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The quest for business excellence: evidence from New Zealand's award winners

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to study the progression of business excellence (BX) in 13 repeat applicants for the New Zealand Business Excellence award over the period 1993-2007. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A multiple case approach analyses quantitative scoring data along with qualitative interview and secondary data. Findings ‐ Formal, external assessments play a critical role in promoting continuous improvement toward BX. However, effective responses to feedback differ for enabler processes vs results. Achieving improved results requires a fundamental review of measurement approaches, as well as better alignment of performance measures to overall activities. Successful paths to continuous improvement vary depending on the starting point for this journey. Organisations starting with a relatively strong position can use external feedback to target improvement efforts for maximum benefit. Organisations starting at a more basic level of performance need to generalise improvement efforts across their full range of business activities. The research also identified the existence of hurdles along the road to BX. Research limitations/implications ‐ The New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation, which administers the award scheme in New Zealand (NZ) had adopted the US Baldrige criteria as a whole, and no work has yet been done to validate the criteria for NZ conditions. This paper uses changes in scores between applications as a measure of progress to BX, so there is the possibility of applicants "gaming" the system (e.g. one research participant admitted they gained a large one-off scoring improvement largely on the basis of writing a better application). Future research could extend this work by: studying the performance over time of a control group using Baldrige-type criteria for internal assessment only; comparing one-time applicants with repeat applicants; and studying the extent to which Baldrige criteria are appropriate within other national contexts such as NZ. Practical implications ‐ This research provides insight and advice into what works and what does not in implementing the Baldrige BX criteria. Originality/value ‐ This paper analyses a unique data source and contributes to the literature on drivers and barriers to continuous improvement, a key literature within operations management.
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Keywords: Baldrige award; Business excellence; Continuous improvement; New Zealand

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 6, 2009

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