Get Started the Right Way
Craig A. Anderson
As we welcome the Government and Non-Profit sectors to the full 2007 Baldrige
assessment process, it is no surprise to see visionary leaders in both sectors
considering the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence as a framework for
moving into the future. Inevitably, as the initial discussions with these organizations
unfold, the question is asked, "Where do we begin?" Great question. Start right
and you will lay a foundation for consistent and measurable improvement. Where
to begin? Here, by understanding the importance of having each of the following
key elements in place as you begin your journey!
Integrity is at the heart of excellence. Integrity is also easily sacrificed, knowingly or
unknowingly, by the way an organization operates. Before investing your time and
energy in Baldrige (or any other proven improvement approach), step back and
take a good hard look at the level of integrity in your daily workplace, especially as
perceived through the eyes of your employees, customers, partners, and other
stakeholders. If integrity is present, nothing else matters; if integrity is not present,
nothing else matters. Sometimes it is indeed that simple.
Integrity may be the foundation, but clarity in what you want to do and how you will
do it are essential to gain support and trust. Do not overpromise. Stick to what you
know, and what you want to achieve. Be specific. What are your current and future
products and services? Who will deliver these services? Who will be your key
partners? What is your current and desired future competitive position? What are
your key challenges and opportunities? Think in terms of promoting a dialogue at
all levels of your organization. Strike a good balance between a bias for action and
Integrity and clarity give you direction, but only through effective integration can you
begin to change the course of your organization. As you begin to develop clarity
around your organization, seek out opportunities to integrate new thoughts and
actions into your current systems. Be smart here: keep it low key, but be
persistent. Integrate Baldrige into your current systems. How? Ask questions.
Request data. Challenge assumptions. Bring new people (employees, customers,
partners) into the management mix, informally, but substantively. Embrace the
understanding that you can change nothing but yourself, and then it becomes easy
to engage other people in your effort.
Baldrige is at its heart a facilitated process of self-inquiry that seeks to identify and
flesh out the strengths and opportunities for improvement that already exist in your
organization. You have heard the expression that "none of us is as smart as all of
us". Many of us agree with this in concept, but still have a hard time putting the
systems in place to use the smarts of "all of us". As you begin your work with
Baldrige, work hard to do whatever you can to foster a culture of inquiry in your
organization. Instead of asking people what they are doing, begin asking "how"
and "why" they are doing things. Make it clear that everything is on the table
intellectually and emotionally.
A friend acquainted us recently with Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from a
Birmingham Jail" (available online at
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf ) which was a
profound statement of principle and courage, and a sharp condemnation of
inaction in the face of injustice. But what struck us was Dr. King's ability to connect
people with the higher purpose of their actions: "One day the South will know that
when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in
reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred
values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those
great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their
formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence." As you
move ahead with your sincere efforts to build a better organization, keep your own
vision high and define the purpose for the people you care about. It does matter, in
ways that may or may not be clear today.