Saturday, April 27, 2013

Having a National Quality Award is Only Part of Sustainable Success

The last two topics of the lead Influential Voice blog, A View from the Q, address quality awards and the successes that these programs bring to their organizations.  These successes are important but how lasting are they?  Do they support the first of Deming’s 14 Points that state that organizations need a constancy of purpose?  Let’s discuss!
Recently, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) has celebrated 25 years in existence with a program named after President Reagan’s Commerce Secretary, who was a broad proponent of performance improvement.  In that time, the program has established a management criterion that has become broadly accepted by almost all of the individual state quality awards. 
Of interest are the winners of the award.  Looking over the list there are very few repeat winners, those that can apply after 5 years for a sustainment level award.  I would expect that once anyone is on this journey and they have fully embraced the criterion that constancy of purpose is a natural byproduct of the journey.  The level of commitment is sustained based on a significant application fee as well as the ability for people from the organization to participate in judging other organizations by becoming an examiner for the award.  For the examiners, besides the resume boost, it allows them to learn what other organizations do and bring what they learn back to their service organization.
So why aren’t their more repeat winners?  Some theories:
·         For small businesses – the cost is a barrier though some state programs are starting to overcome this issue. 
·         Changes in leadership – all quality award programs require FULL management support and MBNQA is no exception.  The leader who shepherds the organization to winning the MBNQA often does not stick around for another round.  The question becomes for the new leader, what is the ROI for being an award winner and does it generate significant revenue to continue supporting the program?
·         Economic Conditions – This theory particularly impact non-profit and governmental winners in that these organizations often are not revenue generators.  Budgetary efficiency is a prime driver and the same management questions above are often asked here as well.
·         MBNQA as a “bolt-on” – This theory is my pet peeve because we really have not addressed the essence of quality programs.  Quality works best when it involves organizational integration.  Usually, a small group is involved in developing the award packets.  “It’s their job to do MBNQA.”   This leads us down the path of “real” ROI to doing MBNQA and it opens itself up for immediate cuts in poor economic situations.
So, is having a national quality award program really in the quality community’s best interest? For establishing a standard of expectation, yes; for reinforcing constancy of purpose, no.  We need support from other societal units to get the second piece.  Consider that our culture supports leaders who make their own unique mark on an organization.  Leaders are not taught what that concept means in the long term health of an organization.  It used to be taught when an organization grew from a patriarchal (or matriarchal) experience base when survival of the organization was dependent upon core values passed down from experience  That model was denigrated by Wall Street and MBA factories back in the 1980’s and again with dot com explosion at the beginning of the century. 
What we need to understand is that national quality awards have inherent flaws.  They are good short term fixes for organizations that are sick and are good models to aspire to but they are not supportive by the core societal groups that provide the training and experience for future organizational leaders.  But most importantly, businesses rarely have a constancy of purpose.

What we often find is that organizations that do have constancy of purpose often don't need national quality awards as proof they are a quality organization. Again, looking back at the list of winners; where are the Toyota's, the Apple's, the Google's, the Amazon's on that list?  

Which truly begs the question--do we REALLY need a national quality award for businesses to succeed?  I would contend that a better guideline for a national quality award should be Deming's 14 Points rather than the MBNQA criteria.  
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