Asking questions paves the way for improving quality


February 01, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

Questions, questions, questions! One of the most frustrating pieces of the total quality management process is the constant questioning of assumptions, the insistence that by asking the right questions quality can be improved.

Nowhere is that more true than in carrying out a quality management program in a people-services environment.

As I continue to explore how the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware is embarking on a quality management program, I was struck by their questioning process, which paves the way for improvements.

In a recent article in the American Humanics Newsletter, Rick Miller, president and executive director of Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, raised quality improvement-related questioning to a new art form.

"How many dropouts are we content with, 10 per 100 members? Why did they drop out? How many children pass through our front doors and aren't greeted by a sincere staff person who really means it when he/she says, 'It's great to see you, thanks for coming' "? One per 50?

"Why? Because we are too busy doing something else than to make every young person who walks in our club feel welcomed? More welcomed at the Boys and Girls Clubs than anyplace else? Do all youth who participate in a program benefit from that program? If not, why not? What are our defects and how do we eliminate them? What's our tolerance for mediocrity?"

Judging from their eagerness to engage in the quality management process, mediocrity is obviously not well received.

The Delaware organization is fortunate in having MBNA, the Delaware-based credit card company, as a corporate neighbor and supporter. MBNA has already firmly established itself in Delaware as a major force in corporate social responsibility and community involvement. In the case of the Boys and Girls Clubs' quality management program, MBNA has much more to offer.

"MBNA puts the customer first," says George Krupanski, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware. "They embody teamwork, focus on mission, quality service in everything they do. They have very visible, tangible support systems in place to reinforce that. The question for us is how can we visibly show that same commitment to our kids and parents within the environment of our clubs?"

Another aspect of a good quality management plan involves gathering baseline data, so that incremental improvements in quality can be detected and rewarded. Both Penn State and the University of Delaware are involved in these essential studies.

Hand-in-hand with baseline studies in a quality management program are continuous measures of performance. "What will set non-profits apart in the future," says Mr. Krupanski, "is the ability to document program successes and failures."

In the case of Boys and Girls Clubs, national studies prove the effectiveness of its many programs. For example, 87 percent of club members graduate from high school, compared with 66 percent of the general population. While some 16 percent of all Americans finish college, 25 percent of club alumni graduate -- and 11 percent complete graduate school.

Even years later, the effect of the clubs' esteem-raising programming is reflected in the fact that the household incomes of club alumni is some 39 percent above the national average. That is all the more remarkable when one considers that 75 percent of its youth nationwide come from families with annual incomes under $12,000.

Given these statistics, it is understandable that Boys and Girls Clubs are open to performance measurements. But, any nonprofit embarking on a quality management program must be equally willing to do so. Without such evaluations, quality management is no more than an exercise in futility, since one can't assess the end products of the improvement process.

I'll periodically check on the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware to see how they're doing. Hopefully, we'll all learn some real-life lessons on implementing quality management programs in the nonprofit, people-services arena.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 7 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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