Firing on All Cylinders Introduction

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.”
– John Ruskin, English art critic and historian

Any attempt to improve, it’s been said, can be compared to a parade. Essentially, three groups of people are involved: (1) the small number of people in the parade, (2) the larger group of people watching the parade, (3) and the mass of humanity left saying, “Huh? What parade?”

When it comes to attempts to improve service/quality, any North American executive unaware of the parade either has been living in a cave for the past decade or just doesn’t care about his or her organization’s future. For those leading the parade, improvements in service/quality have contributed to growth, cost containment, and profitability at almost obscene levels. And for the rapidly growing mob watching, learning, and waiting to join the parade, service/quality improvements are clearly the way to survive in a radically changing world.

Throughout this book, the term service/quality is used. We coined the term to convey the dual focus service and quality of effective efforts to improve performance. If you’re familiar with the broad and growing field of customer service, our approach to “service” improvement will no doubt fit well. The improvement system outlined in this book is founded on the basic premise that your customers’ perception of value is the beginning (and end measuring point) of everything your organization does. The only reason your organization exists is to satisfy your customers. Excellence, or high performance, comes from moving beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight.

Our focus on “quality” will be familiar to you if you have been part of or have been watching the quality improvement parade of the past few years. Most often called total quality management (TQM) or continuous quality improvement (CQI), this movement is relentlessly shattering many of the traditional models of organizational effectiveness that we have evolved since the turn of this century. Pioneers in total quality management have shown that by improving the way products or services are produced and supported, costs drop, efficiency and productivity rise, and customer as well as employee satisfaction (or delight) soars.

The third organizational field brought together in the improvement system described in these pages is that of human resource and organization development. For years, Zenger-Miller has been researching the role of human resource and organization development on service/quality improvement. This research, along with other similar studies now emerging, shows that many organizations are “hitting the wall” of their organizational culture and having difficulty breaking through. Many never do. So, customer-focused approaches and highly effective quality improvement tools and techniques “crash and burn,” only to build more cynical and change-resistant people throughout the organization.

If you are familiar with the basics of good human resource and organization development, you’ll recognize many of the fundamental principles tightly interwoven in the system described here. We don’t have a magic formula for transforming an organization’s culture and building broad-based leadership skills at all levels. But through our work with thousands of organizations on this critical issue, we have developed a broad experience base pointing the way toward what does and doesn’t work. You’ll find much of that experience distilled and distributed throughout the pages ahead.

Achieve’s experience in service/quality improvement began with the outstanding leadership-training work done by our consulting associates of over a decade now, California-based Zenger-Miller Inc. Zenger-Miller has led the field in the research and development of employee, supervisor, manager, and executive nontechnical performance-skills training. The effectiveness of its programs is best measured by one of the truest tests of enduring quality a highly competitive marketplace.

In 1982, Zenger-Miller developed a team leadership skills program called “groupAction.” This series of sessions helped quality circle leaders develop the group process and problem-solving skills so vital to getting people to work together effectively. While the program has worked very well through the years (it is still being used), it gave us our first look at the formidable cultural obstacles that quality improvement faces (such as why so many quality circles failed in North America). We also began to learn about the power of effective teams and the key elements in developing them. The research and development of skill-building systems to build effective teams has been especially intense in the past few years.

In 1983, Zenger-Miller and Achieve worked with Tom Peters (co-author of In Search of Excellence, A Passion for Excellence, and Thriving on Chaos) to develop a process to bring an organization closer to “excellence.” Called “Toward Excellence,” this process added extensively to our understanding of the critical steps needed for long-term customer service and quality improvement. Over a six-year period, we learned much from the hundreds of North American organizations that used the process to move toward higher levels of performance.

However, a number of organizations tried to but never did implement the “excellence” principles. Performance didn’t change, and the attempt became a source of cynical internal laughter and derision (“Well, we’ve all been ‘excellenced’, what’s next?”).

Our experience with Toward Excellence taught us a great deal about the vital role that vision and values play in building a leadership base for cultural change. We also came to understand the effect that employee commitment has on service/quality improvement. (While quality might be driven higher solely by technomanagement management systems and technology service goes nowhere unless employees decide to improve it.) Most importantly, we gained deeper insights into what is needed to change an organization’s culture and to foster a commitment to continuous improvement.

The Service/Quality System outlined in this book is based on the process of the same name developed by The Achieve Group and now offered throughout North America, the Pacific Rim, and Europe through the partnership of Achieve International and Zenger-Miller. It is built on our varied and broad experiences, as well as continuing research and study of the common elements shared by the highest service/quality providers.

Throughout this book, I have attempted to weave together our service/quality improvement models and experiences with recent research, the teachings of Japanese and American service/quality gurus, plenty of short examples, pitfalls and traps to avoid, along with numerous tips and suggestions. To provide a cornucopia of perspectives, examples, tips, and so on, point form lists are used to get right to the point without a lot of introductory verbiage and editorial comment. My goal was to give you a densely packed “one-stop” source of rich ideas, insights, and practical advice across the broad scope of our improvement system. You will find that I have cited a number of outstanding books and publications that shed some light on this emerging new management field. I leaned especially heavily on material from Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and the American Society for Quality Control. These organizations are doing an excellent job of helping to wake up North American managers and showing what the best managers are doing to effectively lead the service/quality improvement parade.

You will also find a number of quotations heading up many sections or topic areas. Some of these are meant to provide a lighter side to the topic at hand. Others are especially pithy observations of current executives and improvement experts or just ordinary “folks” with a particularly relevant observation to contribute. Many are classical quotations that go back centuries. Whenever I come across a relevant classical quotation from the past, I am always struck by the timelessness of the human issues that we’ve struggled with since the dawn of civilization. Nothing really is new under the sun. Since service/quality improvement is largely about people serving people (both inside and outside the organization), I have tried to select a few great thoughts from some of history’s greatest poets, philosophers, writers, and other thinkers that illustrate the ageless humanness of today’s improvement efforts.

May this book provide some guidance to you and your organization as you travel the road to higher performance.

Jim Clemmer

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