UPfront: Kiwi Companies Hit A “Glass Ceiling”

If there was World Cup for top business performers, it appears not too many Kiwi companies would be fit enough to compete.

“When it comes to world ranking in performance excellence, we’re doing OK, but not as well as we could,” says Mike Watson.

As newly appointed chief executive of the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation, he is keen to discover why. “It’s an area of research I’d like to pursue – why New Zealand companies seem to have hit glass ceiling in terms of continuous performance improvement.”

Facilitating world-class standards in performance is what the Foundation’s work is all about. Organisational achievement is recognised through the NZ National Business Excellence Awards.

“The Business Excellence Model we advocate [the Baldridge Criteria] provides non-prescriptive, holistic framework that is quite simply the only internationally recognised and respected framework by which local organisations can calibrate their performance,” says Watson.

The model scores company performance across range of criteria. And New Zealand companies tend to stick at an aggregated score level that falls well below what would qualify them for “bronze award” status.

“Some companies are achieving above that level but anecdotal evidence suggests the bulk are not making progress. We need to know what is preventing New Zealand organisations moving forward and bringing themselves to world-class levels.”

Linda Angell, senior lecturer in operation management at Victoria University who is undertaking research on the topic, has some initial theories.

Having studied the Baldridge quality framework both here and in the United States, she suggests there could be cultural component.

“In the United States the quality awards are highly prestigious – those who achieve the standards make huge thing of it. Here, you have the tall poppy thing, people are less inclined to crow about success and also there are competing awards – you don’t just have the one big government-issue one.”

Also the pace of change can make it hard to focus on continuous improvement.
“Often it’s matter of companies having to scrap everything and go for some radical re-engineering.”

There is, she says, fairly radical change involved in breaking through the performance glass ceiling.

“I think that achieving beyond given score level requires huge shift in organisational culture. That level of transformation is big step for companies to make.

Mike Watson is keen to see lot more New Zealand companies breaking through the glass ceiling.

“I see my role as combination of facilitator, advocate and champion of excellence. I’d really like to see local organisations, both big and small, adopt continuous improvement as critical success factor.”

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