by Dirk Dusharme and Cecelia Reeves

Recipe for Innovation
United Kingdom Cracks Down on CE Marking Compliance
Customer Complaints: Burden or Benefit?
At Home in the Office
ASQC Awards Deming Medal
The Lights Are on at Catalina
Two New Benchmarking Studies Released
Share Your Knowledge
Extreme Learning
Selecting Team Leaders
Canadian Workers Are the Most Committed

Recipe for Innovation

How does a company gear itself to thinking beyond the obvious and into the cutting edge? Although innovation depends as much on corporate culture and environment as it does on methodology, there is a five-step process that can lead to more innovative products, according to Tom Kelley, vice president of marketing for IDEO, a premier contract product-development group.

Understand. Clear your mind and get the big picture. "Understand the market, understand users with respect to this market and understand technologies," says Kelley, whose company has developed products for AT&T, Apple, Nike and General Motors. Too many companies have forgotten what they know, he says. "They forget what got them to where they are," explains Kelley. "They forget what they're doing well that their clients value them for."

Observe. "Watch what people in the real world do," says Kelley. Once, when developing an office product, Kelley walked around offices and observed telephone books on the floor. After investigating, he learned that shorter people felt more comfortable at their desks if they could put their feet on something.

"I could have sat at my desk all year and not thought of that," he laughs.

Observe customers at the tails of your market research curve, not those at the center. On one end of the curve, you have enthusiasts using your product in ways never imagined. On the other are those who simply won't use your product. Both provide insight into product innovation, says Kelley.

Visualize. Create scenarios and characters that come from what was learned in the observation phase. Making a composite character is very useful for keeping you focused on user needs and providing a screen in which to test ideas, explains Kelley.

Get to 3-D prototypes as quickly as possible. Prototypes solicit more valuable customer feedback than conceptual sketches and help spotlight design problems much earlier.

Evaluate and refine. Show your prototype to customers. "First-time users approach a product with a mental model, and you can't always guess what their model will be," says Kelley. Once customers have provided feedback, go back and refine the prototype.

Implement. Now that you know what the users really want, design to that specification. At this point, the concept is worked out and you get down to the detailed design and engineering.

United Kingdom Cracks Down
on CE Marking Compliance

Those who believe that the Europeans are not serious about CE Marking compliance may be in for a shock, according to the European Community Quarterly Review. For the EMC Directive alone, the United Kingdom has budgeted 1.9 million pounds for enforcement to sample electronic products for compliance, Nigel Witton of the United Kingdom's Trading Standards Office told the publication.

Other directives are also being enforced. Two hundred toys were pulled off the shelves after sampling with a 20-percent failure rate. Personal protective equipment and products falling under the low voltage directive have also been tested.

Some companies, such as Philips Electronics and IBM UK, are testing their competitors' products looking for noncompliance. Although not stated specifically in this issue of the publication, turning in competitors for noncompliance may be the motivation for testing.

Source: European Community Quarterly Review, Technology International Inc. Telephone (804) 560-5334, fax (804) 560-5342.

Customer Complaints: Burden or Benefit?

Managers who set a department goal of decreasing customer complaints are looking at the criticisms from the wrong point of view. Employees should be rewarded for turning in more customer complaints, according to Jim Shaw, author of Customer-Inspired Quality: Looking Backward Through the Telescope (Jossey-Bass, 1996). Customer complaints should not be viewed as a mark of poor performance, maintains Shaw. Instead, they should be regarded as a key to quality improvement.

Shaw makes these suggestions:
Set up a system to collect and analyze data.
Make a goal of doubling or tripling the number of customer complaints.
Reward employees who bring complaints to management's attention.

At Home in the Office

Office decor may have just become something of a corporate security blanket. The latest Steelcase Workplace Index semiannual survey found that 85 percent of office workers polled preferred to personalize their surroundings with items from home. A couple of reasons given by those surveyed include improvement in their overall attitude and the chance to offer co-workers a glimpse of their individuality.

The employees' tendency to customize office space to suit their personal tastes may stem from corporate changes, such as telecommuting, downsizing and staying in hotels. Because attitude and psychological well-being can have a major impact on productivity and job satisfaction, companies are well-advised to encourage these nesting habits.

According to the Steelcase survey, men and women were equally inclined to decorate their workspace. Photographs were the decorating technique for 69 percent of those who responded, making it the most popular technique.

ASQC Awards Deming Medal

The Metropolitan Section of the American Society for Quality Control awarded its Deming Medal to William J. Latzko, president of Latzko Associates, a management consulting firm.

Latzko studied statistics under W. Edwards Deming at New York University and has written books and articles on Deming's teaching. He is the author of Quality and Productivity for Bankers and Financial Managers and co-author of Four Days With Dr. Deming. He contributed to Deming's Out of the Crisis and Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position.

The Deming Medal is presented to individuals who have successfully combined the application of statistical thinking and management, leading to quality in products and services. The medal is not connected with the Deming Prize offered by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers.

Beginning next year, the ASQC will make the Deming Medal a national ASQC event.

The Lights Are on at Catalina

Bringing in outside help to improve productivity needn't cost an arm and a leg. Catalina Lamp & Shade went from losing 10 percent on sales to making 7 percent on sales and spent only $1,200 to do it.

Catalina, which produces shades for lamp manufacturers and hotels, was having problems earlier this year meeting customer demands, says President John Markland.

"I had all these wonderful orders but was starting to get irritated customers because I couldn't fill their orders on time," says Markland.

He asked for help from the California Manufacturing Technology Center, a Southern California nonprofit organization geared to helping small to medium sized industries.

