The EFQM Enigma

Shaun and the EFQM Model

I first encountered the EFQM Model in 1994. The organisation I worked for had adopted it as its quality framework of choice (albeit after being more or less made to by the Cabinet Office). But we approached this new opportunity to learn with alacrity. We trained up a lot of people, mainly from 1st and 2nd tier management, and willingly set aside an inordinate amount of time and resource to the annual self assessment process (which we all agreed was quite a lot of fun). Evidence was prepared, assessed and scored. Finally the output was produced. A long list of over a hundred strengths and 200 areas for improvement. Then momentum, strangely, began to erode …

“Come on everyone! Let’s identify some key priorities  from the long list!”

“But we already know what our priorities are”

“Oh. Erm, in that case let’s look at this valuable output and see if we can identify some potential areas for process improvement”

“Do we have to?”

“Well it’d be a shame for all that time and effort to go to waste”

“OK …. well …  if you ask me it’s communications. There. Do something with communications”

“What sort of communications?”

“Just communications in general, really. It just seemed that when we did the self assessment that communications cropped up quite a lot – so let’s do something around that”

“We’re already doing lots around communications, though”

“There you are then. Now if it’s OK with you I’ve got more important things to do. I did enjoy the FEMQ wotsit though, and I’m more than happy to participate again next year”

A Familiar Story?

Is this typical?  In my experience I’d have to say that it is. The process is fraught with perils and these perils are not particularly well publicised, so new practitioners repeat the same mistakes over and over. The good news is that it can work well provided the pitfalls and limitations are anticipated. What are they? Well, here are the things that immediately come to  mind …

The process must satisfy a reasonable cost/benefit analysis

The more resources you pour into the front end of the process, the harder it is to cover that expense with an equal or greater amount of benefit. The process works on a “consensus” approach, which is good, but don’t overdo it. Self assessment generally won’t tell you a lot that you don’t already think you know. Don’t be surprised if the key AFIs turn out to be the things that bite you on the bum on a daily basis.

Skillful management of the self assessment process

Speaking of bums, “leadership” is a pain in the bum to assess. Loads of people get defensive and there’s a huge temptation to bottle out of an argument on the key points. You can spend a lot of your assessment time on this topic and get absolutely nowhere. Take my advice and assess it last when people are more focussed on wanting to get home.

Start with leadership first thing in the morning when everyone is pumped up on coffee and muffins is just asking for trouble.

It’s the economy, stupid

The model does not force you to assess the economic viability of the organisation very well. Not near as well as it asks you to look at process control. This has led to a number of high scoring award winning companies folding. Understandably this has impacted the credibility of the model.

Process control has to be assessed against a backdrop of economic sustainability, otherwise you may be assessing the paradox of “non-viable excellence” *The principle of cause and effect is critical, so processes and process results should be assessed simultaneously, otherwise links can be lost, forgotten or disguised There are a few more, too, but the message is that it takes a bit of work. The Model has been around now for about 15 years. It’s still here so there must be something in it, but it hasn’t conquered the world, so it obviously isn’t the “silver bullet” that we all thought it was going to be

Unfortunately for a lot of companies it gets played with once then gets put back in the toy box. Maybe it’s time the EFQM started to ask why?

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5 Responses to The EFQM Enigma

  1. rob says:

    EFQM? Does this still exist? Why?

  2. Shaun says:

    That may well be the ten thousand dollar question in the whole analysis, Rob. I worked with this model extensively for 10 years and more or less stopped when it became pretty obvious that its supporting processes always consumed more resource than it delivered in benefits. You still get people preaching about its status as a “more advanced” quality framework, but generally when you engage such people (in my direct experience at least) such proponents have had little more than a superficial or academic experience of it. You and I both know that it works quite well on paper, so this should hardly be a surprise. Frankly I’ve never come across something that promises so much, and delivers so little. It has been around now for 20 years, if it was so brilliant we’d all be converts by now …

  3. Mark Harbor says:

    you didn’t mention all this when you were training me 😉

  4. Shaun says:

    I believed it at the time, Mark. Then I got old and grizzled ….

    Seriously, I gave it a good long while to start delivering on its promises. I WANTED IT TOO

    But it never ever did …

  5. mark harbor says:

    I’m guessing it’s not the tool as such but the fact that “they” don’t get it…maybe because in the past “we” didn’t talk their language.

    I’m guessing most senior managers don’t want excellence as such, they want profit.

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