Organizations create their own culture and dynamics that may arrest development and create complex issues to overcome in the pursuit of excellence. In the ideal, the organizational leaders instill the culture through their behavior and practice both formally and informally of the organization’s values. It is believed that all organizations have the potential for excellence but why only a few achieve excellence. This article explores the role of leadership in this endeavor and the systems philosophy that I believe organizations must adopt in order to pursue excellence in a purposeful manner.
The organization must adopt a systems perspective in order to instill a culture of excellence and guide the journey towards excellence. Systems are best understood as structures that assists by creating some order out of the chaotic world every organization exist in and so establish a system that moves the organization forward.
To pursue performance excellence requires a commitment to become a learning organization that values self-understanding (facts) and is process driven. In a process driven organization, the process is (almost) as important as the result. More focus on process allows everyone in the organization that the responsibility to be the first and the authority to be the next. Allowing and learning from errors is a fundamental requirement to creatively adapt and innovative without having to look for person to be blamed.
As a Baldrige Senior Examiner academician and consultant, I refer to organizational performance excellence frameworks that are based on the performance excellence criteria from the Baldrige National Quality Program. This proven framework is both flexible and industry generic, and provides a system perspective for managing the organization to achieve performance excellence. The framework is important as a unifying mechanism to facilitate progress and assist with organizational learning.
This system comprise of seven interrelated interlinking categories, namely leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, Measurement analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus, operational focus and results. The goals of this system perspective is to help organizations use an integrated approach to organizational performance excellence that results in:
- Delivery of ever-improving value to customers, contributing to market place success
- Improvement of overall organizational effectiveness and capabilities
- Organizational and personal learning
Systems thinking is the corner stone that underlies all learning disciplines. Systems thinking provide the discipline for seeing wholes, to make the full patterns clearer and to help us see how to change them effectively. Systems thinking allow us to see the structures that underlie complex situations and give living systems their unique character. The essence of systems thinking, according to Peter Senge1, is the ability to see “interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains, and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots.”
Systems thinking is both a mindset and a set of specific tools. It requires an overall organizational improvement approach that values knowledge, team work, individual development, and planning in the spirit of benefiting stakeholders, including employees, customers, and society at large. The organization’s leadership must set clear and visible values that balance the needs of allstakeholders. With that foundation, a systems perspective can be deployed to assist in building knowledge and capabilities, stimulating innovation, and achieving excellence.
Having the right people – specifically the right leaders – in the right positions is the most critical factor for organizational success. Leaders must be assessed for their level of development and placed appropriately within the organization. Problem behaviors and incompetence must be dealt with efficiently since leadership dysfunction is mirrored throughout the organization.
The right leadership can address this issue and correct the organizational vision to ensure this ingredient. The will and ambition of the leadership team will instill passion throughout the organization, if the vision and leadership is right.
The leaders must drive performance excellence by:
- Role Model. The cross-functional and project nature of the work required to achieve performance excellence, provide a natural stepping stone to display leadership as well as be a teacher and model within organizations
- Even without the entire organization subscribing to a systems perspective, the individual leader can provide leadership by using the performance excellence framework within his or her functional area.
- Active in Strategic Planning. Every leader is obliged to take an active role in the leadership and strategic planning functions within organizations. Systems and technology are an intrinsic component of the success of today’s organizations and any systems and technology strategy must be closely aligned with the business strategy.
- Leadership of Performance / Process Management Systems. The leader must drive understanding and evolution of the performance management and process management systems.
- Performance management examines the measurement and alignment of performance at all levels and in all parts of the organization. This includes ensuring the quality and availability of needed data and information for employees, suppliers/partners, and customers.
- Process Management examines the key aspects of the organization’s customer-focused design, product and service delivery, as well as key business and support processes for all work units.
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