At Southeastern University, I work for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness (IE). Our job is to coordinate, assist with, and (ultimately) improve the evaluative and planning process for the university. A great deal of our work is to ask the tough questions of university departments. For instance, we might ask the following : How does the work of your department support the mission and vision of the university? What evidence exists to demonstrate that these “activities” are effective? And, how are you planning for future growth and/or improvement? These questions help initiate a self-reflective process, wherein departments determine appropriate assessments, measure quality, and make recommendations for improvement.
In summary, our goal is to help identify both good and bad characteristics of the university, articulate recommendations for improvement, and measure whether those recommendations produced the expected results. Or, more simply, we are attempting to stimulate excellence in the organization. One university appropriately calls its IE Office, Operational Excellence. It is an important function/department that is necessitated by several factor.
First, regional accreditation bodies (i.e. Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, Commission on College [SACS COC]) have articulated IE standards for universities. The following is an example from the SACS COC Principles of Accreditation: “The institution engages in ongoing, integrated, and institution-wide research-based planning and evaluation processes that (1) incorporate a systematic review of institutional mission, goals, and outcomes; (2) result in continuing improvement in institutional quality; and (3) demonstrate the institution is effectively accomplishing its mission” (Core Requirement 2.5). Second, higher education institutions are affected by a growing climate of transparency and accountability, which is a result of governmental regulations, a competitive (business) landscape, and skepticism over the college loan environment. Last, institutions are constantly pressured to improve customer satisfaction, a direct impact of the for-profit education model.
In all reality, higher education institutions are no different than for-profit organizations. Organizations such as GE have spent enormous resources and time, implementing evaluative measures for processes, departments, and individuals. Manufacturing industries have implemented process improvement programs such as Six Sigma in an attempt to cut unnecessary fat (i.e. timing, resources, people, etc.). The U.S. government annually awards organizations for quality process management through the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
These examples from higher education and for-profit organizations demonstrate that the 21st century organization cannot assume that excellence is automatic. Rather, excellence is the systematic development, measurement, and reinvention of organizational resources. It is my thesis that great organizations are excellent in every way. They are determined to produce only the best, and nothing else will suffice. Compromise and cognitive dissonance are not plausible solutions. Whereas, when negative attributes emerge, the leadership eradicates such issues and fills the void with positive practices.
Excellence is not perfection; rather, excellence is the pursuit of perfection. This is the call for today’s leadership–to not accept the status quo, to ensure that process are still effective, and to implement plans for improvement. The road to victory from yesterday may not produce victory tomorrow.
In summary, how should leadership respond to this challenge?
- Always ask the tough questions
- Never compromise or deny the obvious
- Never underestimate the role of input from those on the “front lines”
- Never assume that something is working
- Test, retest, and test again to ensure ongoing effectiveness
- Implement a systematic process for improvement
- Award the organization and its members for achievement
- Model the same standards in your own personal life and leadership
- Keep moving forward!