During the recent economic slowdown, every organisation – private, corporation, government, non-profit – has had to learn to do more with less. As the economy has stabilised and organisations are preparing to grow, one of the recurrent challenges is how to maintain quality while expanding the business.
Create a Centre of Excellence?
The key to maintaining quality is setting and keeping standards. This has come to be known as a Centre of Excellence. A Centre of Excellence (CoE) is a central repository of key processes, practices, elements and ingredients that an organisation complies with to ensure that quality is maintained. It serves as a touchstone for everybody in the organization when it comes to matters of quality and effectiveness.
Let’s look at an example. Most people are familiar with the results of making a photocopy of a photocopy. While the first one looks pretty good, it doesn’t take long before the quality of the copies is not very close to the original. To alleviate this, experience shows that you have to copy an original to make sure the copies are as high quality as possible. In this example, the original serves as the Centre of Excellence. It is the benchmark. It is the ideal. It is the standard by which all future copies are measured.
In business, a Centre of Excellence provides that ideal, the benchmark. As your business grows, whether just in volume or geographically, and more and more people get involved in making each process happen, the natural tendency is for processes to drift. This drift can be for the better; minor improvements that, over time, result in an overall improved process. More often though, the result is a lowering of standards and a loss of fidelity to the original.
In business, this can be described as “tending towards a higher level of entropy”. The dictionary defines entropy as a measure of disorder in a system. A system, left to its own, will naturally tend towards disorder. As a system becomes more disordered, its energy becomes more evenly distributed and less able to do work, leading to inefficiency. It takes energy to maintain order. By employing a standards-based COE process, the level of disorder can be minimized while efforts can be maximized towards the ideal.
When developing your CoE, you have to look at your critical success factors. Perhaps it is your hiring practices. Maybe it’s your fault tolerances in manufacturing. Or perhaps it is your Accounts Payable and Account Receivable management. Just as important as defining your critical success factors is identifying those factors that are NOT critical to success. Think cost of office supplies, dress code, cost of coffee service. While they may be important to some organizations, the effect of these on your success may be trivial.
Inspect what you expect
Just setting standards is not enough. The tendency towards higher entropy will inevitably draw down the standards unless there is a systematic and periodic inspection of quality. This may be random sampling of output or a semi-annual audit of procedures, processes and production. This periodic inspection serves to validate strengths in operations as well as reveal unrecognized areas for improvement. It also reminds the organization of the importance of the critical success factors.
At Stellar, our Centre of Excellence is driven by our Open Book Management culture and focuses on several areas:
- Financial Rigor
- Operational Excellence
- Hiring the Best Talent Available
- Employee Engagement
By focusing on these areas, Stellar is able to provide:
- Expert Results
- Expert Delivery and
- Expert Partnerships
Stellar’s Centre of Excellence allows us to achieve consistent results for our clients from our network of centres in four countries around the world.