Wowing the Boss

Enhance your career with the Kano model

By Jack B. ReVelle

Everyone—no matter the organization, type of job or department size—has a boss. Even if you own your own company, there is always someone to whom you are responsible and to whom you report. CEOs and board chairmen all report to their boards of directors. Even single proprietors need to report to their customers, suppliers, local governments and immediate communities.

No matter who you report to, the boss has numerous expectations regarding the quality of your performance. The Kano model is a useful tool to better understand these expectations.

I think most quality professionals have at least heard of the Kano model, but always in the context of meeting customer expectations. Going a step beyond its traditional use, it can easily be adapted to help you understand and meet your boss’s needs and, ultimately, enhance your career.

Figure 1 shows the Kano model’s two dimensions:

  • Achievement (the horizontal axis), which runs from the supplier on the left who "doesn’t do at all" to the supplier on the right who "does very well."
  • Satisfaction (the vertical axis), which begins at the bottom of the axis with "dissatisfaction," with the result—either a product or service—at the top of the axis with "satisfaction."

Figure 1

In the early 1980s, Noriaki Kano isolated and identified three levels of customer expectations; for example, what it takes to make a positive impact on customer satisfaction. These needs are labeled basic, performance and excitement.

Basic needs: Fully satisfying the customer at this level simply gets a provider or supplier into the market. The entry-level expectations are referred to as the must-level qualities, properties or attributes.

These expectations are also known as the dissatisfiers because by themselves, they are unable to satisfy a customer. Failure to provide these basic expectations, however, will cause dissatisfaction. The musts include customer assumptions, expected qualities, anticipated functions and other unspoken expectations.

Performance needs: These are the qualities, attributes and characteristics that keep a supplier in the market.

These higher levels of customer expectations are known as the wants or the satisfiers because they are the ones customers will specify as though from a list. They can either satisfy or dissatisfy the customer depending on their presence or absence. Wants include the voice of the customer, customer requirements and other spoken expectations.

Excitement needs: These are features and properties that make a supplier a leader in its market. The highest level of customer expectations, as described by Kano, is termed wow-level qualities, properties or attributes.

These expectations are also known as delighters or exciters because they go well beyond anything the customer might ask for or imagine. Their absence does nothing to hurt a possible sale, but their presence dramatically improves the likelihood of desirability and purchase. Wows not only excite customers to make on-the-spot purchases, but they also encourage customers to return to make further purchases at a later time.

Over time, as demonstrated by the red arrow in Figure 1, wows become wants, and wants become musts. The organization that gets ahead and stays ahead is constantly pushing its customers to identify the next-generation wows. The best wows, plenty of wants and all the musts are what it takes to become and remain an industry leader.

Kanos and careers        

The Kano model can be applied to your relationship with your boss and, ultimately, your career. At the basic level, your boss has certain specific expectations about your performance. These are unspoken expectations, even at the initial interview.

Some examples include personal hygiene, your choice of business clothing, your hair styling and your selection of jewelry. In addition, the hiring organization is likely to be concerned about your willingness to be a team member as opposed to being a lone wolf, your adherence to the organization’s policy manual and your motivation to meet the minimum standards or expectations associated with your job.

Because these musts are unspoken by your boss or HR, I recommend you introduce these and similar topics into discussions with your boss during the initial interview and during annual performance reviews. Someone has to place the dissatisfiers on the table, and you should accept that responsibility if no one else does.

Because the performance-level qualities your boss expects of you are spoken or written, it’s a bit easier to adhere to your job responsibilities. Most of them, but probably not all of them, will be included in your job description. The more of these tasks you carry out well with minimum need for advice or intervention from your boss, the greater the likelihood that your job performance will be rated anywhere from above average to excellent. To receive outstanding ratings from your boss, however, we need to examine the highest level within the Kano model—the exciting needs.

Similar to must-level qualities, exciting needs are unspoken. Must-level qualities are unspoken because your boss believes you are already aware of these expectations. But exciting needs are unspoken for a different reason—no one has ever previously offered your boss these services.

For example, your boss doesn’t expect you to know your organization’s complete structure as it relates to your position or the names and capabilities of all your co-workers. You can, however, make a name for yourself with your boss by quickly learning the go-to employees for any particular knowledge you require to get your job done quickly and with little, if any, challenge. Do this sort of thing often enough, and you can expect to receive rave reviews from your boss, his boss and your co-workers.

When you regularly provide your boss with delighters, exciters or wows, as well as musts and wants, you can start planning for additional challenges that will build your résumé of achievements and enhance your career. 

Jack B. Revelle is a consulting statistician at ReVelle Solutions LLC in Santa Ana, CA. He earned a doctorate in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. ReVelle is the author of several books, including Home Builder’s Guide to Continuous Improvement: Schedule, Quality, Customer Satisfaction, Cost and Safety (CRC Press, 2010). ReVelle is an ASQ fellow.

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