It's Attitude That Counts

Focusing on a positive outlook can improve a company's performance

by William D. Taylor III

When I first became involved with quality, I concentrated on techniques and became what is sometimes called a "Quant. Jock," or someone who collects massive quantities of data, regardless of whether it's useful in attaining improved results.

I became proficient in statistical methods and calibrated everything in sight. I wrote, rewrote and distributed documents. I learned more than I could possibly implement and became an ASQ certified quality engineer.

But I complained a lot, too. I complained about formula, design and cost sheets that were not accurate. I complained about designs that couldn't be produced on our equipment. I complained so much, in fact, that I became responsible for my company's design function.

Eventually, all the designs were accurately reflected in documents. They were manufacturable on existing machinery with available raw materials. My company finally had design specifications that met customer requirements. We saved money, and our sales increased.

Things were so successful that quality managers were downsized out of the company--including me! On occasion the company would ask me to tweak its system and update documents, but eventually it weaned itself away from my help. What I had created worked so well that I found myself out of a job.

A revelation

A short time later, a small company hired me as the assistant to a plant manager with a wealth of experience. My responsibilities were greatly expanded, but I still thought like a quality manager. I pondered about how to handle all of the changes I faced.

Then I had a revelation. It's simple: Techniques come and go. They all work, but they're only tools. To really make improvements you have to work on attitude.

I realized that attitude can overcome almost anything. When we forced programs on people, they balked. But when we let people implement their own ideas, even seemingly silly ideas, the ideas worked.

I realized that if you ask people for help, they will respond. People want things to run smoothly. They want managers to listen to their ideas, and they want to see their ideas implemented. These ideas may sometimes seem unworkable, but when folks implement their own ideas, taking responsibility for the results, they make the ideas work--even if those ideas are less than optimum. People want to prove that their ideas are better than anything the boss could come up with.

Trusting management

I discovered another phenomenon: Once people believe that management trusts them to implement their own ideas, they will trust management's ideas.

This idea occurred to me through a once rebellious work force. I'll never forget the surprise on the face of the chief troublemaker:

"You ought to do ... , but you never listen to us!" he said.

"OK, try it," I answered. "What do you need to make it work?"

The employee set out to prove that he was as smart as he thought he was. He couldn't fail and let anyone say he couldn't do it. His idea is not important. But what is important is that he produced results with a seemingly unworkable idea.

Trust--genuine trust--is essential as it eventually turns to loyalty. Mistakes and occasional failures must be tolerated. Supervisors must be praised for encouraging ideas from the floor and implementing them. The toughest thing a supervisor will ever have to do is swallow his or her pride while employees do something that seems improbable. But when the supervisor enthusiastically helps on his or her own, not at the urging of the boss, the supervisor becomes a hero.

The program of the week

People get bored easily. Conventional wisdom says that the "program of the week" syndrome won't work, but I'm not so sure. Someone, somewhere, embraced every idea that came down the pike at one time or another and made it work. I've only had problems when I stuck to one idea and excluded all others.

I've had more success with switching programs now and then. Any system has the elementary tools for success. But to achieve success, the message that quality is important has to be delivered over and over again. If people hear it enough, they will eventually come around. Then, when you work on attitude and trust, they know where you're aiming.

The basic tools will always work regardless of the program or current guru at hand. The simple statistical techniques always work, but it's attitude that counts!

WILLIAM D. TAYLOR III is a retired plant manager who currently owns his own hardware, auto parts and equipment rental store. He lives in Spartanburg, SC, and earned a master of business administration degree from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Taylor is a Senior Member of ASQ and a certified quality engineer.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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