Catalina's manufacturing process involved three separate production areas, with work-in-process being shuttled between areas. Each area worked on several types of shades at the same time, adding to the material-handling problems. CMTC analyzed Catalina's work flow and suggested changing to a cellular approach, each work station producing an entire run of lamp shades of one size and color. The change helped Catalina eliminate much of the material handling and increase production from about 900 shades per day to about 1,400 per day.

The total elapsed time from when CMTC visited the plant until all suggested changes were implemented and tested was only five weeks, notes Markland. The total cost was $2,400, but because MEP programs partner with state and local governments, half of the cost was subsidized.

CMTC is part of a National Institute for Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership. For more information on CMTC, call (310) 355-3060. For more information on MEP, call (800) 637-4634.

Two New Benchmarking Studies Released

Here's a New Year's resolution: Rather than resting on your company's current performance, compare your company's practices to the best of the best.

The International Customer Service Association just published its 1996 Customer Service Benchmarking Study, a biennial survey designed to explore key benchmarks in customer service areas.

Some key findings include that 96 percent of respondents cite telephone skills as critical skills for customer service representatives, while 89 percent cite product knowledge as a critical skill. The average telephone call handled by a customer service representative lasts four minutes, while the average call handled by a technical service representative lasts nine minutes.

For more information, contact the ICSA at (312) 321-6800.

A study team of 57 major organizations made key discoveries about how best-practice organizations install, apply and use activity-based management information systems, according to another benchmarking study conducted by the American Productivity & Quality Center's International Benchmarking Clearinghouse.

Highlights of this study show that 87 percent of the best-practice companies use ABM systems to support at least four primary applications, the most popular of which is product costing. ABM applications are most frequently used to enable decision making, performance measurement and process-improvement initiatives.

For more information, contact the APQC at (713) 681-4020.

Share Your Knowledge

Mentoring&emdash;sharing personalized guidance and expertise with a junior employee&emdash;is a must-do for top managers today, according to an Accountemps survey. The independently conducted survey of 150 executives from the nation's largest companies revealed that 57 percent viewed the mentoring process as extremely important. Another 39 percent saw it as somewhat important.

Transferring wisdom helps grow talent in every department of the company and provides a solid foundation for advancing future business growth, explains Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps

Mentoring gives junior colleagues the practical, often intangible knowledge they may not get at school, explains Messmer. "A mentor can teach someone the subtleties of business protocol, such as how to navigate delicate or challenging situations, build a spirit of camaraderie at work or develop strong interpersonal skills," he adds.

Extreme Learning

When you have more than 9,000 employees spread out over an entire state, maintaining consistency within your corporate training and development programs can be elusive. To tackle this problem, SNET, Connecticut's telecommunications provider, came up with an innovative solution&emdash;Extreme Learning. Extreme Learning is a full-day workshop that was part in-house training and development fair, part facilitated networking opportunity.

The workshop's purpose was to help consolidate SNET's training vision, says Jennifer Mollman, managing director of TQM. "We wanted to raise the awareness of individuals in this organization so that they understand what we are trying to achieve organizationally," she explains. "We want them to have the same objectives in terms of teaching and training, and to understand the different tools that we have available to us."

In many cases, people are unaware of the training tools or experiences that can be shared with others inside of SNET, says Mollman. As a result, departments reinvent the wheel many times over as they pursue similar paths, each oblivious to the other. "People don't realize the expertise and resources that we have within the company," she notes.

During Extreme Learning, attendees met with SNET corporate development and training personnel to learn leading practices in training and skill development. They also networked with each other to share particular training problems and approaches. Outside vendors were also represented, from training consultants to audiovisual presentation specialists.

As a result, attendees walked away from the workshop knowing what was available from their company's own corporate training and development tool box, says Mollman.

Selecting Team Leaders

hen choosing a team leader, companies need to ensure solid leadership. Jennifer Howard, vice president of Miller Howard Consulting Group, suggests three methods for selecting an organization's team leaders.

If management believes that the team is not ready to select its own leader, they may choose to appoint one for them. However, they need to do so with caution.

"Companies must be careful to match the leadership style of the prospective team leader, the needs of the team and the values and principles of the organization," warns Howard.

If teams appoint their own leaders, the selection criteria should be consistent throughout the organization. A key issue is how well the company's management accepts the team-appointed leader, says Howard. While teams normally exhibit good judgment in selecting an effective leader, management may find it difficult to trust that the team will do so. It is important that management demonstrate trust by setting guidelines for team leader selection and then allowing teams to select leaders within those guidelines.

Rotating team leadership is another method. Compensation and career development processes are factors to consider when choosing this route. Vertical promotion is the only way to significantly increase compensation in many companies, observes Howard. By rotating team leadership, you are not promoting a team member in the traditional sense, you are assigning that person to a different role for a specified length of time.

Typical questions that each team or company should answer regarding rotating leadership include:

Does everyone have to serve as leader?
How long is the term?
How will leaders be trained?
Will there be additional compensation?
Are the responsibilities the same for each team leader, or are they tailored to each person's unique skills?

Canadian Workers Are the Most Committed

The Japanese are the most committed to their employers, right? Not so, says a study by Indianapolis-based Walker Information and CSM Worldwide Network. When it comes to employee commitment, Canadians take top honors.

The Walker study asked more than 7,500 workers in 13 countries a series of 97 questions. Scores were adjusted to compensate for cultural bias in answering questionnaires.

Commitment (5 is highest)







United States


South Africa














United Kingdom