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Terry Kaytor

Quality Insider

Ethics and Quality

Balance in the workplace<br><br>Opinion<br>

Published: Monday, November 19, 2007 - 22:00

Quality’s commonly accepted definition along the lines of “meeting or exceeding customer expectations” falls short. A more complete definition of quality should also consider achieving our potential, which can exist at a personal level or at a business level. Our ability to achieve both potentials is influenced by the relationship between personal ethics and business ethics. This ethical relationship has a direct bearing on craftsmanship, which, in turn, affects quality.

Personal ethics transcend our physiological needs and can be defined in terms of the choices we make to achieve our potential and fulfill our basic social and creative needs. These choices must also contribute to society. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes not. Reaching the balance between achieving our potential and contributing to society is what it means to be ethical.

Along with being social and creative, we’re explorers. We require mental stimulation, as well as interaction with other human beings. The goal of personal ethics, then, is to be creative, to explore, to be recognized, and to interact with other human beings in a positive way. The fulfillment of these basic human needs contributes to our happiness and reinforces our desire to continue to do better. This is what we bring to the work environment. It sets the stage for future interactions between personal ethics and business ethics.

Business ethics also have a goal. The goal of most businesses is to maximize profit and thereby reward business owners and shareholders. This is what it means to be ethical in a business sense. U.S. business must continue to create capital, make critical investments, and reward risk takers to compete in today’s competitive global market place (often viewed as being unfair and unethical). However, these business goals are often at odds with the goal of personal ethics, because business goals often don’t satisfy our needs regarding creativity, exploration, human interaction, and recognition. This situation can create conflict (opposing goals and opposing incentives). For example, it forces us to decide between making a bad business choice for a good personal reason, or by making a bad personal choice for a good business reason. That is, a choice may be good for me and be bad for a business, or vice versa. Not good in either case.

The consequences of this type of conflict aren’t good for U.S. business. The symptoms often have negative consequences in the workplace. When employees work in an environment that subordinates their personal goals to corporate goals they can become apathetic, careless, lazy, or even openly antagonistic. Here are a few examples:

  • Laziness—An employee doesn’t attach a protective electrostatic discharge (ESD) wrist strap while kitting ESD-sensitive components prior to end-item assembly. This introduces latent damage to the component and shortens the life of the product. A subsequent product recall and associated repairs cost the company several thousand dollars and tarnish the company’s reputation.
  • Apathy—A senior manager knowingly doesn’t respond to a customer federal acquisition flow-down requirement because compliance will be difficult and complicated. The discrepancy comes to light two years later during a customer audit. Both parties agree that this discrepancy doesn’t really affect product performance, but the company is removed from its customer’s approved-supplier list because the company was unresponsive to the customer’s requirement.
  • Antagonism—A company’s internal auditor intentionally points customer auditors to problem areas during a customer audit. The company is aware of these problems, and it’s working hard to fix them. This results in two major nonconformances which, in turn, lowers the company’s performance rating. The company is placed in a “conditional approval” status. It takes the company more than a year (and several thousand dollars) to regain unconditional approval status.

More balance between personal ethics and business ethics and related goals will reduce this conflict. U.S. business relies almost exclusively on operational excellence and lean manufacturing initiatives to achieve more efficient operation and expansion. This approach, which essentially reduces friction, is unbalanced, because it overlooks the human element. U.S. business must devote equal time and energy to identifying and implementing ways to help workers achieve their potential. We need balance. Balance will improve craftsmanship. Improved craftsmanship will improve quality. A few practical suggestions follow:

  • Show employees that you care about their work conditions at all levels within the organization. For example, improve lighting, install additional windows, select appropriate interior colors, maintain clean rest rooms, keep floors clean, and maintain clean air. Don’t isolate and forget employees. Place craftsmanship on the same level as, for example, Six Sigma.
  • Make every employee believe they are a part of the total relationship within the organization. Show every employee that they are important. Let every employee know that they contribute equally, but in different ways. Explore ways to make jobs more interesting. Listen to employees in this connection. Challenge them. Reward innovation and craftsmanship at all levels. Encourage participation. Don’t neglect recognition at any level. Don’t punish employees for things that are beyond their means to control. As Deming said, “Drive out fear.”
  • Expose college students to the importance of balance in the workplace during the course of their studies. This should be a requirement as opposed to an elective. This is where the process must begin.

This is a long-term proposition. The time and energy required to implement these improvements must be focused and sustained. U.S. business must also adapt to employees over time. All of us want to find satisfaction in our craftsmanship. We want to take pleasure in the activity itself. But we can’t do so unless we’re able to achieve our potential. The first step in this process is to achieve the critical balance between personal ethics and business ethics. This balance will improve craftsmanship, which, in turn, will improve quality and accelerate U.S. competitiveness. “Pride in craftsmanship” is not a cliché and it cannot exist without balance.

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About The Author

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Terry Kaytor

A graduate of George Washington University, Terry Kaytor is a quality professional residing in the Seattle area.