Business Page – February 18th, 2001


Pursuit of Quality

 

Introduction 

Few Guyanese know much about the efforts of the Guyana National Bureau of Standards to set quality standards in Guyana. Clearly the GNBS has an uphill task. It first has to win the confidence of the Guyanese public and second that despite its name quality is one of its legitimate objectives. Our private sector is a blinkered, turf-conscious group that, at best, regards regulation as expensive and intrusive and generally does not welcome attempts to put them under the microscope. Yet there is perhaps nothing that determines an enterprise’s success in the international market place as the quality of its products and services. It is perhaps no co-incidence that the world’s two leading economic powerhouses – the USA and Japan – have made quality their national business and in the case of the USA, there is a law established by President Ronald Regan in 1987 that sets the standards for excellence and recognises outstanding performances in a national awards system. This is on top of such other prestigious programmes as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Recognising excellence

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is an annual Award to recognise U.S. companies for business excellence and quality achievement. The purposes of the Award are to promote awareness of quality as an increasingly important element in competitiveness, understanding of the requirements for performance excellence, and sharing of information on successful performance strategies and the benefits derived form implementation of these strategies. The Award has three eligibility categories: manufacturing companies, services companies, and small businesses. Recipients of the awards are expected to share information about their successful performance strategies with other U.S. organisations.

The process itself is time consuming and costly but the benefits are enormous. The discipline and processes involved in the preparation for examination guarantee that the business improves no matter how it fares in the “competition” One of the benefits of participation is the written feedback from the judges of the strengths and areas for improvement in the entity’s quality management.

Currently more than twenty leading countries including Canada, Australia, Brazil and India have quality award programmes based on the US model. The criteria set by the US law identify three important roles in strengthening competitiveness. (1) To help improve performance practice and capabilities. (2) To facilitate communication and sharing of best practice information among and within organisations of all types based upon a common understanding of key performance requirements. (3) To serve as a working tool for managing performance, planning, training, and assessment. The Criteria was designed to help companies enhance their competitiveness through delivery of ever-improving value to customers, resulting in marketplace success; and improvement of overall company performance and capabilities.

These criteria are built upon a set of ten core values and concepts only some of which are referred to in this article. They implicitly suggest that to succeed almost certainly requires that the enterprise’s management thoroughly review and indeed re-invent itself. It has to establish new forms of relationships with its customers, employees and its shareholders. It has to be honest and fair with all of them. Shareholders must be told that short-term financial results that arise from a high-price rather than a high-quality strategy will have long-term negative implications. The business constitutes a whole series of processes, functions and stakeholders all of which are inter-related.

In the final analysis it is success in the market place that drives shareholders value and emphasis must therefore focus on customer-driven quality. It is the market place, the customer that determines quality. Businesses must therefore strive to build and maintain a relationship with customers that foster trust, confidence, and loyalty. Too few of our businesses spend little or no time trying to find out who their customers are and what their look for in the product or service.

This requires good leadership. It is the role of the company's senior leaders to set directions and create a customer orientation, clear and visible values, and high expectations. A leader must put the company before his/her personal popularity. They must possess and demonstrate intellect, common sense, dependability, flexibility, integrity, judgment, courage and very importantly respect for others. A leader’s duty includes participation in the creation of strategies, systems, and methods for achieving excellence and building capabilities. The senior leaders need to commit to the development of the entire work force and should encourage participation and creativity by all employees.

Employee Participation and Development

In a country where the educational standards seem unable to rise despite massive expenditure on education, companies are finding it increasingly necessary to develop the skills and motivate its workforce by traditional and non-traditional means. If we are to compete successfully in the international marketplace our workforce has to receive better training, education and development. Leaders are not much good without followers and one of the problems entrepreneurs constantly experience in Guyana is that the middle slots in the organisation are vacant. Without a sound secondary and tertiary education, the employee starts at considerable disadvantage and the cost to the employer to redeem that person is prohibitive. The Guyanese entrepreneur has no choice and must be prepared to offer to his employees increasing opportunities to learn and to practice new skills. Such opportunities might include classroom and on-the-job training and must be reinforced by the example set by the leaders.

Employees have to be trained to understand the organisation and their place in it. Management must be prepared to invest in every one of its employees using tools and technology that are appropriate. Registering persons in this and that training course without any follow up is a waste of money and demoralising.

Long Range Outlook

Pursuit of market leadership that comes from a commitment to quality requires a strong future orientation and a willingness to make long-term commitments to all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, the public, and the community. Planning requires a good statistical base and easy access to reliable information. It also requires a multidisciplinary team capable of making reasonable predictions about changes in the population structure, customers' expectations of products and services, technological developments, legal, taxation and regulatory requirements, and community/societal expectations.

Management by Fact

A modern business management system needs to be built upon a framework of measurement, information, data and analysis. Measurements must derive from the company's strategy and encompass all key processes and the outputs and results of those processes. Facts and data needed for performance improvement and assessment are of many types, including: customer, product and service performance, operations, market, competitive comparisons, supplier, employees-related, and cost and financial. Analysis refers to extracting larger meaning from data to support evaluation and decision-making at various levels within the company. A major consideration in the use of data and analysis to improve performance involves the creation and use of performance measures or indicators. Performance measures or indictors are measurable characteristics of products, services, processes, and operations the company uses to track and improve performance.

Conclusion 

The issues identified above exclude technology, speed to market, research and development and infrastructure. These of course are very important and are part of the whole. Important too is the environment in which the business operates. We often hear such platitudes that government is the facilitator but there is little evidence of this around. In a highly politicized society as Guyana, businesses have few votes and there is not a whole lot of help available from governments. Re-inventing government to make it into a facilitator is still some way off.