If you want to predict the future, study the past. The decade of the 70s saw the deterioration of American products and services; spreading from plastic toys, clothing and shoes to auto parts, steel and appliances. Pain was felt by the closing or restructuring of many American icons such as US Steel and International Harvester. By the end of the 80s however, American industry was making a comeback. What created this turnaround? In a word, excellence. As a rule, American industry had previously been good enough, but they were no longer winning. Executives soon realized that their international competitors were not comprised of smarter, more motivated or harder workers, but rather they were the ones that were winning due to a laser focus on quality, also known as excellence. Thus, Total Quality Initiatives took the nation by storm.
I encourage you to identify all of the touchpoints that exist between you and your clients from the initial contact you have with them until their payment has been received and then ask this question. Are they experiencing excellence or good enough? High performing companies have the goal to deliver excellence at every touch, 100% of the time. They realize that according to their clients, good enough simply isn’t good enough.
If you refuse to be just good enough, here are six critical questions to ask yourself and your team(s):
What’s the difference between the cost of getting it right the first time and the cost of not getting it right the first time? Do you seem to have enough money and time to do things over when they don’t turn out quite right? Yes, excellence costs money, the alternative probably costs you a whole lot more. Strive for first time right in all you do, starting with your hiring processes.
Do we define and measure quality? It begins and ends with your client experiences. Focus on making them frictionless at every touch point. Quality exists when the entire organization is aligned on delivering customer needs and wants in an error-free manner.
Have we surveyed our clients? Do you have a formal, closed-loop feedback mechanism (such as Net Promoter Score® survey) in place to listen to your clients’ satisfaction and their needs and wants? Do you find a way to make the necessary adjustments or just hope that your competition doesn’t get there either?
Are we concealing poor quality with Band-Aid measures or finding root cause and fixing it? Are you consistently honing your processes or merely putting in work-a-rounds while you wait for data and ROI analysis? Quality improvement doesn’t have to start with a formal evaluation of current outcomes which can require a lot of data gathering and analysis. If you are listening to your clients then you should be able to dig in and improve the work processes rather than spending too much time inspecting, checking and testing.
Have we trained our managers? Successful quality initiatives do not focus on employees; they focus on the managers. The truth is that most of the training in an organization is delivered to the front line employees in the form of customer service and skill-based training. Without management reinforcement, the training goes by the wayside. Managers must be trained on the art of motivating their team to give their best every day. They must know how to empower their people to produce quality and how to coach for continuous improvement.
How do we reward quality? Whether it’s in the form of compensation or a psychological paycheck, every employee and team who is successful in advancing quality improvement initiatives should be recognized. No role should go unnoticed and all performance excellence behaviors should be enthusiastically supported by the CEO. Recognized behavior gets repeated; unrecognized behavior goes away.
The results won’t be realized overnight, however every step you take on the journey toward excellence will be rewarded in terms of client and talent loyalty and ultimately revenue and profit. Just study the past.
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