Brexit through the excellence prism

Brexit is an issue that has the potential to impact not only the British and European economies but also the global market. The ongoing uncertainty, after more than 2 years of discussion, debate, and negotiation, will have to end, one way or another, as the deadline of the 29th March looms. Taking a step back, how does Brexit fair when viewed through the excellence prism?

It started with a referendum, a democratic vote. As reasonable starting point and the question put was clear – do you want to Leave or Remain in the EU? In excellence terms, a referendum is basically a perception survey on steroids. And, when we’re assessing a survey, one of the things we check is the sample – who was included? The referendum covered anyone registered to vote in the UK. That means foreign nationals, including EU citizens, living in UK could participate, so long as they were registered to vote.


But it excluded the estimated 1 million UK citizens who live and work in the EU, taking advantage of the “freedom of movement” that has been such a bone of contention and which was one of the contributing factors to triggering the referendum in the first place. Not good from an excellent perspective – that’s a relevant stakeholder group which was excluded. However, giving the difference between the “Remain” and “Leave” vote was more than 1 million, even if there had been a 100% turnout (extremely unlikely) AND all of them voted to remain (again, even in this population, extremely unlikely), whilst it might have made the margin closer, the outcome would have been the same.

The campaigns in the run-up to the vote were unlike a “normal election”, where people vote for a candidate based on their policies and the winner is then held accountable by the electorate for delivering against the promises made. In the referendum, the government wanted to remain – pretty easy to keep that promise as it effectively meant “doing nothing”. Who would deliver the “leave” vote wasn’t considered, and that’s been the problem ever since the vote to “leave” was cast.

There’s also the issue of the tactics adopted in the campaign. Probably the most memorable argument from the “Leave” campaign was plastered across the side of their bus – the claim the government could spend an extra £350 million a week on the National Health Service instead of giving it to the EU. No one is committed to delivering that promise. The “Remain” campaign adopted “Project Fear” tactics; focusing on the negatives of leaving, not the positives of staying. Neither side put forward a clear, inspiring and inclusive vision for the future; something that is a basic building block of excellence.

The “Irish backstop” issue that now dominates the news wasn’t even a consideration during the campaign. But the origins of the “backstop” are in the Good Friday Agreement; a legally binding agreement that makes a hard border illegal. Understanding and complying with the law is a basic requirement; it’s not even on the excellence scale.

Finally, once the political dust settled, the UK had a Government committed to delivering Brexit. Red lines were drawn and negotiations started with the EU. And those “red lines” have become a mantra over the last 2 years, along with “delivering the result of the referendum”. Whilst the result of the referendum cannot be debated, the “red lines” that have defined the deal that’s now stuck in Parliament can be. Where did those red lines come from?

They weren’t in the referendum question – that was a binary choice. They were in the Conservative Party manifesto of the 2017 election but that failed to return a majority in the House of Commons, let alone attract a majority of the public vote. The UK is now facing the choice of a deal that does not deliver what the majority of people want or a no-deal that not only damages the UK economy but also has significant impact on the EU, especially Ireland. People are being given a “lose-lose” option.

Excellence means creating “win-win” situations where no stakeholders opinion is ignored. Achieving a “win-win” means compromising; finding a middle-ground where no one feels like a loser. Whilst it might be too much to expect “excellence in politics”, is it too much to ask for a little bit once in a while?

The Three Keys of Good Measurement

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s a commonly accepted maxim. However, while measurement is useful, it is understanding that’s important. “You can’t manage what you don’t understand,” would be a wiser saying. Of course, understanding needs to be informed by measurement in many cases but it requires much more than measurement. If you want measurement to enable you understand your business, the following guidelines are key:

1. Be Selective

Measurement can be wasteful – just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should. The best organizations are selective in what they measure. You should only measure what is both important and meaningful. If you can change something, then measuring it is meaningful. If it’s something important then it might be worth measuring. In all other cases, you should not invest the time and resources to measure it.

2. Be Careful

Measurement influences behaviour so be careful – you get what you measure. This is why measures introduced to improve productivity in call centres have become the stuff of legend. Wanting to measure efficiency, call counts and measures of call duration were introduced, resulting in many unhappy customers whose calls were answered only to have the person hang up a second later without even talking.

Measurement can also introduce fear – which impacts motivation, productivity, and innovation – and which also skews data, making it unreliable. For example, most businesses would like to have reliable customer feedback as it is important strategic information. However, if staff feel customer complaint data is used punitively, then it’s a challenge for the business to get reliable data. To combat this, only measure to gain an understanding of performance and ensure that everyone is aware of this.

3. Be Holistic

All too often when measures show an organization is not performing as well as desired, management address the issue by changing people, not the strategy or the process. While sometimes this may be the correct course of action, strategy and process should always be evaluated before action is taken. Acting to improve performance before understanding the cause of the performance, almost always makes things worse. To facilitate understanding, differentiate between “process performance” and “people performance”.

Keeping these guidelines in mind, it is possible to have measurement support understanding and to avoid some of the pitfalls that can be associated with poorly thought-out measurement systems.


Integrating Excellence Assessment with Strategy

A few years ago, some of the large European organisations that had used the EFQM Excellence model for a number of years to systematically drive improvement wanted to find ways to integrate Business Excellence with their strategy so that it moved from being a “project” or “program” to becoming just a part of how they did business.

Ideas suggested ranged from having incentive bonuses for improving assessment scores to systems of ongoing training. In my mind it was clear. The best – if not only – way to successfully achieve the objective was simply to focus on the organization’s results. The way people influence an organization’s results is by acting on the things that enable them (“enablers” in EFQM terminology), one of the central concepts of business excellence.

Assessment Strategy Integration

Once your people realise that the optimal way to manage and improve results is by working on the enablers (the 7 BEX Excellence Framework criteria to the left of results), business excellence becomes integrated with how you do business. To integrate it with strategy formulation, you only need to ensure that the output of Excellence Assessment – the list of strengths and prioritized areas for improvement – is available as an input for strategy formulation.