QNewz columns
A series of articles written for the newsletter of the New Zealand Organisation for Quality in he early 2000s, on 'quality' and organisational performance themes

Quality is dead, long live quality A decade ago, at the end of the cold war, Francis Fukuyama famously declared 'the end of history.' We've travelled as far as it is possible to go, he said, and Western liberal democracy has prevailed – the argument is over. There are people who say similar things about quality.

The dilemma of innovation, and the tyranny of 'best practice' There's a dilemma at the heart of the movement that anyone who has 'quality', written or unwritten, in their job description needs to be thinking about. It's captured by the headline messages of the new economy gurus – the Tom Peters and Gary Hamels of the business glitterati – who say, in effect, 'innovate or die.'

The knowing-doing gap We've all sat through meetings where a course of action has been agreed, and then nothing has happened. A lot of us will have heard presentations on doing things differently, or faster, or even better – and then carried on exactly as before.

What happens next? Every year many organisations complete and submit performance excellence ('quality') award applications. Still more work through internal or partial submissions that never leave the premises. And lots do some sort of internal review, strategy exercise or improvement activity – even if it's just a pre-audit spruce-up of the ISO stuff. That's a lot of activity, and some of it is quite expensive. Then what happens?

Managing knowledge If you've got a 'quality' responsibility – whether it's written on the org chart or not – you're a knowledge manager. You deal with information, and if you're lucky, you use it to drive improvement. That's KM – and it's a hot topic, right up there on many agendas. The knowledge economy? You're in the thick of it.

Quality in education A recent email from the US got me thinking about quality and education. A performance excellence specialist asked: Did I know of any models that might be used to convince a school system in Maryland to 'do something' with the Baldrige education criteria?

What goes around comes around So you've just landed a new position? Congratulations. Now comes the real challenge: Your future, long term, will be pretty much mapped out by what you do in the next three months.

Organisational learning Some people dismiss the whole idea of organisational learning. Knowledge requires a knower and learning requires a learner – and knowers and learners are people, not organisations. Organisational learning is a term worth killing ... Bureaucrats like it because it allows them to appear trendy without actually changing anything. Best to rubbish the whole idea and get on with conventional education and training. Hold on, though. What about innovation?

Management is dead ... according to FORTUNE magazine. Leadership is back. Exaggerating shamelessly to make a point, writer Jerry Useem was setting the stage for a discussion about leadership in a 9/11 context. With George W Bush and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani firmly in his sights, Useem's case was that in the post World Trade Centre world, a lot more people were going to have to become leaders.

Customer loyalty ... just before the descent into KL, the senior steward came down the isle with a nicely wrapped parcel in his hand. "we'd like you to accept this gift from Malaysia Airlines' he said. A bottle of excellent French red wine.

Quality healthcare You work in a commercial organisation and have some involvement with quality - whether defined by compliance (for example by ISO 900X) or by performance. You can answer the 'what is quality' question. Can't you!? But what about not-for-profit organisations? Schools, hospitals, volunteer fire brigades, ambulance services … . How do they answer the 'what is quality' question? Increasingly, they are being required to do so, and not finding it easy

Navigating the white space A few weeks ago, as I happily deleted my way through a long list of incoming messages, I spotted a phrase that rang bells. White space. I love the idea of 'white space'; the gaps between the boxes in organisation charts. The author of the email was Loren Bawn. She wrote: "In my experience, the white space has always been where the action is. I have had the largest impact by acting upon the boundaries between components of a system".

Killer quotas The death of Christchurch bank manager Michael John Smith is a tragic example of what can happen when work pressure becomes too much ...

Does it matter if women earn less than men? You might think – with all the attention being paid to women in the workforce, and gender equality, and pay on merit – that the differences between the take-home pay of women and men who do the same jobs would have disappeared, right? Wrong. Well, wrong in the USA between 1995 and 2000, according to the federal General Accounting Office