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Take the myths out of quality.

The boss calls you into the office and announces, "We're starting a quality campaign. You handle the communication."

The assignment can be a communication quagmire of wasted media, twisted messages and frustrated workers. I've seen it happen often, as a communication practitioner in two Fortune Top-50 companies and now as a consultant to similar organizations.

But done right, it can also be a communicator's gold mine. As a specialist skilled in processing information, you already have a head start on most newcomers to quality improvement. Consulting in the field has taught me a basic lesson: Quality is communication.

But success in quality improvement efforts takes much more than newsletters, videos and bulletin-board displays. It takes management discipline and lots of it. You can help your managers understand this-and benefit from the results.

But first you need to know some basics about quality yourself. The following list, rendered in the form of myths, with accompanying realities, will give you a head start.

These are the basic concepts I have found most useful over the years in generating management understanding of quality as a new way of life for your company. If your company has already started the shift to quality, the myths will help improve your knowledge. If quality is still in the talking stage, you can use the myths to educate your management on the subject.

In addition, the myths can be used as the basis for messages on quality. Ask if a particular myth applies at your organization and what you are doing to overcome it. The reality checks and key thoughts can help get you on the right track.

Myth #1: A good media campaign--posters, videotapes, newsletters, management speeches-is really the best way to get quality going.

Reality: The stronger the initial media blitz for quality, the greater the risk of audience rejection if management behavior doesn't reinforce the media message.

* Words and pictures about quality, without the necessary data, leadership, appropriate behavior, employee commitment, alignment of goals and processes and other business fundamentals, will probably make things worse.

* Media campaigns for quality risk raising employee expectations beyond realistic limits.

* Media campaigns tend to distract managers, especially top managers, from their responsibility to lead the quality effort. Too often, they think they've done their part to make quality happen; by crafting and releasing a few company-wide statements on the subject. It's never that easy.

Key thought-. Managers can't buy quality, they can only earn it.

Myth #2: Quality is free. Reality: Quality has a price:

* Worker involvement, time.

* Machinery and technology.

* Training and education.

* Management time, attention and expertise.

* Data costs.

Key thought.- Quality is the outcome of calculated investments, not a gift, a miracle or an accident. Myth 3: Quality represents an additional production expense that customers may not want to pay for. Reality: Done effectively, quality can save money through:

* Reduced waste of time, knowledge, materials, etc.

* Increased productivity of work processes by removal of barriers and bottlenecks.

* Lower employee turnover, increased employee interest in work.

* Improved customer satisfaction, increased purchase and repurchase.

Key thought- Quality improvement is a money maker.

Myth #4: Quality will improve if we just tighten inspection.

Reality: Tighter inspection tends to increase waste, drive up costs and reduce customer satisfaction:

* Inspection without use of resulting data for continuous improvement of work processes will simply increase waste.

* Employees will become increasingly frustrated as the waste pile increases-and they can't make it stop.

* Waste has a big price tag--customers will balk at the added cost.

* Output that doesn't pass inspection reduces productivity; delivery schedules will probably be jeopardized.

Key thought.- Inspection, without continuous improvement, will pick your pocket.

Myth #5: Improving quality is primarily work for statisticians, industrial engineers and other highly trained specialists.

Reality: Quality draws on all resources of an organization, with managers emphasizing its importance as a state of mind that can and must be shared and understood by all employees:

Statistical functions are tools for monitoring work processes, determining if improvements are needed and identifying improvement opportunities.

People, not numbers, improve work processes and assure continuing customer satisfaction.

Managers, not numbers, make decisions, set priorities and reinforce quality values.

* With effective training, employees can learn the skills they need to continuously improve quality.

Key thought- Quality improvement is mostly common sense, but you never stop learning how to do it better.

Myth #6: Quality improvement is "soft," a vague set of values and attitudes not connected to the bottom line.

Reality: Quality improvement may be the hardest, most quantitative activity in any business:

Quality is driven by hard numerical data from customers and work processes.

Done effectively, quality processes will cut costs and improve customer satisfaction, in terms of hard dollars-forever.

Equality improvement can do the hardest job of all-help your organization stay at least one step ahead of the competition.

Key thought- in a true drive for quality, everything is measured.

Myth #7: Top management can delegate responsibility for quality improvement to the appropriate managers, specialists and departments.

Reality: Top management leads the quality journey; the job can't be delegated:

* Top management creates and sustains the quality culture; the only question is when that leadership will happen-sooner or later.

* Quality must be part of all organization members' values and behaviors; top management sets the pace and tone.

Key thought. The boss makes the weather.

Myth #8: Quality is a "magic bullet" that will fix our organization's problems, once and for all.

Reality: Customer-driven quality practices are a means for improving company performance against customer expectations and a potential framework for use in evaluating business decisions. They are not a substitute for sound business practices in such fundamental areas as:

Financial evaluation and planning-,

Strategic thinking, assessment and planning;

Compliance with business laws and regulations.

