This is a guest post by Rob Lawton, an author, executive coach, and expert in creating rapid strategic alignment between enterprise objectives and customer priorities. He has directed strategic and operational improvement initiatives since 1985. Lawton coined the term “customer-centered culture” with his first book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and Speed (ASQ Quality Press, 1993). He has been published in Brazil, China, the U.K., and is referenced widely. Many of his articles are available at www.imtc3.com. Contact him at Robin.Lawton@icloud.com.
The Forbes Insights-ASQ research published in fall of 2014 distills several guidelines from interviewees that can be especially useful with more detail. My purpose in this three-part series is to provide details and references to the missing specifics for successful action.
This blog post is the last in the series. It spells out how to successfully address point #3, below (page numbers from the report are shown in parenthesis):
1. All employees must apply the four key elements of any strategy for building a quality culture. (Page 8: Boeing’s Ken Shead.)
2. Closely understand customer expectations so you can focus and give them what they want. Study respondents overwhelmingly report low effectiveness by their organizations in doing so. (Page 16: Intel’s Stan Miller and Rudy Hacker.)
3. Develop a formal quality policy, common language and leader behaviors as deployment mechanisms. (Pages 18-19, HP’s Rodney Donaville.)
DEVELOP QUALITY POLICY, COMMON LANGUAGE, AND LEADER BEHAVIORS
Mr. Donaville states in the study that establishing a common language (absent ambiguity) is essential for the culture leader. We have found there are six essential levers that a leader can push on to strengthen and change the culture: language, values, measures, power, assumptions and modeling. Specific guidance was provided in the preceding two blogs on the first four.
The moment we talk about a quality policy, we encounter another frequent stumbling block on the road to a strong quality culture. Just about everyone in the study agrees that quality starts and ends with the customer’s definition of it. If that is true, is there a difference between a customer satisfaction and quality policy? The evidence suggests there is.
A traditional quality policy generally points us toward technical product or process performance. In practice, it is common to find that quality policies encourage action to find and reduce defects and errors. If it is possible to have a product with a very low defect rate but a high customer defection rate, there is a difference between quality and satisfaction that matters. Likewise, if we can have a product with a modest defect rate but fanatically loyal customers, there is a difference between quality and satisfaction that matters.
Sadly, we find quality policies are far more common than those on customer satisfaction. Let’s solve the issue by putting the emphasis where all the leaders in the study say it should go, on customer satisfaction. The following Customer Satisfaction Policy, displayed prominently by a major retailer, is a typical approach to the matter.
We guarantee customer satisfaction by refund, replacement or return. (Labeled as Walmart’s customer satisfaction policy and displayed on the wall at the returns or customer service desk.)
Is this really a policy on satisfaction? Does is address Dimensions 1 or 2 in the graphic below (discussed in part two of this series)?
Since the intent is to describe the corrective action the company will take when the customer is unhappy with a purchase, it is a dissatisfaction policy focused on Dimension 2.
Consider a second example.
All employees, associates and partners will:
• Proactively solicit customer needs and expectations.
• Confirm that we have understood those expectations.
• Develop, package, deliver and support our products to meet those expectations.
• Measure the degree to which our customers’ product and outcome expectations are achieved.
• Never blame the user when he or she cannot make a product or process work; provide understanding then help. Assume they have done their best.
• Aggressively seek to close any gap between what our customers expect and what they experience. (Developed by International Management Technologies, Inc. and provided to many of its clients with permission to use.)
This policy puts all six cultural levers to work here: language, values, measures, power, assumptions and modeling. Bullets 1-4 are related to Dimension 1, bullets 5-6 cover Dimension 2.
ASQ and Forbes Insights have provided us with great food for thought. My purpose in this three-part blog series has been to put some practical guidelines and references on the table for those wanting to take action. I invite you to spend about six minutes on a self-assessment and see where you are on the road map to excellence. The questions are designed in such a way that, once you give your response, you’ll already have the start of an action plan forming in your mind. Just select item #1 here. The average score across thousands of responders is about 70 (out of a possible 125).
You can also take the Forbes Insights/ASQ Culture of Quality self-assessment, which gives an overview of your organization’s culture of quality.
ASQ provides a catalyst to apply culture-strengthening practices to your own organization: the course Excellence in 8 Dimensions. My hope is the short action plan outlined in this series, or implied by your self-assessment results, has offered you useful insights and a practical path forward.