Last week I attended the Board of Governors meeting of the National Quality Institute (NQI).  I have been a member of the board for almost nine years, and H&K has been a member of the institute for over a dozen!  The NQI is Canada’s foremost not-for-profit organization dedicated to evangelizing the cause of quality and excellence through its annual Canada Awards for Excellence program (CAE).  The NQI also designs and executes a Progressive Excellence Program (PEP) which assists its members in implementing total quality management principles and practices.  Successful graduation through this program positions a company for the certification of a CAE award.

I must admit that my initial motivation for joining NQI was the marketing benefits I hoped H&K would achieve if we won an award.  I quickly learned however that these awards were not given away lightly; moreover the real benefit is in helping management execute its business strategies.  We had a lot of work to do to get the award.  When we joined NQI we had developed a culture based on the three principles of: best teams, quality service and constant improvement.  But saying that you’re dedicated to these principles is far different than ensuring they are practiced every day.  The NQI framework helped us to realize our full potential and in particular focused us on rigorous processes and systems that needed to put in place to measure the success of our operations, and help us execute them to high quality service standards.

After seven years we finally managed to win a silver CAE followed by a gold award two years later.

One of the benefits of being a member the NQI is the access we get to the latest thinking on quality.  At yesterday’s board meeting one of our partners – Neil Crawford, of Hewitt and Associates, took us through a survey his firm is doing on behalf of the NQI that will focus on understanding employees and leader perceptions of quality and excellence within organizations.  The results will be published in the 50 Best Employers edition of Maclean’s magazine this fall.

I wanted to share our involvement with the NQI because I think most business leaders talk a good line about strategy but often fail to execute.  Indeed, failure to execute is the single most frequent reason why CEOs are fired.  Execution is really the discipline of getting things done.  It is the major job of the business’s leader and must be a core element of an organization’s culture.  The NQI framework helped give us an execution framework that was practical and effective – as  Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan (authors of the book ‘Execution’) said ‘Without the ability to execute all other attributes of leadership become hollow”.