Reality: What A Concept
Reflections On The Baldrige Winners
There are common themes that underpin the criteria which seem to be universal business imperatives. I want to highlight these themes by quoting three presenters at the Quest conference.
One theme is exemplified by a remark made by Ko Nishimura, the CEO of Solectron, the only two-time Baldrige winner. Nishimura said, "The future belongs to those who are better at getting better." Listening to the Baldrige winners is humbling at times - the focus and commitment they display as organizations toward getting better. Every Baldrige winner has explicit plans and activities in place for improving their performance in every aspect of the business, from partnering with customers to improving every business process. This is probably what is most unique about the winners.
Comments by Hal Minot, senior vice president of marketing and business development from Merrill Lynch Credit Corp. exemplify another theme. He stated that their organization was aligned around understanding customer requirements and meeting them. If you don't focus on client needs you will get what you always got, actually less than that, because your competition will have gotten better. "Change is the inevitable result of meeting customer needs." I like this statement because it normalizes change and gives a way for employees to embrace change as a means to do their jobs better.
As Xerox has made clear since 1989, when another one of their divisions won the Baldrige, "Our empowerment culture is the secret to our success." A customer-centered mindset and a framework for achieving performance excellence is unfeasible without all employees contributing their talents, knowledge of the business, skills and abilities enhanced through training, and an infrastructure that provides opportunities to contribute. As John Lawrence, vice president of quality noted, "Empowerment at its most basic level means being able to say 'yes' to your customers and is best expressed through a Xerox theme for 1998: It's your company. Own it."
All Baldrige winning companies invest enormous organizational resources in training and learning because they know their employees' skills and commitment are their competitive advantage. All of the winners highlighted the use of teaming to work on all business processes, from product development to measuring customer satisfaction. The use of cross-functional teams, self-directed teams, as well as functional teams were key elements of their business strategies, and training and an empowered environment were the vehicles.
It is interesting to note that the questions this year from attendees were more practical and concerned with 'how to do it'. This might be a sign that those attending came to be reminded that the payoff is in living quality and participation, as opposed to talking about and promoting their own progress.
These three business imperatives: constant improvement,
customer focus, and creating an empowered culture are never 'done'. The
winners made it clear that their investment in these areas is long term
and constant. The winners are successful because they have sustained their
focus over the years. In the face of economic