If ever there was a misunderstood organizational strategy it is quality.
For some organizations quality is a quantitative exercise that takes new forms every few years. No matter which set of techniques, the belief is that "if it is measured it will improve."
For other organizations quality is a qualitative exercise that falls further into the feel good category than into any integrated organizational tactic. In that world, the given is that the "I'll know it when I see it" will translate into increased revenues.
And the reason that these are maybes instead of absolutes is that quality is neither a set of tools and techniques nor is it an organization development initiative.
When strategized and executed correctly, quality is an integrated, holistic strategy that differentiates your organization from the competition. It ensures that stakeholders and shareholders gain and contribute the highest possible value in every conceivable way.
How can so much be consistently achieved? By strategizing, structuring and managing the organization to two fundamental precepts: Predictability in All Things and No Waste in Any Form.
Predictability in All Things
According to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a "consulting statistician" credited with turning around the West, the East and the West again during the 20th Century, 97% of what happens in organizations is predictable.
You may not like it. It may not be what you want to happen. But you can put your money on it: it's going to happen.
How many times have you known a project was going to come in late, over budget or not to requirements? How often do your suppliers disappoint you? What about system crashes or customer complaints?
How often have you not brought an impending issue to your management because you know that until it escalates into a crisis no one will pay attention anyway?
And how many times have you known that by exerting that bit more effort with an employee, the work they do will surprise everyone on the upside?
So the logic of quality is that as long as 97% of what's going to happen is predictable anyway, you might as well plan for it. That, in fact, is the basis of all the measurement techniques that have been applied for decades.
The purpose isn't to measure for the sake of immediate improvement. The purpose is to understand on a process and systemic level:
- what is happening now
- why it is operating the way it is
- how it is impacting your and others' areas and functions
- what can be done to improve it - now and on an ongoing basis
- where the mystery 3% lies, and
- how you can manage the system so that what you want to happen is what consistently happens.
Not only will you then make the necessary improvements, you consistently further the goals of the organization.
No Waste in Any Form
There is too much waste in organizations. Whether in time, resources, talent, opportunity or any other contribution possible by people or equipment, you will find waste.
Think about the time you spend in meetings about topics over which you have no authority and little input, reading waste of time emails or solving problems that shouldn't have occurred in the first place.
And if you're spending time dealing with those things, your employees are facing the same frustrations. Add to that the time that equipment and other non-human resources are not being utilized to their full capacity. Or the time you and your employees spend rolling your eyes, blowing off steam and complaining to others - most often because you knew the solution before the problems occurred.
It's all waste.
And there's no excuse for waste. Just as 97% of what happens is predictable - and therefore can be managed - 97% of waste is a managed and management function.
The key is for you to take an objective look at how you and all your resources - human and otherwise - are being utilized. This is most easily accomplished by continually asking yourself and your employees questions about how things are working and why.
Some of these questions include:
- How do you spend your time?
- How many decisions do you make because your employees either won't or don't?
- Do you trust the data you are presented? Does anyone?
- How many times do you and your employees touch the same piece of work?
- How much does it cost to run your operation?
- How much of those costs and resources are being used to their greatest capacity and capability?
- What keeps us from doing our best?
- Do we know how "our best" is defined by our internal and external customers?
By asking those questions and more, you are able to identify where and why waste is occurring, how best to define it and what to do about it now and in the long term.
Not only will that give you the improvements you seek, it will also do wonders for your promotion opportunities.
The guarantee? 97%.
About the Author:
Leslie L. Kossoff is a leading organizational thinker and consultant. Her firm, Kossoff Management Consulting, provides guidance in the areas of executive and management development, and organizational strategy.