THE Q-MARK AWARD

by Jill Carey, Programme Manager, STEP Enterprises, Dublin (St John of God Services)

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In keeping with its commitment to provide a quality service, and in the absence of any national standards for services, STEP Enterprises decided to secure accreditation from Excellence Ireland (formerly the Irish Quality Association). Since 1995, STEP Enterprises have held the Q-Mark Award for Quality Systems, and since 1998 have held the Q-Mark Award for Quality Management Systems. But what has this really meant to the men and women in the service?

Each year for the past five years an annual survey has been carried out to ask the men and women what they want from the service. Their views are gathered through focused discussion groups with external facilitators.

One of the strong themes emerging from the surveys is the desire for more money, different jobs and flexibility in working hours. The service response has been to adjust different parts of the work enterprises in order to expand the supported employment service thereby offering more quality-of-life choices.

Another area with which the men and women and their families expressed dissatisfaction was not having as full a social or leisure life as they would like. This resulted in the appointment of a Social Support Co-ordinator, who supports individuals and groups in social, leisure and educational pursuits outside of working hours.

Some people said that they wanted to live independently, and whilst STEP Enterprises does not provide a residential service, it has helped some people to access other residential services. Both the men and women in the service and their families also identified the area of pastoral care as playing a critical role. The existing part-time post was changed to a full-time post as a result of the demand for this service.

Customer satisfaction is one of the nine areas covered under the Business Excellence Model, which include leadership, strategy, people management, policy, processes and results. An annual assessment is carried out to assess how the service is doing against the criteria in the different areas. The pass mark for the award is 50%.

There are some significant features about the model. Firstly, the model is driven by the needs and opinions of the men and women who use the service. Views of families also play a critical role. The service must show how it responds to the opinions of the men and women and their families. In addition, the service must show how it checks that people are satisfied with the response.

Secondly, because the service is continuously talking and listening to the men and women, there are always improvements being made both at an individual level and at a service level. Continuous improvement therefore becomes part of the way that things are done, not just at fixed times during the year.

Thirdly, staff involvement is a critical part of the model. The service must demonstrate how it listens and responds to staff and how it provides adequate training and career opportunities amongst other things.

As part of the model, the development of a service plan is very important–but it must be based on what the men and women say they need and want and in full consultation with staff. This service plan must be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is on target and that, when it is not, there are clear reasons for this.

Has using the Business Excellence Model made a difference? I would say ‘definitely yes’. As a model it has helped the service to focus on what is really important–selects the best way forward, keeps a regular check on progress and makes sure that everybody is kept informed.

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