Performance Excellence Process
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Global Insights Archive
Benchmarking for Global Success:
Baldrige Performance Excellence Makes it Easy
Craig A. Anderson
February 2008


So much to learn, so little time. We recently had the pleasure of working with a
Japanese prefecture (political subunit comparable to a state in the United States)
that was seeking to benchmark its best-in-country performance management
system against a wider range of international organizations. This prefecture
employed a systematic process of strategy development based on citizen surveys
and feedback, but it recognized that it needed help in strategy deployment. Their
current approach was to create literally hundreds of detailed action plans for
distribution across various prefectural departments and agencies, which created
enormous amounts of administrative work without clear benefits.

As soon as we met with the principal researcher for this prefecture, it was clear
that we had a common language for success; we "spoke Baldrige" and the
prefecture "spoke Japan Quality Award" (and had, in fact, competed for the JQA
several years earlier), which meant that we instantly shared a vision about what
performance excellence and results looked like. As we wrote in an earlier Global
Insights, (A Surprising Twist in Japanese Quality Management), the JQA, when it
was established in 1995, was modeled after the self-assessment methods of the
Baldrige Award. Today, there is still a tight fit between the Baldrige and JQA
structure, criteria, principles, and core values. This fit meant that we were able to
establish a shared vision that transcended the more practical challenges of
operating across languages and cultures.

Based on our experience, we see three keys to successful benchmarking and
knowledge sharing activities, whether your partner is across the globe or down the
street.

Ensure Conceptual Alignment
First, and most importantly, make sure you and your benchmarking partner are in
alignment regarding the purpose, scope, and anticipated results of any
benchmarking activity. Use the Baldrige Criteria to pinpoint specific improvement
targets. For example, rather than seeking to "improve customer service", go one
level deeper. Benchmark "how your listening methods vary for different customers,
customer groups, or market segments." (Item 3.1) Compare how you and your
partner establish "key access mechanisms to enable customers to seek
information, conduct business, and make complaints." (Item 3.2) Instead of
benchmarking work processes, analyze how your organizations "design and
innovate work processes to meet all key requirements." (Item 6.1) Or focus on
“how processes are implemented to ensure that they meet design requirements,
and how they are operated to ensure that they meet key process requirements?"
(Item 6.2) Ensure alignment by agreeing on the relevant Criteria before you get
started.

Stay Focused
Performance excellence is a multi-year commitment. Benchmarking is one small
piece of the puzzle. Do not burden your benchmarking activity with unrealistic
expectations. Your goal should be to improve one element of your overall system
for success. The exchange of knowledge with your benchmarking partner is only
one step in the process. The challenge is to apply the knowledge in a way that fits
with your system; this takes discipline, time, and persistence. Use the Baldrige
scoring guidelines to keep on track. Self-assess your current level of performance
in the targeted performance area, and then track your progress over time. Let the
Baldrige Criteria walk you right up the ladder to world-class performance. Nothing
is hidden—the Criteria will shine a spotlight on where you are, and where you want
to go. You only need the willingness to ask questions relentlessly about how and
why your organization does things the way it does; the good news is that the
harder you work to prepare for a benchmarking project, the more you will learn
about your own organization.

Play Nice
Be a good partner, and you will end up with positive partnerships. We are all in this
together—effective and efficient organizations improve the quality of life for all us.
There is no doubt that your organization is already doing some things better than
your peers and competitors. Lead by example by offering your "secrets to
success" to others, and you will reap the benefits in the years ahead. Nobody has
got this thing all figured out. Use the Baldrige Criteria as a roadmap and start
planning your journey to a stronger, more competitive future organization. Seek out
the best of the best and commit to learning with them and from them; there is no
reason today to be saddled with less than world-class knowledge and
performance levels.