Show biz techniques sell quality.
'So, how was the bus ride?" That one statement became our employee quality meeting tag line. Sort of a corporate "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" There was only one problem. When our manufacturing manager asked the question after the second or third quarterly meeting, he was likely to hear "We wish it hadn't stopped here."
It wasn't that Teradyne employees didn't believe in quality. It's just that it was so boring.
Teradyne is no different from the scores of other US companies that have jumped on the quality bandwagon. When it became abundantly clear that American industry was losing its competitive edge, quality gurus sprang up all over the land, espousing methods of achieving customer satisfaction.
As a $400-million-plus electronics manufacturer, we were in a particularly quality-conscious industry. Teradyne sells Automatic Test Equipment systems to many of the world's top electronics companies. Those systems test circuit boards and components that end up on many of today's electronics products, from computers to VCRs. The push to higher standards of quality, from performance to on-time delivery, was irresistible.
Since we were chock full of engineers and technical people, our task was clear. If it couldn't be charted, graphed or otherwise pie charted, it wasn't worth doing. When Teradyne chose a quality process, we jumped into it, overhead slide projectors at the ready.
One Teradyne manufacturing division, though, the Foundry/Central Operations, embarked on a quality journey that would ultimately lead to tremendous improvements in productivity and unprecedented recognition from customers.
The Early Days: Windy Speakers and Nodding
During 1985 and 1986, the Foundry went through the difficult process of establishing meaningful measures, gaining management and customer commitment and starting a quality education process. In the very technical world of electronics manufacturing, settling on quality measures was difficult. Working with both engineers and manufacturing managers, John Petrolini, the division's quality manager, gained acceptance for some basic, division-wide measures.
Then came the really hard part--getting the Foundry's 700 employees to buy into and understand the process. Too many companies have started a quality process with fancy logos, expensive slide shows and a lot of talk. When push came to shove, employees didn't buy it because management didn't buy it. That was not the case with Teradyne. Division managers spent almost two years setting up the measurement process. Everything was in place.
Teradyne's downtown Boston manufacturing facility contains a wonderful blend of creative people, from engineers and hard-nosed purchasing negotiators to Southeast Asian immigrants. We found--and here's a big revelation--that the way to reach that diverse blend of cultures was not through charts and graphs, but through entertainment--with a message.
A key part of the quality process is a quarterly Zero Defects Day, in which the division reviews its quality progress, presents quality awards to employees, and focuses on an aspect of the quality process.
The first four ZD Days in 1986 and 1987 were classics of their genre. Long presentations, speakers who talked over and around their audience, and general uneasiness that the message just wasn't getting through. There was more than one nodding head in the audience each quarter.
Employees began to dread the quarterly meetings. The gatherings were held in another Teradyne building, and three shifts of people had to be bused a few blocks to the site. After an hour of looking at charts and graphs and listening to speeches, most in the audience were dazed at best.
"The feedback we got was that employees weren't looking forward to the meetings because they were just plain boring," said Petrolini. "Although all the information we were presenting was important, there was a feeling employees weren't retaining much because of the way things were presented. It was all new to us." Quality had to be more interesting than this.
The solution? Let employees plan the meetings.
Zero Defects Day Committee Gets Free Hand
The first Zero Defects Day committee was convened in early 1987, part of the division's effort to get employees more involved in the quality process. It included a broad cross section of people, including manufacturing workers, the stockroom supervisor, a test technician, the mailroom supervisor and Petrolini. By virtue of my experience producing other employee meetings, I was asked to join the committee.
The task was simple. While keeping the basic objective of the quarterly Zero Defects Day meetings, the committee was given a free hand to do as much, or as little, as they thought was needed to get the quality message across. And, all within a budget.
Our Show Biz Debut
The August, 1987 quality meeting was our show biz debut. The committee had decided to go into show biz with a spoof of the TV game show "Wheel of Fortune." During the two months leading up to the extravaganza, the idea took shape. Sure we couldn't get the electronic scoreboard used on TV, but we were able to rent a "Wheel" board from a local distributor. The object of the game became guessing a Foundry quality saying or goal. Pat Sajak wasn't available, but we recruited the second shift test manager to act as our "host."
But there was one missing ingredient--Vanna. Thanks to the bearded Petrolini, who donned an evening gown and wig, we solved that one.
The "show" was a hit. Employees got the usual presentation on the measurements and awards, then the curtain was raised and the show went on. Each committee member had a role, from announcer to cameraman to producer. Employees actively participated, and feedback later was overwhelmingly positive. Comments changed from "Oh no, not another ZD Day." to "I wonder what they're going to do next quarter."
The whole three-meeting show was pulled off with employee-volunteers, actors and hosts. Except for a minimal rental charge for the game board and costume, there were no other outside expenses.
Now, one might argue that Uncle Miltie was putting men in evening gowns 30 years ago, and that it just ain't funny anymore. Maybe. All we know is that quality meeting was a turning point for us in gaining employee enthusiasm, having some fun, and using the somewhat hidden talents of our committee members.
Ham Starts to Sizzle
After August, 1987, it became clear that entertainment to get across our quality message was the way to go.
One outgrowth of the success of Wheel was that it encouraged several employees to volunteer for committee duty, including a scheduler who was an artist, a test technician who moonlighted as an overnight disk jockey, a manufacturing manager who is a video buff and an engineer whose expertise linking computers and video would prove invaluable.
Brainstorming sessions on the committee follow a familiar pattern. The first month we struggle with ideas. Some are ruled out as being too wild or too far removed from the quality process. Others, we just can't technically pull off. With a budget of only US $3,000 per quarter (and most of that going to food and transportation), we relied more and more on our in-house talents.
