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As customers, we constantly talk about how we’d love to experience superlative product and service quality. However, several among us are manufacturers and providers of products and services that others purchase. Reason why our responsibility towards ensuring top-of-the-shelf quality in our deliverables increases exponentially. After all, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Speaking of quality, this year’s World Quality Week was observed between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12. The theme was ‘Sustainability: Improving our products, people and planet.’ As a quality management professional with some experience, I find this theme to be most opportune because of the increasingly important role quality is playing in:

  • Creating, and maintaining, sustainable businesses
  • Influencing the environment, society, and overall governance (ESG)

What is operational excellence? How is it related to quality and sustainability?

To quote the London-headquartered Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), ‘ESG factors are rapidly taking priority on business agendas. There's a growing awareness of how much these factors affect both decision making and stakeholder value.’ Considering the above, what can you – as an organization – do to achieve sustainability and ‘what’s in it for you.’

As far as what’s in it for you is concerned, the simple answer is competitive advantage.

About how to achieve sustainability – It’s a step-by-step process that begins with putting operational excellence on the agenda (for real) because continuous improvements are not only about improving production capacity (like we’ve mentioned here).

Popularized by the Shingo Institute at Utah State University, operational excellence is a term that refers to organizations introducing improvements in their functions to gain a competitive advantage. You are on the path towards achieving sustainability if are able to (1) introduce operational excellence teams in your organization and, (2) have them succeed in maximizing benefits while ensuring that customers’ and other stakeholder’s needs are taken care of.

But how do such operational excellence teams do so? The answer lies in these teams creating a continuous improvement culture that is built to last. In other words, adopting a structured approach that comprises of small but continuous progressive steps to eventually establish a sustainable operational excellence-focused culture. In veteran operational excellence leader Raymond Kelly’s words , “The underlying success of a progressive and rewarding journey is the establishment of a culture that captivates all levels of your organization. An operational excellence culture must be built around people development, engagement and successes.”

The three steps to realizing sustainable operational excellence

Like I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, the first step is to put operational excellence teams in place. Teams that set realistic goals and expectations and have on-board an internal/ external subject matter expert/ leader with a proven track record of achieving sustainable outcomes through setting up a holistic operational excellence culture. When it comes to benefit-providing organizational change, dedication from top management is a ‘must have,’ not merely a ‘nice-to-have.’

The second step is to structure (and put in action) a research-led, sustainable operational excellence work model that provides guidance on:

  • How to respond in real-time to abrupt market changes without compromising on digitization-driven agility, productivity, and operational resilience
  • How to adopt a project-driven approach towards ensuring organizational performance in the environmental, social, and economic dimensions
The third step is to persist with accelerating your digital transformation. Leverage a common digital thread that ranges from engineering to operations and uses performance intelligence to enhance agility, reliability, and efficiency – key elements in building operational resilience and sustainability. So, before you initiate this step, you have to ask yourself whether you really need to accelerate your digital transformation. If you find the answer to be “No, you don’t,” then you run the huge risk of becoming a digital dinosaur.

In conclusion

Let’s look at what is included in ESG:
  • Government policy
  • Regulation
  • Customer and consumer attitudes
  • Investor attitudes and requirements
  • Pressure group activity and influence

Taken together, the listed items point towards a single consideration – that if sustainability isn’t already an integral and essential part of your business operations, your competitive edge and your brand reputation, the time is very near when you will find yourself committing to integrating it into your organization’s culture ‘because it’s here to stay.’

How is Columbus enabling sustainable operational excellence?


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