The pursuit of optimum product or service quality while also embracing the drive to minimise cost is pivotal to most organisations’ prosperity and ultimate survival. The Japanese car manufacturers addressed this problem with great success in the 1960’s and 70’s with a combination of W. Edwards Deming inspired statistical process controls and tightly defined standards and procedures. The Europeans eventually caught up and by adding the additional element of inspired design, succeeded in clawing back the initiative. Now most institutions are trying to follow the same 'right first time' principles ranging from service industries, retailers and clinical institutions exemplified in the UK by the National Health Service.
In many cases, where these transformations are being attempted, the critical role and the needs of the individual worker are completely overlooked. Changes to the system, real-estate and equipment must be accompanied by changes to the environment and culture if people are to fully understand and be totally committed to their role in a 'right first time' strategy.
The new context
The essence of 'right first time' is the minimisation of defects at the time of job execution, thereby reducing cycle times and the need for rework with an attendant improvement in quality and a simultaneous reduction in cost. It seems obvious that, in order to ensure success the people executing the various tasks should be considered an important part of the whole process. It would also seem illogical not to take advantage of the natural skills and ability of those nearest the front line and encourage them to act on their own initiative. This would allow them to harness the information they have to correct departures from good practice and put essential processes back on a proper course as soon as possible.
The catalysts for leveraging the natural abilities and motivation of the average human being are trust and empowerment, both of which are in short supply in many organisations. The absence of these two powerful motivators often result in the all-important front line staff becoming disenfranchised and decisions being made by isolated and out of touch senior management. The net result is at best stagnation, and at worst, ongoing mediocrity.
Realisation of the great quest
Unleashing the energy and motivation of the people in an organisation by leveraging the trust and empowerment agenda must be seen as an essential aspect of moving to a ‘right first time’ culture. Several things need to be in place to make sure the organisation is universally focused on, and committed to, its key objective of delivering high quality from the lowest practical cost base.
- A clear vision – everyone needs to understand the strategic vision, purpose, values and aspirations of the organisation. There must be a clear context for what they are being asked to do for the organisation they have elected to work for.
- Quality outcomes are the major objective in most institutions. In many places of work restricting people to work fixed start and finishing times and total hours of work with no reference to the quality of work done is the norm. In truth there is no correlation between the time spent at work and the quality or quantity of work achieved. In all cases the pursuit of quality requires trust and full engagement with the people delivering work.
- Transparency – the best demonstration of trust is to make all critical data and information open to scrutiny. Secrets are bad and usually an unnecessary evil. Extensive and continuous communication is essential. People need to understand the challenges their organisation is facing and must have information that describes to them how well they are performing.
- A frontline empowered member of staff must have direct access to the information and data that demonstrates the quality and cost issues they directly control.
- Supervisors and managers must operate as coaches and facilitators – managers must earn respect through demonstrating integrity, judgement, knowledge and a commitment to helping people grow and solve any problems they may encounter. It is not their job to dictate a way forward at the expense of the motivation and self-respect of any individual by damaging ownership of their personal tasks and responsibilities.
To succeed cater for the needs of people
It is very easy to focus on the purchase of expensive equipment to achieve quality improvements and improved productivity. The application of Total Quality Control methodologies such as Six Sigma (1) and those espoused by Joseph M Juran (2) and W. Edwards Deming (3) can also have a useful impact on an organisation’s performance. However, failure to capture the commitment of the people responsible for carrying out tasks which dictate the cost and quality achieved can put the investment very much at risk. It is imperative that the people operating at the front line are fully engaged. To achieve this requires a full commitment by the leadership to a trust and empowerment culture, a focus on outcomes and investment in middle management who believe and fully support this liberating approach to staff engagement.
- Greg Brue, Six Sigma for Managers: 24 Lessons to Understand and Apply Six Sigma Principles in Any Organization (McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series), 1st July 2005
- J. M. Juran, Juran on Leadership For Quality, Simon and Schuster, 9 May 2003
- The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality, December 11, 2012