In November, 1987, to help the division recruit new employees for all the quality committees, we used one of our scheduling people to play "Aunt Sam" (Uncle's wife), in a mock press conference. Aunt Sam came complete with "Secret Service guards" (two purchasing agents) and her own patriotic music. Thanks to the fun "conference" and scripted questions from the audience, we signed up 80 new people for the committees during the enrollment drive the next week.
In the first meeting of 1988, we produced a mock talk show, complete with in-house cameras feeding live to monitors, a "person in the street" videotape and our own in-house commercial. The theme of the show was Customer Satisfaction, a tie-in to a company-wide program. Our host (the test manager) used the person-in-the-street video as a jumping off point for the live show, since we asked employees on tape what bothered them as customers.
Our first attempt at a "commercial" was a hit, thanks to the actors--two of our most senior manufacturing managers in a spoof of the Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler commercials, showing a botched up circuit board and asking employees for quality work. "And thank you for your support."
For a meeting to stress the cost of mistakes in manufacturing, we did a game show called "The Cost is Right." Contestants, ("Come on down!") had to guess the cost of a specific defect in our manufacturing process. We analyzed actual defect costs and broke those costs out to show the true costs of quality in the simplest terms possible. The grand prize round asked finalists to guess the cost of two of Teradyne's most complex test systems.
The point of the talk show was to put employees in the customer's place and to help them focus on doing the things needed to satisfy customers. The point of the game show was to help people realize that even the smallest mistake in building circuit boards could cost Teradyne thousands of dollars. Both points would have been totally lost in the old method of communicating quality.
The great thing was, all the ideas were coming from the committee members. I tried to steer some of those ideas one way or another, but bent to the will of the people. Working with people who had no experience as "professional" communicators is refreshing. (OK, so the stockroom supervisor had a little band on the side). There are a lot of creative people out there in the work force, and they're a tremendous resource waiting to be tapped.
Employees Compete in 'Foundry Feud'
With each successful meeting, the committee kept sight of the real reasons for ZD Day. Each ZD Day started with the Foundry's performance with the Foundry's performance against measures, and we ultimately recruited employees to do those presentations. Next quality award winners were honored. Then the main body of the meeting followed, with meetings rarely lasting more than 45 minutes.
There was one constant. Employees couldn't wait to attend. By tying some popular entertainment concepts into a quarterly quality theme, the committee was holding employees' interest. Employees participated in the ZD Days instead of passively sitting and tuning out speeches, and by that participation, we built enthusiasm for the quality process.
There were other boosters. Management was pleased with employee participation and enthusiasm. Teradyne's CEO frequently attended all three meetings each quarter. Customers and vendors began attending each quarterly meeting. (In the accompanying sidebar, you'll read some of the most important measures of success).
Success, of course, breeds success. Employees shined in their new creative roles. Our stockroom supervisor was a real talent at announcing, and would soon perform the role of his life as a judge. Our part-time DJ became our best live host. Our engineer was a marvel at video and sound effects. Another manufacturing employee was a wiz at rigging things like buzzers for our low-budget game shows. Even once-shy manufacturing supervisors took part in, of all things, filming a rap music video.
In late 1988 and early 1989, the committee produced its two most successful meetings. A spoof of the People's Court (called the Foundry Court) featured our stockroom supervisor in full judicial robes in an actual courtroom (Boston's Suffolk Superior Court, which we were able to use because an employee's father was a court officer there). We used as our "case" a real dispute involving the late shipment of some circuit boards to our California operation, and had the actual participants pleading their cases. The whole thing was videotaped, shown to the audience, and then the "judge" made a live appearance to get some help from the employees before making a decision. Audience participation focused on a real problem--a lack of communication, and how to prevent problems by being clear on what your requirements are, and what you can and cannot do.
We followed that with the "Foundry Feud," in which teams of employees competed to guess employee answers to a series of quality awareness questions. (Over 300 employees answered a quality survey a few weeks before the meeting, and the committee tabulated the results). The game went on, complete with an answer display connected to the video monitors through a computer, and our infamous buzzer.
The goal of the spoof was awareness of some basic quality concepts (customers, steps in the process, measures, etc.). Audience participation was great, as managers led teams of their people into battle. We even tied the scoring system into the concept of zero defects, giving each team points, and deducting points as they guessed correctly, with the goal of getting to zero.
Reprise Shows Five Years of Fun,
In May of this year, the Foundry celebrated five years of its quality process. Employees saw a videotape highlighting five years of quality, some great ZD bloopers, and a video honoring past quality award winners. A hit of the show was another home-grown "commercial" showing the wrong way to handle a circuit board (a well-known engineer gets "blown up" by static electricity).
In August came the debut of Run QIT and the Quality Rap, a song penned by a manufacturing manager and performed by several employees. Music was supplied by an employee who has his own rock band.
What's Been Learned
Teradyne hasn't cornered the market on making quality interesting. Our success lies in gaining audience participation and enthusiasm, and reinforcing the quality concept through entertainment. Throughout all the shows, the objective of Zero Defects Day has stayed the same.
Another win for us was employee participation in the committee. These creative people meet weekly to plan the next ZD Day. It has been a great job enrichment process for them and for Teradyne.
Finally, management commitment is key. Without the support and the carte blanche to try different things, the committee would quickly have fizzled. If you're a communicator struggling with ways to reach employee audiences, recruit some of them to help you, then turn 'em loose to create.
Andy Porter is manager of employee communications for Teradyne, Inc. in Boston, Mass.
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|Title Annotation:||entertainment improves employee involvement and morale; business|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1989|
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