Learning from the Asian Focus on Excellence

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The past year saw an increased focus on Excellence both in Australia and overseas. The pace of economic and social change continues to accelerate. Innovation is now a necessity for all organisations – no one is immune. Staying static is no longer an option.

There is an increasing recognition among policy makers and business leaders that to innovate effectively an organisation must first focus on Excellence and this often means the adoption of Excellence Models to guide behaviour. Asia is at the forefront of this focus on Excellence with substantial investment in Excellence Programs.

The Thai Experience

I visited Bangkok in February and was honoured to meet some of the leaders in their Excellence Program. In Thailand, the primary focus of the government is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector management which is in turn expected to guide the country’s economic development. Excellence Models are at the heart of the Public Sector Development Strategic Plan with the Public Sector Management Quality Awards (PMQA) framework driving the widespread adoption of Excellence concepts throughout public sector agencies. All state enterprises are assessed through the State Enterprise Performance Appraisal (SEPA) program each year.

SEPA represents a comprehensive process of external evaluation by independent assessors. Independent external evaluation – as provided by the SEPA – is used make discoveries in areas that need improvement. A detailed report is provided with feedback on an agency’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. The feedback is where the process offers the greatest return on investment to organisations. SEPA is seen to be delivering significant performance improvement in Thailand with notable results being particularly evident in the Health sector. The Thai government is strengthening the requirement to adopt Excellence with funding being increasingly tied to achievement through SEPA and similar sector specific programs.

The Middle East

In October, I was invited to provide a keynote presentation at the King Abdulaziz Quality Award (KAQA) Forum in Riyadh. The KAQA was established by virtue of the royal decree with a view to motivating the production and service sectors to apply the foundations and techniques of total quality to raise performance, activate continuous improvement of internal processes and achieve stakeholder satisfaction. The KAQA represents focused efforts by the Saudi government to transform the economy, engage the full potential of the population and create a broader economic base to deliver sustainability.

During the Forum, I met the leaders of similar Excellence Programs from many countries in the Middle East. Arguably, the more mature Excellence Programs in the region can be found in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where a strong emphasis is placed on delivering Excellence in the public sector. The Dubai Government Excellence Program for example invites leading experts from around the world to join local teams in regular evaluations of all public sector agencies. Through dedicated focus and investment in Excellence, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have emerged as significant global economic hubs.

The Asian Century

The 21st Century is often referred to as the Asian century. The world’s most dynamic economies are now found in Asia. Arguably, the economic gravitas has already shifted away from the “western” economies to Asian economies. The heavy investment made by Asian countries into Excellence is unlikely to be a coincidence. This year, the Global Excellence Model (GEM) Council admitted two new members into its midst: the China Association for Quality and the Malaysia Productivity Council. This means that 50% of the GEM Council members are now from Asia, providing further evidence of the continental focus on Excellence.

With a dedicated focus on the adoption of Excellence Models, Asian economies are delivering growth and innovation that are taking the whole world into a brand new phase of accelerated change. Western economies – including Australia – are increasingly being left behind with the focus on Excellence having declined over the last two decades.

The Opportunity for Australia

Australia has one of the most mature Excellence programs in the world with a proud history that dates back to 1987. The Program is represented by our own unique national Excellence Model – the Australian Business Excellence Framework (ABEF) – and the Australian Organisational Excellence Awards. The ABEF and the Awards originated from the necessity to develop a common framework for measuring and improving organisational performance, productivity and competitiveness. The Australian Awards criteria were originally developed in the form of principles and operational statements and were then formed into an integrated Excellence Model in 1996.

We estimate that over 600 organisations – across all sectors – in Australia use the guidance of the ABEF to deliver success. However, there has been minimal government focus on the national Excellence Program since the late 1990s. Perhaps the continual growth and resilience of the Australian economy reduced the imperative to focus on Excellence.

With many economic challenges now becoming apparent, the time to reinvigorate Excellence in Australia is upon us. This is evident in the increasing interest in Excellence and Innovation by all levels of government. Australia has a wonderful opportunity to leverage its mature and proven Excellence Program to deliver ongoing economic success. The investment of Asian governments in Excellence should be examples Australia should seek to emulate and learn from.

For further information about Excellence on the global stage, please feel free to contact Ravi by emailing RaviF@thriveplus.com.au.

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