Concepts in Quality

Establishing clear procedures and metrics results in greater efficiency, safety and quality.

You probably know someone who is a perfectionist. This person hardly gets anything done. He wants to keep working at something until it is “right.” Suppose you ask him to define what “right” is. You won’t get an answer that’s specific or clear. You might not even get one that’s rational.

You probably also know someone whose work is mediocre. And that’s on a particularly good day. This person hardly gets anything done right the first time, or the second time. His attitude, which he may express verbally, is, “It’s good enough.” Suppose you ask him to define when exactly “enough” is. It doesn’t take much imagination to know the answer isn’t going to make sense to anyone who is a good craftsman.

Both the perfectionist and the “good enough” person are inefficient. And contrary to common misconceptions, perfectionists (usually) don’t turn out perfect work.

Most likely in your organization, most people fall between these two extremes. The really good people, those who execute flawlessly and efficiently, actually don’t “fall in the middle” between these extremes. They don’t engage in a lower degree of perfectionism, nor do they engage in a higher degree of “good enough.” Their approach is entirely different.

Understanding what it means to execute flawlessly leads to “how” to execute flawlessly. It turns out that flawless execution is efficient execution.

Here are some important factors that contribute to execution that is both flawless and efficient:

  • The organization (or the individual or team) has clear metrics. These metrics define when something is done correctly.
  • The organization is obsessed with good training. Training informs people how to do something correctly.
  • The organization has procedures, and people use them. Also, those procedures are continually open to user suggestions for improvement. The use of procedures helps to standardize the methodology.
  • Nobody puts pressure on anybody to “hurry it up.” If you’re going to put pressure on people, direct the pressure to the assurance that the work proceeds methodically. Under the “hurry it up” approach, the result is usually rework. Any time you see this approach being used, it might help to say, “Never enough time to do it right, always enough time to do it over.”
  • The person doing the work is methodical. This person understands the correct sequence of things and does not skip steps for expediency. If you’re in management, you can foster this attitude by encouraging it when you see it and by setting the expectation that this is how you want people to work.
  • The organization has a safety mentality. Working safely cannot be separated from working methodically.
  • A mentoring mentality exists. People coach one another. And it’s not necessarily from senior to junior. For example, a junior person may coach a much more seasoned person by commenting on something the junior person learned by observing the other person. Or the junior person might bring new knowledge to the game, helping the seasoned vet to stay current.

In some organizations, an annual performance review is really the only time a boss and employee discuss job performance. Allegedly, during this one session the boss who has kept the employee in the dark about his or her work quality will now pull back the curtain and give the employee useful feedback—and maybe even a score to brag (or cry) about. That means that the other 364 days of the year, the employee really didn’t know how well or how poorly he was doing or how to improve.

In other organizations, the management and the workers pay great attention every day to the factors that contribute to flawless, efficient execution. Generally, in these organizations, the employees can confidently say things like, “I know my work is good.” They can see that for themselves, because they have the performance metrics, and they follow the practices that enable them to meet the metrics.

What if the organization is fully onboard with these factors, but not all employees are? Try to bring them onboard, and if that isn’t achieved in a reasonable time showing them the door is probably best for all concerned. A couple of tips:

  1. For employees who try to sprint a job to completion rather than work methodically, communicate specifically what the expectations are and that you don’t reward people for taking shortcuts.
  2. For perfectionists, reward them for working methodically, and repeat the message that working that way ensures their work will be to the standards you desire.

The “seat of the pants” approach reduces safety, quality, and efficiency. But working methodically tends to maximize all three.

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