H. James Harrington  |  06/24/2008

Management Participation

Work, act, and be responsible.

The most important requirement for actuating the improvement process of your management system is to have your full management team participating before the nonmanagement employees become involved in the process. Management must be totally dedicated and actively participating in the improvement process before and after it is presented to the employees. If the process is to work, management must set the standards.

Managers get work done through other people. Their success should not be measured by what they do but by what they can inspire others to do. Managers who treat employees as they are will keep them as they are; but managers who treat them as they could be will cause them to grow and become more than they would have been. As managers, we need to let employees know that we believe they can do better. We must expect them to do better and help them set goals that stretch and exercise their abilities.

One of the primary responsibilities of every manager is the quality of output from his or her area of authority. It is not a quality assurance function; the most sophisticated quality assurance function does not have the ability to produce one good product. Management wouldn’t go to production control when a manufacturing department doesn’t meet the shipping schedule. Why is it, then, that management goes to the quality assurance department to find out why a quality problem occurs and what is going to be done about it?

There is really no such thing as a quality problem; there are workmanship problems, design problems, accounting problems, and the like. There can only be problems with the output of an individual, a group, or a system. Quality is a measure of the usefulness of output. This is true at the department level and at all other levels of management, right up to the president of the company. Management at every level must accept the responsibility and accountability for the output from their own areas.

Each manager is also responsible for setting the standards for quality and for setting examples for employees. Each manager must become a personally involved and active participant in the improvement process. Managers can speak with honest conviction about the importance of quality and the need to improve, but their actions broadcast a completely different message. Management’s actions count, not management’s words. No one is fooled when a department produces 100 parts per hour for 28 days in the month, and for the last three days of the month produces 200 parts per hour. Something has to be compromised, and usually that something is the quality of the product. Employees and subordinate managers will adjust to the quality standards set in the last three days of the month and make them the standards for the next month.

Are you spending as much time controlling the quality of your department’s output as you are investing in cost and schedules? If not, you should adjust your priorities. If you don’t value quality enough to be interested in it, how can you expect that of your employees? This applies to every level of management as well as to the employees. Plant managers hold production status meetings during which quality, schedules, and costs are reviewed. Normally, schedules are addressed first, then cost, and then quality--if there is time. Frequently, problems with scheduling take up most of the meeting; as a result, quality is not discussed. If quality is really the most important factor, it should be first on every agenda. The order of a meeting agenda is a telltale sign of what management is most concerned about.

No matter where you rank in management, someone is evaluating your performance to determine if you really mean what you’re saying about quality. If you are going to set a standard of error-free output for them, you’d better try even harder than they do to produce error-free work yourself. Errors will occur, but they must not be accepted as the normal way of doing business. You need to get angry when you see the waste that errors cause. You need to communicate, in words and deeds, that good enough is not good enough, that we can do better and will do better, that our ultimate goal is to do it right every time.

While discussing problems he had with some of Avon Products’ management team, CEO James E. Preston noted, “Their focus had always been on meeting efficiency requirements and quotas. Their crisis-ridden, tight schedule discouraged prevention procedures. Many viewed quality and productivity improvement as just another program that would disappear if it was quietly ignored! They also rejected the idea that it could and should be applied successfully beyond the manufacturing environment.”


About The Author

H. James Harrington’s picture

H. James Harrington

H. James Harrington is CEO of Harrington Management Systems, which specializes in total quality management (TQM), Six Sigma, lean, strategic planning, business process improvement, design of experiments, executive management mentoring, preparing complete operating manuals, organizational change management, ISO 9000, ISO 14000, and TRIZ. Harrington is a prolific author, having written hundreds of technical reports, magazine articles, and more than 35 books. He has more than 55 years of experience as a quality professional. Harrington is a past president of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the International Academy for Quality (IAQ).