ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — August 2003

In This Issue

Changing Attitudes and Accelerating Change
Coaching and Performance Reviews—Time for Some Changes
Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Negotiating for Quality
Looking Toward the Future

In A Nutshell
Proven Strategies on Service and Life


AQP Connections
Articles in Brief
The Help Desk
News Bites
What’s Up?

Book Nook

August 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

AQP Home

The Help Desk
Tips for Internet-Based Research

A Primer on Alignment
The 2003 Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence states, “Organizational alignment is a precursor to the harmonious integration of the plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, analysis, and learning necessary to support key organization-wide goals that produce the desired results. Effective alignment requires use of complementary measures and information for planning, tracking, analysis, and improvement at three levels: organizational, key process level, and work unit level.”

When organizations are interested in gaining greater alignment, there are several elements to consider. These elements include having a strategic direction or focus, knowing the customers, understanding customer requirements, having value-creation processes supporting these customer requirements, and using measurements to monitor progress toward the desired state. These elements are anchored in a clear understanding of organizational challenges and the strategic goals and objectives designed to meet these challenges.

Alignment requires focusing on customers and their constantly changing requirements. Although customer focus has been an organizational mantra for many years, it is not unusual for leaders to spend a day at yearly leadership team meetings debating differences between customers and stakeholders, who their customers are, and other issues related more to semantics than substance. Then after the long debate they leave the forum without consensus.

The Baldrige criteria define “customer” as the “…actual and potential users of your products and services.” The criteria also divide customers into groups and recommend prioritizing those groups. This process recognizes that most organizations have an array of customer groups with whom they deal regularly.

If organizations are not extremely clear about who their customers are, it is difficult to have customer satisfaction as a strategic concept. Customer requirements are generally thought of as “what the customer wants.” Again, the Baldrige criteria help clarify the various aspects of customer-driven excellence. Category 3, customer and market focus, asks multiple questions and at the highest level these are:

  • “Describe how your organization determines requirements, expectations, and preferences of customers and markets to ensure the continuing relevance of your products/services and to develop new opportunities.
  • “Describe how your organization builds relationships to acquire, satisfy, and retain customers, to increase customer loyalty and develop new opportunities. Describe also how your organization determines customer satisfaction.”

A process that makes it easy for employees to see alignment is the critical path exercise. The sidebar, “Using a Critical Path to Understand Alignment,” describes the seven-step process, and Figure 1 shows a template to gather and document your organization’s data.

Although the questions seem simple, this process takes extensive thinking, idea generating, discussing, debating, and more thinking. Moreover, once results are generated for these questions, you need to ask Dr. Deming’s famous question: “How do we know?” This requires another iteration of the critical path questions. It also may require more data gathering and analysis to ensure critical path validity.

MARY-JO HALL is a professor at Defense Acquisition University, where she addresses the human side of program management, individual development, teaming, leadership, and organizational performance/results. She also directs work force development and guides the human capital strategies. Hall has served as an examiner, senior examiner, and alumni examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award program. She can be reached at 703-805-4943.

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