The Top 7 Deadly Sins of Quality
By Michele Schermerhorn
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Just as life is filled with many temptations to sin, so is embarking upon a quality improvement journey. Some manufacturing businesses resist the temptations; most succumb. Let's explore the seven deadly sins as they relate to Total Quality Management and draw some conclusions to make the journey more successful for your business.
- Gluttony: Everything is a #1 Priority
If done correctly, Quality Management represents a major change initiative for an organization. As in any change initiative, the leadership team's time and actions are integral to its successful implementation. They provide the focus and catalyst required for success. If Quality Management is not assessed by the employees as a leadership team priority, nothing of significance will happen. Other priorities like increasing yields, reducing cycle time, reducing costs, reducing inventory, etc., will compete for their time. People might attend the quality education classes. They may begrudgingly attend improvement meetings. But no measurable business results will occur since their focus at all other times of their day will be on other issues.
Many leadership teams have never spent sufficient time to consciously rank their priorities; to achieve consensus at a gut level. Therefore, each leader will send different messages and different levels of intensity regarding priorities to the rest of the organization. This leaves the rest of the organization to decide where to spend their time based upon their perceptions of what's important. How do they decide what's most important to the leadership team? They watch where the leaders spend their visible time and where reporting is required. In other words, under what conditions do your people see you most frequently? What do they have to report activity on regularly? In most organizations, the answer to these two questions is not "quality improvement." So the leadership team lusts after results in quality improvement without preparing the ground from which it must spring, and without their personal nurturing and care.
Instead, the quality management initiative should be seen as the umbrella under which all improvement activities are conducted. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that quality improvement is the number one priority. All other activities are measurable goals, or milestones, toward improving quality. Reducing inventory by 25% is a goal. Reducing costs by 10% is a goal.
- Lust: Motorola Results
Most company leaders are anxious for immediate results. They see the potential of a quality initiative but few see the journey ahead for the long, arduous task it will be. They see where other organizations like Motorola are producing outstanding quality results. They visit companies like Motorola to learn their secrets. They search for the "silver bullet" or a series of "tips and techniques" to make their process easier. Their biggest mistake is wanting Motorola's current results without traveling the ten-year journey that Motorola had to travel.
To achieve the business results possible from a quality improvement effort takes seven elements:
1. a clear aiming point for the quality improvement effort's destination, understood by all and fully supported by each individual member of the leadership team;
2. education of all employees in what is expected and how to accomplish it;
3. a systematic methodology to achieve the stated results with a timeline and accountabilities;
4. personal, highly visible actions on the part of the company's leaders to do what they are asking others to do;
5. the compensation of senior executives strongly tied to improvement efforts;
6. the compensation system for employees dramatically changed to one which supports and promotes the teamwork necessary between departments; and
7. the unwavering commitment of the leadership team.
Without these elements in place, the results from the quality initiative don't materialize. And, if management hasn't learned a fundamental concept of quality management, when the results don't materialize, the people are blamed.
- Anger: People, Not Processes
Too many managers, who have not internalized a basic concept of quality management that "the work processes are to blame for problems, not people," operate with the mindset that people are the reason quality is lacking in products and services. Therefore, a lack of progress toward improvement is viewed as a direct result of failure on the part of people to do what must be done. This assumption leads to punishing people. Then, because of the resultant punishments, people tend to hide problems from management or blame other people or departments for the problems.
A business improvement effort, like Total Quality Management, requires the conscious designing and molding of a company culture where people freely share problems and where leaders have a commitment to resolving them. This can only happen when people are convinced that problems will be attacked, not the messengers. The attitudes and actions of employees are a direct result of direct management action or a lack of action at appropriate times. When a manager fails to see their direct impact upon the employees of the business, everyone else's employees look more highly motivated and better educated.
- Envy and Excuses: But, We're Different
The leadership team always believes they are committed to the quality improvement process. On the other hand, they also believe they are unique. Based upon this assumption, they envy the results of other organizations that they perceive to be "easier to run." They lament the time it will take them to accomplish results since their business is so much more complex than others who have traveled the quality improvement journey. They envy others but are incapable of seeing the efforts taken by others to achieve results. Bottom line, not all leadership teams have the commitment they think they have when faced with the challenges of quality improvement. They start to make excuses for the lack of results. These excuses lead to a downward death spiral for the quality management process.
Quality improvements are the direct result of the level of perceived management commitment to the initiative. Dramatic improvements are a direct result of articulated bold goals and the active participation by the company's leaders. Leadership teams which excel at leading improvements don't make excuses -- they make plans. They monitor progress and results. They are actively involved in achieving results. They celebrate success. They see quality as an investment, not an expense.
