Six Sigma
Last Word


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Yes, But How Do I Convince My Boss?

The last question asked at this year's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Quest for Excellence XIII conference was, "What would you recommend saying to someone who, even after hearing everything that's been said these last few days, still isn't sure about proceeding with a quality effort?" The four CEOs of the companies which won the Baldrige in 2000 looked at each other and then Jo Ann Brumit, owner and CEO of KARLEE leaned into her microphone and said, "Do you want to make money? Do you want to have a good time? Do you want to make a difference? If you can say 'No' to any of these questions, then don't do this." Her remarks were greeted with laughter and loud applause.

 With her answer, Brumit had cleared away an awful lot of peripheral thinking and gotten right to the heart of the matter. The only possible addition to what she said had been noted a couple of hours previously when Horst Schulze of two-time Baldrige winner Ritz-Carlton explained in a plenary presentation that quality is not only emotional, it is the moral choice.

 To understand the nature of this quality thing and why Brumit and Schulze can so quickly boil down it down to so few words, one has to consider two pairs of antonyms:

Simple vs. Complex


Easy vs. Difficult

 Quality is not a complex idea. Do what you said you would. Do it when you said you would. Sell it for the price you promised. Back it up. Treat your customers and the other members of your own organization with respect. These are not complex ideas.

 On the other hand, quality is not an easy thing to do. It will mean establishing a whole new set of habits. There is much to be done and most of it at the same time, especially if an organization decides to implement and maintain anything as all-embracing as a Complete Quality Process.

 In other words, done correctly, quality is simple but difficult. Unfortunately, a great number of "quality consultants" base their livelihoods on being able to convince senior executives that a quality process is a complex thing but that they can make it easy for the executive by taking over what are, in fact, the executive's necessary functions.

 One way in which consultants will attempt to make things easy for the companies they are working with is by ignoring all but one or two of the seven components of a Complete Quality Process. The most egregious current example is a workshop being offered in June titled, "Six Sigma and Reengineering: Integrating Process-Based Improvement Initiatives" and fronted by Michael Hammer of reengineering infamy.

 The thrust of the conference is, as the title promises, the combination of a subset of one CQP component (reengineering is a variant of process analysis, a portion of component #3, "100% Employee Involvement - with a Structure") with another (six sigma is one of the tools that could be used in implementing component #6, "Measurement"). That leaves five components totally unaccounted for while two are only partially addressed. Granted, considering even parts of two components is twice as much as either the reengineering or the six sigma fads did by themselves but less than two out of seven still isn't exactly a passing grade.

 The ironic part of the advertising for the conference - obviously constructed by folks from the reengineering side of this two-sided marriage of convenience (as one quality professional replied when told of the conference, "Terrible things can happen when cousins marry")--is the statement that "Many executives who so enthusiastically embrace six sigma do not really know what they are getting into, and that is a guarantee of trouble downstream." There's a good chance that the reengineering-oriented author of that phrase got it from someone's earlier critique of reengineering.

 Quality is not easy. But neither is it complex. Promising it can be achieved by only doing subsets of a couple of CQP components raises false hopes in the breasts of lazy executives.

 Admittedly, there is no question that both reengineering and six sigma are potentially valuable tools when used in context. There is also no question that each, used in isolation, has led to sometimes spectacular short-term gains (through layoffs if nothing else). Shortly after the reengineering fad peaked several years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of the companies who had laid off people in the course of reengineering efforts had hired the people back within three years. Many of these hire-backs were now listed as "consultants" so that they didn't show on the head-count - even though it meant paying them more. These companies' work forces now broke into two groups: those who were mad because they had once been fired and were now extracting their revenge through higher pay and less dedication - and those who were mad because they were now being paid less than the hire-backs.

 Quality should be for the long haul. And everyone must be involved in the journey if it is going to become a defining characteristic of the organization. You don't get there by making things unnecessarily complex or by only doing some of the work.

 Jo Ann Brumit's statements defining the reasons to pursue quality are not complex. But don't expect it to be easy.


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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