There has been a great deal written about the evolving approach in healthcare to patient-centered care. Similarly, in education, we hear more about student-centered learning, albeit more often applied to elementary and secondary schools than institutions of higher learning. What makes this language compelling is that it clearly articulates who is the focus of the efforts of everyone in the organization. It allows every employee in every position to understand that they are contributing to a higher purpose.
For example, one of the early Baldrige Award recipients in education, Jenks Public Schools, reported a dramatic improvement in their results after they shifted the focus from teaching to the higher purpose of excellence in student learning. As a consequence, teachers changed the way they taught to help ensure all of the students were learning and achieving their potential.
In organizations that have embarked on a journey to performance excellence, that purpose is made clear in the mission, vision, and values, and reinforced by the goals that are set. The leaders that we interviewed for our upcoming book* were passionate about aligning everyone in their organizations with the purpose and intentionally created a culture to reflect the focus.
This isn’t about being naïve. Of course, financial performance is important to being able to fulfill an organization’s mission. These leaders are clear that financial results are a lagging measurement and instead focus the organization on improving the leading indicators.
However, those results should be achieved by delighting our customers and treating our employees with the respect they deserve. The visionary CEO of Motorola, Bob Galvin, made this point with his executives. At a review of the organization’s key leading indicators around customer satisfaction and product quality, he stood and got ready to leave the room. Someone asked, “Aren’t you going to stay for the review of the financials?” Bob replied, “No, I don’t need to. Since the drivers of the financials are all looking good, I know those results will be fine.”
When the top corporate objective is “make the numbers” and the mandate is given for 12-percent year-over-year productivity, no later exhortations will convince the workforce that the customer is the focus of their efforts. When the Town Hall or all-employee meetings always start off with a report on the progress of the financials, no program rolled out later with mugs, t-shirts, and slogans will persuade employees that customer service is really key.
It’s no coincidence that Item 1.1 of the Baldrige Excellence Framework emphasizes the senior leaders of an organization and the role they play in creating the focus of the organization. These are some of the questions asked:
- How do senior leaders set your organization’s vision and values?
- How do senior leaders’ personal action reflect a commitment to those values?
- How do they create a workforce culture that delivers a consistently positive customer (patient or student) experience?
- How do they reinforce high performance and a customer (patient or student) and business (health care or education) focus by taking a direct role in motivating the workforce?
- How do senior leaders set expectations for organizational performance, including a focus on creating and balancing value for customers and other stakeholders?
One of the core values of the Baldrige Criteria is Visionary Leadership, and another is Customer-Focused Excellence. Both are essential to successful organizations. In your own organization, what is the true focus based on what is measured, communicated, and reinforced? Is that the focus of an organization committed to performance excellence? If your answers aren’t emphatically, “yes,” maybe it’s time to refocus.
*Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way: How World-Class Leaders Align Their Organizations to Achieve Exceptional Results (pre-order at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com)