A Matter of Excellence

Much has been learned about organisational improvement and performance excellence over the past 50 years.

Around the globe, more than 70 countries now have national organisations promoting frameworks to evaluate organisation performance and drive improvement. Here in Australia, the responsibility for promoting and supporting the Australian Business Excellence Framework now resides within the Professional Services Division of Standards Australia International.

The Australian Business Excellence Framework is based on 12 principles that have been derived from research and experience in best practice organisations in Australia and benchmarked with international best practice. These principles are:

1. Clear direction allows organisational alignment and a focus on the achievement of goals.

2. Mutually agreed plans translate organisational direction into actions.

3. Understanding what customers value, now and in the future, influences organisational direction, strategy and action.

4. To improve the outcome, improve the system and its associated processes.

5. The potential of an organisation is realised through its people's enthusiasm, resourcefulness and participation.

6. Continual improvement and innovation depend on continual learning.

7. All people work in a system; outcomes are improved when people work on the system.

8. Effective use of facts, data and knowledge leads to improved decisions.

9. All systems and processes exhibit variability, which impacts on predictability and performance.

10. Organisations provide value to their community through their actions to ensure a clean, safe, fair and prosperous society.

11. Sustainability is determined by an organisation's ability to create and deliver value for all stakeholders.

12. Senior leadership's constant role modelling of these principles and their creation of a supportive environment to live these principles are necessary for the organisation to reach its true potential.

At first sight these principles seem straightforward and not particularly surprising; however, there can be profound implications for agency behaviour and for system and process design once the implications of these simple statements are explored. For example, when things go wrong in organisations a typical response is to seek to identify who is to blame. These principles call for attention to systems and processes to identify the real root cause of the unhappy outcome to prevent future recurrence, rather than focusing on the people. Most often the "blame" rests in processes, not people.

The principles are brought to life through the categories of the Australian Business Excellence Framework that focus attention of specific aspects of agency activity and performance. The categories are:

1. Leadership and innovation

2. Strategy and planning processes

3. Data, information and knowledge

4. People

5. Customer and market focus

6. Processes, products and services

7. Business results

Each of these categories is further broken down into sub-categories, called items. Measurement of performance excellence is undertaken at the item level against four assessment dimensions. Agencies can assess their activities and results in each area against the assessment dimensions:

- Approach: the level of thinking and planning.

- Deployment: the breadth and depth of application of the approach across the organisation.

- Results: how performance is measured and benchmarked.

- Improvement: the processes used to ensure continuous performance improvement.

To support this assessment, the Australian Business Excellence Framework provides an assessment matrix that can be used to determine a quantitative measure of performance of the agency. The process of reviewing the activities and results of the agency against this framework leads to the identification of strengths of the agency, which can be acknowledged and built upon, and opportunities for improvement that can be prioritised for action according to the specific needs and priorities of the agency.