customers and stakeholders. If yours is a for-profit entity, then those results are likely financial in nature (profitability, sales, market share, ROI); if you are in education, then the results we're talking about are likely to be related to student learning or student success; in health care, perhaps the most important results are related to patient care, safety or healing.
Great leaders set the direction for their organization, make sure the right strategies are executed, and put the right people and processes in place to achieve success, but more than anything else, the best leaders spend every day working on the culture of the organization. A culture of innovation, a culture of improvement, a culture of service, a culture of relationships . . . what defines that culture can vary greatly from organization to organization, but role model organizations - those who produce exceptional results - have role model cultures.
There are probably more formal definitions, but for us, it is all about exceptional results achieved by mission-driven, vision-led, strategy-focused organizations through role model leadership and management approaches. Performance Excellence links "Quality" (doing things right) to "Strategy" (doing the right things), and connects "Service" (providing a unique experience) to "Value" (providing a meaningful experience).