Underutilized Pillars of Performance Excellence
The pursuit of performance excellence is a team sport. As defined in the 2009-
2010 Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, performance excellence
refers to an “integrated approach to organizational performance management” that
results in (1) ever-improving value to customers and stakeholders, (2)
improvement of overall organizational effectiveness and capabilities, and (3)
organizational and personal learning. Integration is further clarified as “the
harmonization of plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions,
results, and analyses to support key organization-wide goals.” The Criteria
emphasize that effective integration is achieved “when the individual components
of a performance management system operate as a fully interconnected unit.”
The overarching concept is easy to grasp: bring people together to work as a
team to achieve common goals. But as all of us know, the challenge is to move
from concept to real world implementation. We need allies to make this happen.
These allies are often right down the hall, in the internal audit department.
The audit and accountability function is an underutilized resource that is well-
positioned to support the pursuit of performance excellence. Auditors are trained
to think constructively and analytically, and tend to bring a cross-cutting view of the
organization to their work. Auditors are also comfortable with the idea of using
data as the basis for their findings, conclusions, and recommendations for
Organizations aiming for performance excellence must aggressively and
consistently seek out areas of competitive advantage. An audit and accountability
function that not only performs its traditional oversight role but also vigorously
supports performance excellence offers a unique and powerful advantage. In
effect, you have an integrated team of professionals that understands your
organization identifying key opportunities for improvement and developing
appropriate findings and recommendations.
How to get there? We suggest a four step approach to engage your internal
auditors in the pursuit of performance excellence.
Step 1: Establish a dialogue
Performance excellence makes sense on many levels, but it cannot be grasped
without awareness. The first step is to open a dialogue with key audit and
accountability managers and staff. Introduce the principles of performance
excellence and allow ample unforced time for skeptical analysis. Performance
excellence will “sell itself” as long as smart people are allowed freedom to
challenge and question the information. Position the dialogue as a process. And,
ultimately, even if (sadly) performance excellence goes nowhere in your
organization, this dialogue will result in an improved internal audit process.
Step 2: Agree on a common vision
As understanding deepens, raise the stakes by defining a common vision for the
role of the audit and accountability function in performance excellence. Identify
stakeholders across the organization who are in position to help define this vision.
Recognize the critical importance of not impairing auditor independence in any
way throughout this process; fortunately, there are no prohibitions against auditors
thinking more clearly and expansively, and developing meaningful
recommendations that will help to integrate performance excellence across the
Step 3: Provide coaching and support
As the vision is articulated and deployed, seek out opportunities to provide
coaching and support directly to audit teams. Tread lightly—you are on their turf
here, but with the support of audit management, coach audit teams on how they
can leverage their unique skills and abilities to move the organization along the
path of performance excellence. Our experience is that auditors do not inherently
want to operate in a “gotcha” mode, but that too often this is the expectation
created by the organization. Replace “gotcha” with “win-win” and you will sharpen
your competitive edge.
Step 4: Recognize and celebrate success
Like we said earlier, performance excellence is a team sport. Find opportunities to
recognize and reward your audit and accountability function for playing a larger
role in support of performance excellence. Highlight examples of audit findings and
recommendations that demonstrate an understanding of integrated performance
excellence. Respect the importance of the traditional audit and accountability
function, but also make it clear that the competitive landscape demands that the
bar be raised wherever possible and audit is no exception. Fresh thinking and new
engagement with this valuable resource can have a huge positive impact on your
competitive position. Good luck!