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Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence Logo
August 2011

The Results Are In . . . What Leaders and
Employees Believe

Periodically we ask Baldrige examiners to complete the Are We Making Progress? or Are We Making Progress as Leaders? survey for their home (employing) organizations. We have recently completed that study with our 2011 Board of Examiners and are reporting the full data on our Web site. While only a snapshot in time, the survey results represent a broad cross section of U.S. organizations and give a sense of current perceptions. The data are based on input from 173 employees and 294 leaders. I am using this month’s column to share with you some of my observations based on the survey results.

First, here is a little background. The two survey instruments are 40-statement perception surveys based on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. The survey results allow an organization to gauge its progress in achieving high performance from the perspective of employees and leaders. Furthermore, when answered by both groups, the results allow organizations to determine significant differences in perception that may lead to a need for better communication or a reassessment of actual performance on a given topic.

I will share my observations in three areas:

  1. Areas where employees or leaders had a clear perception of high performance (> 90% agreed or strongly agreed with a survey statement).

  2. Areas where employees or leaders had a clear perception of low performance (<50% agreed or strongly agreed with a survey statement).

  3. Areas where leaders and employees had significant differences in perception (> 15% difference in perceptions).

High Performance

  % Agree or Strongly Agree
  Employees Leaders
I know my organization’s mission
(what it is trying to accomplish).*

94 86
I know who my most important
customers are.

93 83
I have a safe workplace.

90 93
I am committed to my organization’s success.

95 82
My organization obeys laws and regulations. 96 96

For the leader survey, substitute “our workforce” for “I” in each statement.

While there are some questions above where the employees scored 90% or better and the leaders did not, the leaders were not much below, and the differences do not appear to reflect strong differences. The potential exception is commitment to the organization’s success. This latter difference may be the topic for an interesting discussion. Also worth mentioning is that these results for employees have not changed significantly from the 2002/2003 results (PDF version) posted on our Web site. Attributes that were high performing a decade ago still appear that way today in a very different business and global environment.

Low Performance
  % Agree or Strongly Agree
  Employees Leaders
As it plans for the future, my organization
asks for my ideas.

49 56
My organization is flexible and can make
changes quickly when needed.

46 51
I can use quality of work measures to make
changes that will improve my work.

74 43
I know how the measures I use in my
work fit into the organization’s overall
measures of improvement.

65 44
We have good processes for doing our work.

49 47
My organization removes things that get
in the way of progress.
33 43

I will comment on the two middle statements in the next section. The remaining four statements show general agreement between employees and leaders. These areas pose very significant challenges for all organizations. Strategic planning is almost always a difficult process, and ensuring input of all good ideas (and having no blind spots) vexes even mature organizations. In addition, recent economic turns have documented the need for agility and flexibility. Indeed, the very extensive IBM 2010 Global CEO Study identified building operational dexterity through strategies that allow speed and flexibility as one of three significant CEO challenges.

I think many organizations confuse having documented processes (e.g., being ISO 9000 certified) for having good work processes. But when specifically asked about the quality of work processes, both leaders and employees agree that improvement is needed: improvement that would enhance process effectiveness, efficiency, and yield of quality products or services. The result that always amazes me is the statement about removing barriers, which is always the lowest scoring (or close to it) whenever the survey is administered. Admittedly, some of these barriers may be due to extra-organizational factors, but it is surprising what can be achieved by discussing what these barriers are. They get removed, and processes and employee engagement are improved.

Significant Differences in Perception
  % Agree or Strongly Agree
  Employees Leaders
I know how to measure the quality of my work.

78 51
I can use these quality of work measures to
make changes that will improve my work.

74 43
I know how the measures I use in my
work fit into the organization’s overall
measures of improvement.

65 44
My boss and my organization care about me.

69 84
My work products meet all requirements.

72 53
My customers are satisfied with my work.

85 69
The first point of interest is that wherever the discrepancy is large (with one notable exception), the employees have a higher perception than their leaders. In every case, it relates to the employees’ work. It seems that there is a lot of opportunity for better communication between leaders and employees across this broad set of companies and industries. Are employees measuring the wrong attributes of their work processes? Do they not know the final outcome of their cumulative work? Is there no true feedback from customers of employees’ work? This is obviously a ripe area for organizations to explore and use as a basis for collaborative improvements.

The last point I will make is about the one question where leaders rated the statement significantly higher than employees: my boss and my organization care about me. I think leaders do care. But what leaders frequently have not determined is what motivates employee engagement, which is an important sign of leaders’ caring. We see employee engagement in Baldrige Award applications as one of the differentiators of truly high performers. Many organizations still focus on and measure only satisfaction, when it is commonly accepted today that engagement drives loyalty and commitment to the organization.

I do not know about you, but the results of our latest survey give me a lot of food for thought. I could provide further insights and speculation about these results, but I’ll defer for now and leave the interpretation to you. I will reserve the right to use some of these findings as potential topics to explore further in future columns, as we all travel the road to performance excellence!

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Dr. Harry Hertz photo

Dr. Harry Hertz, Director
Baldrige Performance Excellence Program


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