Not surprisingly, it’s often difficult for senior executives and management teams to gain objective feedback on their individual and collective performance. I’ve worked with clients and in organizations where the management team was generally satisfied with their own performance and would give themselves high marks at a time when the employees would give them lower or even failing grades. In all cases where I’ve observed this perception gap, there was no objective, systematic means of measuring performance and perceptions in place.
During periods of widespread growth, the rising tide effect and decent numbers tend to support management’s belief that they are doing the right things to secure the future of the business. Along comes a slowdown in the economy, a movement in the key metrics in the wrong direction and the painful recognition that all is not right in Camelot. We all know what happens from here. Top management runs around, holds a bunch of meetings with employees, consultants are invited in to help out, “strategy” becomes the new buzzword, lofty new goals are announced and somewhere in here there’s a reorganization or two. (I don’t mean to sound cynical, but even in these enlightened times, this cycle is repeated over and over again.)
At least one critical component to avoiding the scenario above and to isolating on problem-areas before they manifest themselves as crises or at least significant organizational performance problems is to consistently monitor employee and leader perspectives on the issues and areas that count. You can do this the hard and expensive way by investing in outside resources or you can take advantage of some remarkable and free resources courtesy of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program.
Baldrige Is About Performance:
While you may assume that the Baldrige program is focused on quality (that’s part of the story), it is also heavily focused on performance and on the integration of all of the systems and processes that interact to create sustained, outstanding performance. The criteria for the award are covered in seven categories:
- Strategic planning
- Customer and Market Focus
- Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
- Human Resource Focus
- Process management
According to the site, the intent of the program is to: help organizations enhance their competitiveness by focusing on two goals: delivering ever improving value to customers and improving overall organizational performance.
Part of the expansive set of tools available license and restriction free for you to use are two different, brief and easy to use survey instruments: Are We Making Progress? and Are We Making Progress as Leaders? The surveys follow the seven categories described above, and ask leaders and employees to give their opinions of organizational effectiveness on the most critical issues that drive overall performance. As a bonus, the site includes the aggregated survey ratings of the companies that applied for the award in previous years for your use in comparing your organization’s results. All in all, these are some remarkably important and powerful tools available free for your use at the click of a mouse.
Observations and Suggestions: The Answers Are Closer Than They Appear:
- Thoroughly read and digest the Criteria for Performance Excellence document(s) at the Baldrige site. You might be surprised how much wisdom has been nicely aggregated over twenty plus years into some powerful and brief documents. In my opinion, this 70+ page document has more insights between the covers than entire shelves of business books found in stores.
- Assess the gap between employee perspectives on organizational activities and effectiveness and your leadership teams perspectives by using the surveys. Compare your results to the summary results of past year Baldridge candidates to develop some context for the gaps. I promise that the results from this survey will be fascinating, eye opening and actionable.
- Leverage the survey results and the vast body of Baldrige tools and materials to architect a holistic and sustainable business improvement program that focuses on the key drivers of organizational performance. You don’t have to search for the secret formula or even the answers…they are right in front of you, and in this case, neatly organized, well documented and supported by an ample body of cases for your use.
The Bottom Line for Now:
If you’ve not studied Baldrige, you would be well served to fill that gap as part of your professional development(see my post, Back to School!). There’s a remarkable amount of good common sense in gauging your organization’s performance and maturity against well-established criteria for success. You don’t have to pursue a Baldrige award and I certainly am not interested in inviting debate over the efficacy of one discipline versus another (e.g. Six Sigma, ISO, Deming Award Criteria etc.). However, I am interested in suggesting that a great starting point for figuring out what ails you is to ask people, to understand perception gaps, and to mine the gold from those gaps as part of your improvement programs.