MT Masterclass - excellence

What is it? The European Foundation for Quality Management defines excellence as 'outstanding practice in managing the organisation and achieving results'. The EFQM has its own business excellence model (BEM) not unlike the American Baldridge model.

The BEM requires managers to perform a self-assessment of their outfit's performance under nine headings: leadership, processes, customer results, and so on. In this, it echoes Kaplan and Norton's 'balanced scorecard', but this latter model styles itself a management system rather than a measurement system - that is, its continuous feedback loops allow managers to adapt their behaviour more rapidly.

Where did it come from? Good, better, best: we all learned at school (or at least used to) about what the grammar books called the positive, comparative and superlative. The desire for Excellence (a superlative) emerged from the great drive to improve quality (comparative) in the 1980s. You can see the logic. If 'continuous improvement' was meant to improve our levels of quality little by little, then surely in the end we'd reach an Excellent summit? But you've spotted the problem. Nothing stays still in business for long. Today's Excellent approach may be tomorrow's Out Of Date one.

Where is it going? Kaplan and Norton's new book, Alignment, calls for a systematic reassessment of how organisations are structured and aligned to deliver a strategic plan. Balanced scorecards still have a part to play in that, but the gurus are now focusing on a more ambitious challenge. The fear is that Excellence is too rigid and abstract a concept to be of use in an era when businesses have to change and change again all the time. 'Next practice' rather than 'best practice' might be a more useful goal.

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