- Greed: First Cost vs. Return
Many manufacturing companies make million-dollar decisions regarding the acquisition of new equipment, but wouldn't consider spending the equivalent money on their only renewable asset: the people. They look at the initial expenditure for quality training as an expense where little return is expected. The "first cost" attitude leads them to make decisions which handicap the ability to make improvements. They turn over the development of training materials to internal people who have very little practical experience in creating change or improvements within an organization. Or, they might steal materials from consulting firms who have an established methodology for success. They might even train with a consultant and "save" money by not using support during the implementation phase of quality improvement. What is needed for success is a "return on investment" attitude.
Return can be quantified for a quality improvement process. Take a look at the organization today. How much money is being spent in returns, rework, scrap, customer complaints, credit memos, customer incentives, duplicate work, problem solving, fire-fighting, on-site service, repairs, lost business, union disputes, absenteeism, overtime, etc.? These all represent the potential return on the quality investment. With this figure in mind, better decisions can be made regarding launching and sustaining a quality improvement process as an investment in the future health of the organization. However, many organizations invest heavily in quality improvement activities or consultants and receive little result in return. Those organizations have leaders who "talk a good game" of quality improvement, but take little personal action to realize the return-on-investment.
- Sloth: All Talk, No Action
Many quality initiatives begin with a big bang! The leader of the company announces a commitment to quality improvement. They unveil a quality policy and plaster it on every company wall, business card and paycheck stub. They announce a Quality Director or similar position. They fund a quality education effort. Then, it's business as usual.
Employees have seen this leadership dance before. They eat the free donuts and listen half-heartedly to the speeches of commitment. Then, they return to their jobs. What happens almost immediately? Because the plant has just spent an hour or two in the quality kick-off meeting, production is behind schedule. Speed soon becomes the single most important variable of the employee's job, quality be damned.
The top three reasons for failure of a quality initiative are:
1. Lack of visible leadership action and perceived commitment.
2. Lack of visible leadership action and perceived commitment.
3. Lack of visible leadership action and perceived commitment.
Bottom line, if it's perceived to be important in an organization, it gets done. If quality is only a line in an executive speech and not the watchword for the leader's every action and deed, it won't happen. More money wasted. More people jaded to new ideas. And, a harder time next time to convince people of the leadership's commitment to anything.
What's needed is expressed best by Don Godshall, regional sales manager for THARCO, a packaging solutions company, when he says, "Without leadership we would have gone nowhere. Without people saying 'you will attend the meetings,' 'it is a priority,' 'you will take the time,' 'why isn't this being done?' 'where is the action request?' -- if that hadn't happened on an ongoing basis from the president, vice president and quality coordinator, this thing [quality improvement process] would have died. I don't doubt that for a second."
- Pride: Do It Alone
Who knows better how to run our business than us? We're a successful company. If we decide to initiate a quality improvement process, we should be able to read a few books, attend a seminar, and design a quality process which fits us exactly. Wrong!
The most successful quality initiatives change the very culture of the company. The organization must move from internal measurements of success to customer-focused measurements; from departmental fiefdoms to cross-functional teams dedicated to improvements; from product-driven to solutions- driven; from fire-fighting to lasting problem solving. If the organization knew how to do that, wouldn't it have happened by now?
Every organization has a unique culture forged by years of leadership actions, recognition and rewards. To be a part of that culture is to be blind to that culture and the new possibilities for its transformation. The most successful quality initiatives, like those of Motorola, Xerox and Federal Express, all began with outside expertise. Their processes have evolved to uniquely designed and crafted initiatives, but they didn't start that way.
The Road to Redemption Begins with Self-Awareness
The single most critical factor to avoid the seven deadly sins of quality in your business is to be aware of them. If you have a firmly entrenched quality improvement process, it's time to critically analyze it for improvements. If you have a stalled quality initiative, it's time to bring in a new catalyst to present new opportunities for success. If you have just embarked upon a quality improvement process, test your design and action plan against the seven deadly sins. If you haven't yet embarked upon a quality process which encompasses the entire organization, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Michele Schermerhorn has over 30 years experience in the business world and over 12 years running her own successful online businesses. She is President of Online Business Institute Inc. (http://www.obinstitute.com), authors a blog ([http://www.imarketblog.com]) and regularly conducts free online seminars. Online Business Institute Inc. exists to Create Successful Online Business Owners One Person At A Time.
Article Submitted On: February 18, 2005