How 3M won

July 1, 1998
A 60-page document laid at the foundation of 3M Dental`s drive to quality, which resulted in President Clinton personally congratulating the company as the winner of the 1997 Baldrige Award. Your dental practice could steal a page from it.

A 60-page document laid at the foundation of 3M Dental`s drive to quality, which resulted in President Clinton personally congratulating the company as the winner of the 1997 Baldrige Award. Your dental practice could steal a page from it.

Joe Blaes, DDS, Editor

Shortly before Christmas, 150 3M Dental employees traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend ceremonies connected with winning the 1997 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Accepting the prestigious award from President Bill Clinton on Dec. 19, 1997, were Fred Palensky, PhD, 3M Dental vice president; and George Meredith, 3M executive vice president. 3M Dental has the distinction of becoming the first dental company, and the second health-care company, to win the coveted award.

Dr. Palensky said, "This award certifies our ongoing commitment to business excellence and signifies a business- improvement process that enables us to better satisfy the needs of our customers. We are extremely honored to be selected for this national recognition."

3M Dental has participated in the Baldrige process since 1990. Dr. Palensky said that the division has made significant improvements in its business processes as well as its bottom-line results. "Above all, this award recognizes the contribution of our employees and their dedication in providing quality products and services for the dental industry. We also must acknowledge the contributions of our suppliers for providing quality product components, and our customers for development direction."

You probably have heard all of this reported in most of the dental magazines and periodicals. I am sure that you have noticed that 3M is sponsoring our series of articles on the Deming Principles. If you are like most dentists, you have read the stories and said to yourself, "It was a nice honor, but so what? Is this news going to affect the way I practice dentistry tomorrow?" You might be thinking, "probably not."

However, I think the processes that 3M Dental went through to qualify for the award - which really is a business excellence award - could change the way you practice dentistry. As you can well imagine, this was not an overnight process. It all begins with an application that addresses seven categories: leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resources, process management, and results. The application explains how the company performs in each of the seven categories.

I spoke with Duane Miller, 3M Dental quality manager, who worked on the process from the beginning after the company decided to seek the award. Mr. Miller explained that the seven categories are not equally weighted. The "results" area accounts for over 40 percent of the scoring. Many open-ended questions are asked and the report is limited to 60 pages.

There are several questions concerning the leadership of the company. What is your leadership system? How do your leaders show their commitment to their people and to the business process? Do they communicate and reinforce the values, goals, expectations, and directions of the company? Do they have a vision of the company?

Dr. Charles Reich, head of 3M Dental until 1997, had the vision that encouraged his employees to work for the award. One must have a vision and a passion for this type of process and be willing to invest time and money to achieve the results.

The problem with a process like this is that you cannot measure it in terms of profit three months from now. You have to believe, intuitively at first, that you will become a stronger competitor, and bottom-line improvement will come, if you control your business processes and focus on your customers. This is exactly what happened at 3M. The company never tried to put a dollar value on this process. The employees believed that if they constantly improved the business processes, the company would become better. And it has!

When you finish the Baldrige application, you have a basic operator`s manual for the company. When you look at those 60 pages, you fully understand the total integration of the 3M Dental product system and how it works. You understand how the business is managed and how the leaders instill performance in their employees and develop their people. You know the kinds of information they gather and analyze, how they manage different business processes and products, and the kinds of analysis they run on the data.

When Dr. Fred Palensky replaced Dr. Reich, he was given a copy of the Baldrige application as a guide. Dr. Palensky said that this allowed him to understand what was driving 3M Dental. He was able to get to this understanding quicker and easier because of the document.

Did you ever think that you would hear the word "intuitively" used to explain the process of a large company like 3M? When was the last time you followed your intuition? Do you have any intuitive skills? If you don`t, do you trust someone else to help you in that area? My own intuitive skills are terrible, but my wife has great intuition. I have come to rely very heavily on her. Learn to improve your intuition and then to rely on it.

Are you beginning to get a sense of how all of this might help you to practice dentistry? No, it is not an easy process, but the principles involved will make your business better. You exist for some purpose. When you sit down to write out what this purpose is, to describe what it is you do and why you do it, you begin to get a feeling for what you are all about. What are your leadership skills? What do you value? Do you have a plan? After you write all of this down, you need to share it with the people who work for you. This is not easy, but it really is worth it.

Once you have shared all of what you have done with your staff members, they also should become invested in the process of developing this "application." As you develop this plan, you get into the area of strategic planning - developing a long-range plan for your practice. That`s a pretty heady thought. Many dental offices don`t even have goals, much less plans that will allow goals to become reality.

What would it take to get you to start down this road? Understand that this is a "road less traveled" and it can be a lonely road, but the dividends will be greater than you can possibly comprehend at this time. No one I know has ever taken this road and been sorry. What has happened at 3M can happen in your practice if you are willing to spend the time to make it happen. It all starts with a vision that must come from the leader of the practice. Don`t sit there and think about it - just do it! Start today!

A great resource is available from 3M Dental. It is a booklet that outlines the processes that are followed in the Baldrige application. It is titled, "Delivering the Promise Through Quality Processes," and can be obtained by calling 3M at (800) 449-1476. In addition, you can request a registration packet for a one-day 3M Dental Showcase, which is held each month at its headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., during 1998. It is free, but the number of attendees is limited. Good luck on your trip to a more rewarding dental practice!

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