Key thought- In business, there's no substitute for hard work and sound, sensible thinking. Quality practices provide the data and analytical tools to expand the soundness of that thinking.

Myth #9: Quality is just another fad that will blow over when the next magic bullet comes along.

Reality: To be successful, the shift to total quality practices must be presented as a permanent change in all things the organization does. Management behavior, at all levels, must reflect the permanence of this change. In addition, visible change must take place in such areas as:

* Rewards and recognition.

* Communication.

* Customer relations and the role of the customer in the organization's daily affairs.

* Personnel practices, especially regarding team building and support for employee-driven problem solving activities.

* Accounting procedures, including use of accounting measures that calculate the cost of poor quality.

Key thought.- Workers aren't fools; they know a snow job when they see one. They look at what managers do, not what they say.

Myth # 10: The practices that lead to quality are Japanese concepts that are uniquely suited to the Japanese culture. They will never work in other companies.

Reality: Quality practices have their origins in western and US organizations:

* Measurement as part of production dates from the ancient Egyptians.

* Using customer data in the design and manufacture of products and services dates at least from the medieval guild system of Western Europe.

* US scientists and engineers pioneered the application of statistical processes to manufacturing in the early 20th century.

* US engineers, particularly Edward Deming, Joseph Juran and Armand Geigenbaum, taught total quality practice to the Japanese in the early '50s when most US business leaders refused to listen to their ideas.

* Japanese-owned plants in the United States, using Japanese management practices but employing US workers, are reaching levels of quality that meet or exceed those in Japan. Honda Accords made by US workers in Marysville, Ohio, are among the largest selling automobiles-in Japan.

* Quality practices-continuous improvement, measurement of all activities against known customer requirements, involvement of workers in the destiny of their jobs and their organizations, maintenance of a threat-free environment in the work place and other activities-are driven by common sense, not social, political or cultural characteristics.

Key thought. The Japanese aren't nine feet tall; they're just practical. US workers are, too, when they're given the chance. It's management's choice; the workers are waiting to help.

Myth #1 1: Quality means forming quality circles and those were tried with little success at US companies in the early 1980s.

Reality: Quality requires the marshalling of multiple disciplines and activities. No one thing, including employee involvement, will make quality happen. That's the challenge for management. Seeking a shortcut to quality in the early 1980s, many managers ordered workers to join quality circles, with poor results. Among reasons for the disappointments were:

* Quality circle membership was often obligatory, not voluntary.

* Little or no training was provided to team members or leaders.

* Teams received little or no sense of how their problem-solving efforts would contribute to improvement of the company.

* Quality circle recommendations were too often ignored by supervisors and managers.

* Quality circle members were seldom rewarded or recognized for their ideas and contributions.

* Union leaders were too often left out of the quality circle process; they tended to see the circles as threats to union power and status.

Key thought. There are no "magic bullet" shortcuts to quality; no substitute for training, involvement, direction, strategy and integration of work processes around customer data. Teams or quality circles are tools that work best when they are set up on the basis of human behavior characteristics and common sense.

Myth #12: Quality shouldn't be tied to rewards or employees will end up working for the wrong objectives. Reality: People strive hardest to do what they are rewarded to do. The important thing for managers is to assure that people are striving to do the right things, namely those activities that measurably further total quality and full customer satisfaction. Managers must assure that rewards:

* Are tied to full customer satisfaction data.

* Are clearly understood by all participants in the reward system.

* Are backed up by the necessary understanding of quality, the company's philosophy about quality and training in quality-improvement techniques.

Familiarity with these myths won't guarantee a bump-free ride through the quality implementation process. But this can give you a head start in advising management on the best messages, media and audience for an effective approach to the quality transition.

This isn't guaranteed to make you a hero, either. But it can move you in that direction


Employees' creative and daring ideas are limited by a lack of time and resources, according to a recent poll by American Productivity & Quality Center. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they feel free to express new or controversial ideas, and 41 percent said they use brainstorming or other problemsolving techniques to solve problems, improve quality, and so on.

However, only 18.5 percent said they have the time to devote to finding new and better ways to do things, and only 23.7 percent said they have the resources.

Who' tto blame? The top, of course. Respondents placed a major or share of the blame for stifling creataivity on top management-but they also credited top management with fostering creativity.

Following is a representative sample of factors listed as inhibiting or discouraging creativity in their organizations:

* "The boss."

* "Management, mangement, management."

* "Only the president can think. Only the president can solve problems. Only the president has any good ideas."

And the following is a sample of comments about the factors in the organization that do most to promote creativity:

* "Continuous, visible top managment support and engouragement."

* "Trust that top management has placed in employees."

* "Upper management demonstrating that creativity is valued."

For a complete copy of the survey, contact the American Productivity & Quality Center Information Service Dept 123 N. Post Oak Lane, Houston, Texas 77024.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article on creativity
Author:Koger, Daniel A.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Association publishing: no get-rich-quick scheme.
Next Article:Restarting a quality program in your organization.

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