Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Quality Starts with Management

Low expectations breed mediocre managers.

I've worked in the business environment for more than 47 years and have yet to find one manager who performs at a quality level equivalent to that of even the average production worker.

A good production worker consistently performs at the parts-per-million error level. Most managers perform at the errors-per-hundred level. Missed schedules. Starting meetings late. Not following up on commitments. Lack of prompt feedback. The list of management errors goes on and on. Why do we live with these gross management errors? I believe we do so because no one takes the time to prepare a management activity inspection plan and conduct management performance audits similar to those conducted in the manufacturing operations. We simply don't expect managers to perform at the parts-per-million level. We have grown to accept mediocrity as superior management performance. As such, the biggest single opportunity for improvement in business today is management performance.

 If you look at the major roadblocks to improvement within most organizations, you'll see they include issues such as lack of employee trust, lack of management credibility, lack of training, poor communication, fear of risk-taking, lack of delegation, untimely decision making, misdirected measurement systems, lack of employee loyalty and lack of continuity.

 Without the removal of these roadblocks, the organization cannot make major progress. Nevertheless, each of these roadblocks can be broken down only by management. And the single area most often rated as the one that needs to be improved in employee surveys I've seen is trust in management.

 You can buy employees' time, effort and skills, but you cannot buy their enthusiasm, loyalty or trust. Managers must earn these. Salary increases and bonuses won't do it; only a close, open, honest, personal relationship between management and the employees will. It's a two-way system that must be initiated by management's respect for and trust in their employees. Too often, however, managers quickly get disappointed when they make an investment, be it time or money, and don't see it immediately returned. Nonetheless, there is no quick fix, and management has to prime the process many times before they can overcome the negative feelings that they've built up in their employees. It requires that management develop a true and sincere interest in their employees, not just as providers of services, but as individuals with problems, personal needs, families and concerns. Too many managers today believe that loyalty is dead--that employees only look out for themselves.

 Management's actions during the past decade certainly have dampened employees' spirits and increased their distrust of management's loyalty to them. You can't pick up a newspaper without seeing articles about employee layoffs, government cutbacks and organizations requesting that their employees put forth additional effort with increasingly fewer resources. In reality, loyalty and trust are decreasing because management has driven them down, which reflects the frustration that employees have with managers who haven't bothered to truly take an interest in developing a personal relationship with, and personal responsibility for, their employees. This distant style of management is really a type of self-protection, an inner sense that if managers keep the employees at arm's length, if and when something negative happens within the organization, the managers won't feel so bad about laying employees off. Managers need to truly demonstrate that they're concerned about their employees, not just their own interests. Most employees want to trust management and be loyal to the organization, but so far, they have been given little reason to do so.

 As managers, we have to act in ways that merit employees' trust and loyalty. We earn their trust and loyalty by being sincerely and genuinely interested in the employees' present and future goals, by appreciating their viewpoints and helping them reach their career goals, and by dealing with them as adults and providing them with the information necessary to make intelligent decisions. Building trust and loyalty is difficult in today's environment, but it can be done and is being done by managers who are truly interested in their people. Those managers who take the time and make the effort find it is well worth the price they pay.

 Management has destroyed its own credibility, often without knowing or understanding how or why. Typical management mistakes that destroy credibility include hiding bad news from the employees; telling half-truths and outright lying; not living up to the organizational mission, values and visions; not dealing properly with poor performers; and avoiding decision making.

 Credibility builds trust. Trust builds loyalty. And loyalty breeds success not only for the individual, but for the organization as a whole. This important cycle has to start with management and is an absolute necessity before we can call upon employees to improve.


About the author

 H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. Harrington is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com . E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com .

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