How would you define ‘World Class’ in terms of operational excellence?
Organizations exemplify world class operational excellence through the selection of global ‘best in class’ benchmarks. For example, an organization might be able to demonstrate ‘best in class’ performance within its industry in the United States. However, their results may carry less value against a broader set of competitors.
Globally, an operationally excellent organization at the world class level can demonstrate superior performance against organizations that extend beyond its industry and country of operation. Most organizations are content to surpass the industry average within their country of operation. However, this is not world class excellence.
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As an Examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, what attributes do you look for to gauge operational excellence?
I essentially answer this question with my definition of operational excellence. I will add that there are three key things we examiners look for, especially when we visit a finalist for the award. First and foremost, we try to ask questions of a high percentage of the workforce to help validate the degree of high performance work practice deployment.
You can’t achieve a significant percentage of the award’s ‘approach / deployment points (55% of the total) without key approach deployment to a high percentage of the workforce. In other words, a high level of employee engagement is a prerequisite when you truly pursue operational and process excellence.
Secondly, we review lots of documentation and talk to more people. We want to validate the degree that what was said on paper actually exists in the organization. Eleven core values serve as the foundation for the award and its criteria.
These core values include fact-based management, visionary leadership, and valuing employees. Most organizations can talk a good game, but few can back it up in the workplace.
That’s where the third thing comes in. Even in those cases where an organization might have the right work systems in place, they can rarely demonstrate how they consistently improve these systems to produce better results, in all areas of importance.
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What is the most “critical factor” that makes an improvement initiative successful?
This is a tough question, because I am torn between two possible answers. An improvement initiative will not succeed if leaders fail to allocate time towards the effort. Once leaders allocate that time, they must use it effectively.
That said, organizations often allocate this time on paper (in a strategic plan, job description, or expense budget for example). Unfortunately, they fail to require EACH leader to demonstrate how they personally use this time to improve the key processes they are responsible for.
If I could only change one thing, I would change what I expect from each of my leaders. Most people will find a way to reach a goal if leaders clearly state that goal, along with the goal achievement consequences.
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