Volume 3, Number 5 - May 3, 2005

In school many of us learned that if we got it mostly right, we were pretty great. Superior, in fact. 90% was usually an A. In the toughest schools it may have taken 94%. And we all loved teachers who graded on the curve.

But now, when real money, real jobs, real futures, and real lives are at stake, 90% is not nearly good enough. Consider how much higher are our costs, how much slower our deliveries, how much poorer our quality, how much more unhappy our customers -- all because of a mindset that says mistakes are to be expected, that doing it right just takes too much time and effort – that 90% is still pretty good.

Does your engineering change control system ensure that ALL drawings are correct ALL the time? How much time and money is wasted because we’re not sure exactly what we made or what we really agreed to sell? Do we KNOW the capability of our processes, or rely on anecdotal evidence of what seems to work and what doesn’t. The devil may be in the details, but profits and happy customers are likely there also.

Demanding perfection of people is unrealistic. People, even the brightest and the best, will make mistakes. But it is the responsibility of leadership to emphasize the development of systems and processes that keep those mistakes, those human errors, from needlessly becoming defects. It is possible to make good product on time, ship it to the right place, every time. It’s not only possible; it’s important.

Don’t accept 90%, or even 94%. In business, no one grades on the curve.

How easy is it for your customers to find out who to talk with when a problem arises? You may want problems handled routinely at lower levels in the organization, but is it easy for a customer to get to the right person who can help resolve a problem when “normal channels” are not getting it done?

An example: I was a customer of a credit card company, platinum no less, for many years. When I recently tried to use the card I discovered it no longer worked. Customer service had no record of it being a good number. The CSR told me that it was probably dropped due to lack of activity in the last 6 months and that the terms and conditions allowed for that. She assured me that her guess was probably right but she couldn’t verify it because she is Customer Service and I needed to call someone else since I am not a customer. Huh? She could not tell me who to call, but knew it wasn’t her.

Even Starbucks, the butt of many jokes, has the manager’s card right by the cash register. If something goes wrong there it’s easy to know who is accountable. Can your customers say the same thing at your company? We all know the unhappy customer spreads the word quickly and widely. Make sure they spread it to you first.

Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.
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