Paul Borawski wrote in this month's "A View from the Q" blog about the fact that the Baldridge national quality award was at risk for elimination due to cost-saving measures. If there was ever a better example of politics following business, I can't think of one. Many of us have experience in the practice of reducing manpower during times of trouble, especially in the last few years. Where are the first areas to be cut? In my experience it's Training, Environment/Safety and Quality.
What does this mean from a business perspective? I think that it shows a lack of understanding of processes and the inputs that drive the outputs. Despite the fact that ISO 9001 group of standards promotes the process-centered business, and many companies adhere to those standards, I think that a large group of business leaders lack a basic understanding of processes in general. A process has one or more inputs and produces one or more outputs. The outputs are directly related to the inputs. An old computer term GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is an example of process thinking. In a business, the outputs are relatively easy to spot (e.g. the product of the business, the profit, employee salaries, etc.) but the inputs are much more difficult to pin down. And an understanding of the process itself often eludes even the most celebrated business leaders. The fact that Quality tends to be one of the first areas to be cut reflects the thinking that Quality is not as important to the business as other areas. This is despite the fact that Quality, while not directly producing outputs, works to guarantee that the overall process is performing in the most efficient and effective way to generate the optimum outputs.
The desire of the government to cut Baldridge is a direct reflection of the desire in business to cut Quality and it's driven by the same reason: a lack of understanding of Quality's role in society. We need to be the voice to increase the awareness of Quality in our organizations and society in general.