Monday, September 23, 2013

Sustaining Long-term Excellence

September’s Influential Voice post from Paul Borawski summarizes Corning’s sustained organizational success since it started its first glass product in 1851. There are other companies that can also claim sustainable quality and excellence: 3M, DuPont, Coca-Cola, and GE, among others. Each of these organizations has a published track record of success.  Each organization has a unique culture with periods of great success as well as turbulent times. Ultimately, it is the alignment of culture, strategy, and execution that defines organization sustainment during change of organizational leadership.    
I like to think that the antithesis of organizational sustainment is what I call the “buggy-whip” syndrome.  At the turn of the 20th century there were a lot of buggy whip manufacturers whose chief job in differentiating from their competitors was to build a better, cheaper buggy whip. Over time, we know what happened to that industry due to myopia. When the organization “takes the blinders off” (pun intended) they have taken the first step towards a sustainable life because they are not solely focused internally.  They are focused on creating organizational value, not organizational commodity.
“Innovation” is the new buzzword (along with Big Data, but that is for another time).  October’s Harvard Business Review issue covers the topic in health care, research and development, and consulting.  Nicole Radziwill has a great review of the most recent Business Innovation Factory summit.  ASQ has an Innovation Interest Group.  Innovation, in my mind, is our willingness to NOT let regulation, bureaucracy, culture, and strategy hinder our ability to answer change. It is always good to get unlike minds together; it was one of the success factors of TED.  The challenge is that once the idea exists and fits the culture and organizational direction, you need regulation, bureaucracy, and culture to grow the idea into organizational value. 
Where things go wrong is when value becomes commodity.  The organization becomes a slave to Wall Street and the shackles of profit.  The organization no longer has customers as part of the equation other than a “consumer.”  It becomes a race to become a commodity and to hold onto that “commodity” tag for as long as possible.  The notion of value becomes lost to the organization.  In Paul’s blog there was a reader comment denigrating Corning’s success because it did not meet someone’s expectation of a stock price.  I am still struggling to understand how a stock price directly impacts a customer’s perceived value of a product.
Ultimately, quality is an enabler because quality is more interested in value than in commodity.  The quality community is more concerned about customer needs than a balance sheet line item. Quality is cultural expectation that rises and falls based on how the leader values the organizational culture. If the leader and organization are not aligned (and yes, I believe an organization is a living entity) no amount of innovation or Lean or Six Sigma will help maintain organizational success in the long run.
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