Copyright by Rob Nix
My first experience with the word “culture” comes from my high school science class. We were to grow a living organism on a nutrient base. The science teacher called it a culture. The girls in class described it using the medical term: “eeewwwww.” Years later in the business world I find top managers, subjected to the pressure to incorporate a quality culture into their business, responding in the executive term: “eeewwwww.” Like the old cereal commercial, they are told it is “supposed to be good for you”, which means it doesn’t taste very good.
But everybody’s talking about “quality” disciplines. Six Sigma & Zero Defects (NOTE: the only difference between the two is about 3 and a half defects), ISO-9000, Malcolm Baldrige, and so on. What a bunch of hype. Yet our customers tell us we need it; consultants tell us we need it; 9 out of 10 doctors tell us we need it. “Yeah, well, smart people and their pomp and flourish have never run a business like mine”! Yes, top execs know how to run their business. But they also realize they have to indulge and pacify those fools advocating “quality”. So they do the first of ten things to effectively neutralize the virulent quality culture, they hire a Quality Manager. For all of you future business executives, all ten of the things to follow should be implemented to ensure the death of the quality organism eating away at your “bottom line”. It is already being done successfully in many businesses throughout the world.
- Hire a Quality Manager, then stand behind him – way behind him. In fact, don’t give anyone the impression you even know the Quality Manager, let alone give support to his quality initiatives. There are two benefits to this approach: 1) It is the QM’s job, not yours, to ensure quality. That’s why you hired him, and 2) Look, for example, at the circus trapeze people. They become much more professional and conscientious when they work without a safety net. Take away support from the Quality Manager and it builds character! Sure, organizations like the Australian Continuous Improvement Group write that “Senior management support must be active, visible and constant”, but they’re just being silly.
- Next, assign the Quality Manager the task of becoming certified to an international quality standard, but remember: do not support it – just insist that it get done. Yes, insist on getting certified, but make it clear it is only for the sake of getting a certificate, not changing the business “paradigms” (that’s 20¢ for you middle managers). Every top manager knows that to be efficient you must provide only the minimum required by the customer. They generally just want to see a certificate on the wall; they may even ask for a faxed copy once a year. Give it to them.
- Establish policies, but be the first to violate every policy you establish. This is a great way to show everyone who’s boss. The implication should be, “I can do it, but you cannot”. For example, establish safety policies throughout the building that ensure coverage from the top of the hard hat to the bottom of their steel toed shoes. Then walk around the plant in Bermuda shorts and open toed sandals. Or, send a mandate to all personnel regarding “on time” meeting attendance, no exceptions! Then walk in 20 minutes after the start of each meeting while talking loudly on your cell phone. These techniques help clarify to all employees what the pecking order is.
- Do not spend a lot of time planning, organizing, strategizing, or (in short) -managing. Fighting fires is the most productive use of your time. And besides, it is the comfort zone of most top managers, since it is likely how they got where they are. Getting involved in every problem that occurs each day shows you are a “hands on” kind of executive – your people will respect you for it. It should be noted, however, that this effort should not be in cooperation with the Quality Manager, as that would violate point #1 above. Remember the goal: kill the quality critter.
- Regarding goals, make sure all goals are short term. Yes, there is a lot of hoopla about long term goals out there, but keep in mind all of the business factors that are linked to short, not long, term goals: 1) your bonus plan and pay out is generally one year, not 3 to 5 years, 2) more rapid turnover of personnel means impressions must be made more quickly, and 3) your boss expects tangible results now. In relation to goals, management should also avoid any clear mission or vision statements. Those things paint top managers into a corner. The important thing is to stay fluid, flexible, ready to go in any direction at any time. A side benefit of this is that it keeps employees on their toes, always ready for any shift in the wind.
- Assume the “bottom line” is really the bottom line. Financial statements like the P&L really say it all. They are precise and clean and easy to remember. So chief executives should focus all of their attention on financial considerations only. The CFO is always looking after top management, to make sure their retirement is lucrative. The CFO is the only one that cares. So, when those “quality” types present their “data”, and “facts”, regarding customer satisfaction, problem resolution success, training effectiveness, and other intangibles, diligently avoid rolling your eyes. Placate them with a smile, a “well done”, and a “keep up the good work”. That has the Pavlovian effect of making them drool. Likewise, if anyone else comes to top management with a “suggestion”, they should assign them, the suggester, to handling the project (obviously without the provision of resources). They’ll think twice the next time.
- When it comes to measuring business performance, do not measure what is important; measure only what is easy to measure. For example, measuring rework is complicated. It means making sure the reworker reports time accurately, reasons are tracked, graphs are made, material costs are tabulated, and on and on. A better measure is how long the reworker takes on his breaks. Another important point regarding performance measurements is to never measure anything that might implicate, or embarrass top management. Keep all things regarding top manager’s performance nebulous and circuitous. When reporting company performance to the employees speak using steganographic jargon that only elicits a wink from your fellow execs. The amoebic I.Q.s of the shop people will quickly cause their thoughts to shift to who’s buying the first round at Louie’s after work.
- Speaking of I.Q.s, never hire people smarter than you are. They may take your job some day. Once hired, you control their breeding. Send employees to training on things they cannot possibly implement. If they never use their training, they continue to be unmarketable and you reduce turnover. However, Executives should not go to any training themselves, simply because they already know everything they will ever need to know. That, of course, does not exclude business retreats and other conferences where they can consume copious amounts of [executive] beverages, eat [executive] foods, and enjoy [executive] entertainment. Those things are necessary for the company’s future.
- One of the insidious spores that emit from the quality culture is that consistency is tantamount to quality. Consistently followed procedures, consistent motions, consistent statistical control, and consistent processes supposedly lead to better quality and happier customers. But that is a smokescreen for the Quality Manager’s true motive: to expose inefficiencies in the organization! “Inefficiencies” may be translated: you. So be inconsistent. Keep everything in a state of flux. It’s harder for people to realize the sources of incompetence when everything is murky.
- Finally, avoid closure at all costs. Do not finish a project, and do not let others finish theirs. If they linger interminably, you continue to have work. The quality culture suggests that if everything is working smoothly, they will appear unhurried, and at times, appearing like they have nothing to do! That cannot be productive. So, support the starting of as many projects as possible, then find reasons to prolong them, delay signing approvals for each step of the plan, and find ways to amend, or add to, the original plan. This includes not completely killing the quality culture. If it hangs by a thread, and is kept on life support, that raises hope in the Quality Department. You should feel good.
So, to (almost) conclude, in order to (almost) kill the virus of the Quality Culture, 1) Hire a Quality Manager, 2) Get a certificate for the wall, 3) Establish policies applicable to every employee (except you obviously), 4) Fight fires!, 5) Establish short term goals, 6) Focus on the “bottom” line, 7) Measure the easy things that do not make you look bad, 8) Keep training in its place, 9) Keep things in a constant state of flux, and 10)
Copyright by Rob Nix
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