Six Sigma
Last Word


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Quality First--At Last

The quality effort at the Insurance Center received its name--Quality First--as a result of a companywide vote. Several names and logos were offered, and "Quality First" (combined with a logo using a stylized depiction of the company building) was the runaway favorite.

 Although some components of the quality process--such as the process analysis effort described in last month's column--are very much in place and operating already, the official launch of the process will take place on Sept. 14. As this column for the October issue of the Quality Digest Web site is being written in early September, the scheduled events will be described in the present and future tenses. Any surprises or particular highlights that pop up during the launch will be included in the November column.

 There is a dual purpose for making an occasion of the beginning of the "quality team" aspect of the process: to ensure that everyone knows that senior management believes the process is important and has their support and to make the initiation of the effort memorable. In future years, employees will be able to point to the Quality Kick-Off as the first day of the effort.

 The first problem to overcome when planning began back in April was locating a place to hold the all-employee ceremony and celebration. There is no one place on company property that is sufficiently roomy; previous companywide meetings were three-shift affairs.

 The building does, however, share a fence with a high school. Fortunately, the award-winning design of the building is such that its 850-seat auditorium is far removed from the classroom wing, making it possible to rent the auditorium during school hours. Discussions with the principal of the school led to an agreement on the use of the space as well as the involvement of the school band and a few students to help with lights and sound.

 The schedule for the Quality Kick-Off is as follows:

 10:00--Employees will begin arriving at the school by bus. Even though the two properties share a fence, there is no gate in the fence, so buses are a necessity. As the employees get off the bus, the high school marching band will be waiting for them, going through its repertoire of music.

 10:30--The program will begin with Dick Villari, chairman of the quality steering committee, acting as the master of ceremonies and welcoming everyone to the Quality Kick-Off.

 10:35--The first speaker will be the CEO of the corporation of which the Insurance Center is a part. Unfortunately, the QSC did not get on the CEO's calendar in time, and his presentation will be delivered on videotape. Although he has to miss the big event, he does intend to be at all future quality celebrations.

 10:45--Next up is the head of the insurance group within the corporation. He was instrumental in hiring Pat and in introducing the idea of pursuing quality at the Insurance Center.

 10:55--A recently promoted supervisor and member of the quality steering committee will take 10 minutes to describe what she learned at a recent one-day conference conducted by 1999 Baldrige winner, ST Microelectronics. She won the trip along with another member of the QSC when her name was drawn out of a hat.

 11:05--Pat will introduce the "Insurance Center Quality Fanfare." This is an original 20-second piece of music, composed by a former employee of the company and played by a contingent from the high school band, who will be in the auditorium throughout, playing introductory music for each speaker. In the future, whenever an employee logs onto the Quality Idea Tracking Program, they will be treated to a five-second slice of the Quality Fanfare.

 11:10--David Branch, CEO of Branch Smith Publishing and Printing, will take the stage next. His company won a Texas Quality Award in 1999, and he was previously an examiner for that award. His company did submit an application for the Baldrige this year and, as of this writing, has been notified that it has made it past the first hurdle--it has "gone to consensus"--and will be notified on Sept. 21 if it will be receiving a site visit. In addition to speaking to the Insurance Center employees about the journey they are beginning, he will be presenting a Level 1 Texas Quality Award Certificate to Phil Myhra, president of the Insurance Center. (While the Texas Quality Award is a Baldrige clone, the Texas Quality Foundation offers three levels of recognition. Level 3 is the state equivalent of the Baldrige; Level 1 is, essentially, a declaration of intent to pursue quality--with an abbreviated application and an optional site visit/assessment.)

 11:20--Phil Myrha will close the program with a statement of his vision of quality for the company and his personal commitment to the effort.

 11:30--On their way out of the auditorium, each employee will receive a laminated copy of the company mission statement (a result of the strategic planning exercise described in last month's column) and a mouse pad with a calendar (with Sept. 14 highlighted) and the Quality First logo. The high school marching band will be waiting to serenade everyone while they are loading onto the buses for the short ride back to the office.

 To wrap up the day, Quality First Birth Day Cake will be served in the cafeteria all afternoon. Next year, of course, there will be birthday cake.

 Quality team meetings will begin that afternoon, and the Quality Idea Tracking Program will come online on the following week.

 Initial progress and problems--and the Quality Idea Tracking Program--will be described in detail in next month's column. Please keep in mind that the decision to proceed with a 100-percent employee-involved, team-based quality process was made on March 29, 2000, less than six months before the Quality Kick-Off.


About the authors

 Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and six books, including Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992); Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997); How Organizations Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize (Crisp Publications, 1999); and Quality Is Everybody's Business (CRC Press, 1999). Pat Townsend has recently re-entered the corporate world and is now dealing with leadership.com issues as a practitioner as well as an observer, writer and speaker. He is now chief quality officer for UICI, a diverse financial services corporation headquartered in the Dallas area. E-mail the authors at ptownsend@qualitydigest.com .

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