It genuinely bothers me when organizations spend years and untold dollars reinventing themselves and succeeding with a quality framework (i.e. Baldrige or Six Sigma) only to show up in the business press as an organization fighting for survival.
It’s like the obese person with one foot in the grave suddenly committing to health on America’s Biggest Loser and at the end of the program, successfully completing a marathon. For a moment, life is good and our belief in our capacity to do anything that we set our mind to, restored. Certainly the experience and lessons-learned during the successful journey to improve have changed this individual’s life for the better. And then, we glance at the tabloid cover in the grocery store checkout line to see a picture of this fat then fit and now fat again individual working out with a box of Krispy Kremes.
I wrote a related post a few days ago with the harsh title of Change or Die, and upon second thought, the title should have been: Change & Sustain or Die. Organizations and people are fairly adept at changing for a moment at the end of a gun barrel, but they are not so good at sustaining the change when the barrel is no longer pointing their way.
- There’s the former Baldrige winner that lost their CEO in an untimely passing. The new leader took a cost cutting mentality and ended up cutting out programs and people critical to the organization’s focus on performance excellence. The ensuing performance included a stint in bankruptcy. That’s a bad case of the Baldrige Blues.
- Motorola is given large credit for helping create the Six Sigma Quality framework. Their focus on process improvement and their Baldrige award are legendary and define the culture. The company is fighting for survival, mired down in completely forgetting the Voice of the Customer in pursuit of endless elegant iterations of cell phones that no one wants. Their imbalanced scorecard had them losing $12 for every device they sold last quarter and burning through billions with a “b” in cash over the last year.
- Ford. Enough said.
- GM, don’t get me started.
It’s not like Toyota withheld key information about the legendary Toyota Production System and the many other business practices that they learned by applying Deming’s principles, studying the writings of Henry Ford and the unique innovations in the operations of early supermarkets in the U.S.
- Circuit City. See ya. (OK, this one is unfair…they never achieved any form of recognizable Performance Excellence.)
The Bottom-Line For Now on Sustaining Performance Excellence
Leadership is always an issue when it comes to performance, and in my opinion, it is THE issue when it comes to sustaining excellence. The various Quality frameworks offer essential directions for the never-ending journey in pursuit of creating value and continuously improving, but the secrete is that there is no final destination.
Achieving milestones and winning awards helps reinforce the progress on the journey, but leaders at all levels have to foster a culture that is perpetually dissatisfied. The fact is that the market never sleeps, customer issues/needs change constantly and there are always competitors interested in taking your share of the customer’s budget.
An MBA student reminded me the other night of Andy Grove’s (Intel) classic book and philosophy: Only the Paranoid Survive. Perhaps we should work on a Balanced Scorecard measure for Paranoia. Actually, that raises an interesting question. What do your metrics and measures and scorecards truly tell you about whether you are continuing the upward climb or falling backwards, potentially into oblivion?
Hey leaders, wake up. Someone’s going to have you for lunch while you are busy basking in the glow of your latest quality award. And speaking of lunch, do you know how long it will take you to work off that piece of carrot cake? Just say no to the dessert and get to the gym tonight. You're looking a little pudgy.
Another related post: Does Your Dashboard of Performance Measures Include a Warning Light?