May I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the Realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is afternoon [sign]
May I then specifically greet you: Roger Ball, Chairman of the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation and your fellow trustees; Mike Watson, Foundation Chief Executive; Lt General Jerry Mateparae, Chief of Defence; Rear Admiral Tony Parr, Chief of Navy and predecessors David Ledson, Peter McHaffie and Fred Wilson; Dame Margaret Bazley; Mike Hall, Chairperson and National Commander of the New Zealand Fire Service; Glenn Snellgrove, Chief Executive of the Western Bay of Plenty District Council; Distinguished Guests otherwise; ladies and gentlemen.
It was with much pleasure that my wife Susan and I accepted the invitation to participate in the presentation of this year’s New Zealand Business Excellence Awards.
It was a particular pleasure to present the Business Excellence Awards to the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Fire Service and the Western Bay District Council and the Business Achievement Awards to St Clair Family Estate Winery and Recreational Services Ltd.
As Commander-in-Chief I am naturally particularly proud of the Gold award received by the Navy—only the third to be awarded in 13 years—but you can rest assured no vice-regal influence was exerted on the judging panel! But seriously, I would like to take this opportunity to comment a little about the significance of these awards and the importance of business excellence.
Business excellence is a concept that means different things to different people and different things at different times. For example, when the Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line in the early 20th Century, it was quickly adopted by other car manufacturers. It was initially hailed by organisational theorists as an example of business excellence because it dramatically increased production and efficiency. While automobiles continue to be built on assembly lines, the concept in its purist form soon had to be modified. The repetitive work led to boredom for workers required to stand on the same spot and do the same task for hours on end. Boredom led to inattention and invariably injuries occurred while others suffered from RSI-type injuries.
Like the concept of leadership, it seems everyone has an opinion on whether an organisation exhibits business excellence. People often struggle with a definition. Instead they will cite different criteria from sales figures and profit and loss statements to environmental, employment and ethical standards. When pressed further, some have been known to retort: “Well I know it when I see it!”
Throughout my career, as a lawyer, Judge, Ombudsman and now Governor-General I have seen businesses and organisations from many perspectives. In my previous careers, I was more often than not involved in focusing on or resolving inherently negative matters and on the lookout for the error, mistake or bad act. As a lawyer it was prosecuting or defending those accused of breaking the law. As a judge, presiding over trials and sentencing those convicted. As an ombudsman, it was attempting to mediate and resolve grievances between members of the public and governmental agencies whether to do with actions or provision of official information.
As Governor-General, another facet of our community is exposed when there is the opportunity to see New Zealanders at their best. This is most publicly seen through investiture ceremonies where New Zealanders from all walks of life receive New Zealand Honours. Those honoured vary from high-profile businesspeople, lawyers, scientists, artists and doctors through to less well-known community workers. I have also invested military and police personnel, firefighters and civilians with honours for acts of bravery.
There have been other ceremonies where excellence has been on show as well. I have recently hosted ceremonies for two patronages, Osteoporosis New Zealand and the Asthma Foundation. On those occasions, I had the opportunity to recognise people who, despite living with often debilitating conditions, have lived life to the full and achieved much.
Susan and I have also travelled widely throughout New Zealand and met New Zealanders working in community groups, and a host of different businesses and organisations. We have seen innovative products being produced and people working together to strengthen the fabric of our communities.
So what does this mean for business excellence? A feature that links these examples together is an overriding sense of service, whether it is to the community, a business, industry, profession or one’s fellow man or woman. The concept of service is not narrowly focused on just profit or loss or results, but also recognises many different criteria and the need to meet a wide range of expectations.
It was with great interest that I read the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation’s criteria for performance excellence against which today’s recipients were judged. Using the internationally established Baldrige criteria, named after a former United States Secretary of Commerce, the assessment uses a framework of categories that place organisations within their environment, relationships and challenges. Those categories include not only the ubiquitous concept of leadership, but also strategic planning, customer focus, measurement and knowledge management, workforce and process management and finally results.
There is a phrase used by a prominent New Zealand business that goes “it’s the putting right that counts.” That message, from a time when both product quality and customer expectations were lower, no longer applies. My experience of a host of different organisations is that those that succeed are those that are about more than putting things right.
Successful organisations are those whose mantra is “it’s the getting it right that counts.” They not only have a plan for getting it right, but know they are getting it right, and use instances when they do not as a means to improve. As well, managers not only extol that plan, both internally and externally, but also recognise those who achieve. As the organisational theorist Charles Handy once wrote: “The companies that survive longest are the ones that work out what they uniquely can give to the world, not just growth or money, but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call those things a soul.”
The three recipients of the New Zealand Business Excellence Awards and the two recipients of the Achievement Awards have all shown a commitment to excellence and service in everything they do. The three Excellence Awards winners are not businesses in the profit or loss sense. But they are all organisations upon which their communities place a heavy burden.
The Royal New Zealand Navy is responsible not only for the defence of our nation on the sea, but also plays important role in fisheries and customs duties. Its gold award follows a silver award in 2006 and bronze awards in 2003 and 2001. The Navy represents New Zealand overseas, undertaking important peacekeeping duties with other navies and other NZDF personnel. With more than 2,800 staff, annual expenditure of more $540 million and as the custodian of host of complex equipment, it would rival many traditional businesses.
Likewise, the New Zealand Fire Service is an equally complex organisation, having to manage not only more than 1400 career firefighters, but also more than 6000 volunteers. Its silver award follows a bronze award in 2005. Firefighters daily place their own safety at risk to save the lives of others. It is a service upon which we are all reliant and in which we place significant trust.
The Western Bay District Council, with assets of more than $940 million , is also a significant organisation. The silver award is its first. It serves a diverse community over a large area and provides a host of important services on which that community is totally reliant. Those services include water and wastewater, refuse collection and disposal as well a host of different community services.
In conclusion, I would like to not only congratulate the winners of all the awards, but also the Foundation for promoting these excellence awards. By judging organisations against set criteria, rather than against each other, the awards set a high bar for organisational excellence. More than anything, the awards represent each organisation’s conscious decision to serve and achieve and to turn words into deeds. As the awarding-winning New Zealand yachtsman and environmentalist, late Sir Peter Blake once said: “Having vision is not enough. Change comes through realising the vision and turning it into a reality. It is easy to espouse worthy goals, values and policies—the hard part is implementation.”
And on that note of encouragement and congratulation, I will close in our country’s first language, offering everyone greetings and wishing you good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.
To see more images from the ceremony, click here
To find out more about the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation, click here