Quality At Lightning Speed
...and with Less Financial Investment than
thing to claim to be an expert on quality; it’s
another to practice what you preach. After spending 12
years as a writer and consultant speaking to various
organizations about implementing quality programs, Pat
Townsend decided it was time for him to return to the
workforce to try out his own ideas. Now, the Chief
Quality Officer for the 700-person staff of the UICI
Insurance Center in Dallas. Townsend will reveal a whole
set of impressive components to support the idea that
complete quality and employee involvement can be
accomplished quickly and at a lower cost than you would
expect. From stressing the importance of measurement to
effective recognition programs,
he has truly demonstrated his expertise.
In addtion to his recent success upon
returning to the corporate world, Townsend
has co-authored seven books. His two most recent include,
Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize” and
“Quality Is Everybody’s
Townsend recently spoke with News for a
Change about the bottom line benefits of quality and
participation programs and the importance of saying thank
you. He will
be a special guest speaker at AQP’s Spring
Conference, “Maximizing Performance
and the Leadership Potential of Everyone,” March
19-21 in Chicago.
February, you took a job in the corporate world, at UICI
after 12 years of being a speaker, writer and consultant.
Townsend: This company basically said, “Ok,
you’ve been telling everybody else
how to do this, can you do it yourself?” And the
challenge was too interesting. I
liked the company because they understood that you do
this quality thing because
it makes money. At the same time it was obvious that the
people liked each other.
So it seemed like a nice combination of a place that both
understood the profit side
of quality and had the temperamental environment that I
NFC: Why did they decide to start a quality
Townsend: Because they figured out that it made
money, it’s really that blatant.
The senior officers came to the conclusion that quality
was something they really
ought to try. There was an all-employee meeting on my
second day and I gave my
first presentation to all 700 employees of the company.
These folks didn’t know me thoroughly, but they
turned me loose. I told everybody that we were going to
have a complete quality process, that we’re going
to have 100 percent participation and
we’d do it within 6-8 months. So the first day I
laid out the promises.
NFC: How did you spend the first couple months and
how did you implement the
program so quickly?
Townsend: I spent the first month working in
one-on-one meetings with leadership
and all of the managers to try to explain to them what I
meant by the word quality
and what I thought was possible. In March we had four
half-day classes with all of
the managers and above. The first class was on leadership
in a quality context, the second was on participation,
the third was on measurement and the fourth was on
implementation. At the end of the fourth, the president
of the company turned to
everyone and said, “Ok, I need to know, are we
serious?” Immediately 100 percent
of the hands were raised and that said, “Yes,
let’s do it.” On September 14, 2000
we had the official launch of quality teams. We had
already begun several other
aspects of the quality process, but the most notable,
single piece and the part
that involves every single person, the 100 percent
participation, was accomplished
in less than six months.
NFC: In September the employees knew how to get
started and if they had the
solution to some problem or improvements they wanted to
make, they could just
Townsend: Absolutely. I had two people working
with me, John Fynn and Candace Whelan. Neither one of
them had any previous experience with quality—what
had was a thorough knowledge of the company. They had
worked in several
departments of the company and they were very bright,
creative folks blessed with common sense. When we
actually began, the only question people had was,
do we have to wait six months?” I tried to explain
to them that six months was head-snapping speed. The
response was, “Well, yeah, but this doesn’t
make any sense,
all we’re doing is giving people the opportunity to
improve things.” So we launched an interim quality
program that went for those six months that was basically
a computer-based suggestion program. I laid out what was
required and three days later, John
Finn called me and said, “Do you want to come see
your interim quality program on
my computer?” He just did it. So he selected
himself in and then, when it came
time to add the third person, he found Candice.
NFC: You’ve talked to a lot of companies
over the years that have tried many
times to implement similar programs, but did not have any
success and stopped. I imagine you might try a different
approach. Did you change the approach at all?
Townsend: I’m very happy with what
we’ve done here, and I’ve even gotten to
point now where I can finally hang a name on it as a
“complete quality process.”
What we don’t recognize is that part of
what’s implied in “complete quality
is that so many quality processes have fallen short
because they were incomplete—
they didn’t have all the pieces. What’s
happened here is we’ve actually laced it all
together. I think what’s happened in other quality
efforts is they were either
incomplete, missing a component or completely out of
balance. In some
re-engineering efforts many folks end up shifting all of
their resources to one area.
They forget that companies are made up of humans and
complex processes. You
need to have a process that reaches across the whole
spectrum in order to establish
any habits of continual improvement. My only other claim
is that you have to adopt the principles but then you
have to adapt the techniques. The complete quality
that I talk about has seven components. The first, top
management commitment, is
the obvious one. If they’re not involved,
it’s over. It has to be a commitment of their
own personal time, their own personal effort. Here, the
president of the company personally does all of the
recognition sessions for all of the quality teams.
He’s on a quality team in the customer service
department. There’s no question in his mind
about his personal commitment. Second is leadership and
we call that a separate component because leadership is
at every level.
NFC: You used an outside firm that is
complimentary and the president took it
seriously that everyone needed leadership training?
Townsend: Absolutely. One out of every seven
people in the company went through
this very expensive, very intensive, three-day training.
The leadership curriculum and
the training department have grown exponentially. The
third component of a complete quality process is 100
percent employee involvement with a structure. It’s
very few companies do, and I don’t know why. It is
my belief that most companies
begin by asking the question, “Who should we
involve?” It’s worthless. The correct
question you should begin a quality effort with is,
“Who can we afford to leave out?”
I’ll say things like, “OK, I want you to name
who you hope doesn’t get better. Who
you sincerely believe on your payroll is not worth
improving.” The next question is,
“Why are they on your payroll?”
NFC: Those kinds of questions help people step out
of their role or step back. But
it’s a perspective that’s not always
Townsend: Well, when I talk about a complete quality
process I mean the entire company is involved.
That’s again where so many processes have fallen
end up involving 10-15 percent of the folks with some
vague statement about
expanding involvement in the future and they never get
NFC: What are the other components of a complete
Townsend: The fourth component is communication.
The idea is that you can’t just slough that off.
You have to be serious about it.You have to think through
what you’re saying and how you’re saying it
and all the different ways you could say it.
is the fifth part, which should probably be the most
expensive single piece. But, the
trick is taking control of your training. Make sure that
the training you’re bringing in is complimentary
and make sure that what is taught is what you want
taught. The sixth component is measurement—which is
extraordinarily important. How can you tell
you’ve gotten better if you don’t know where
you were and where you are? Finally, the seventh is
recognition, gratitude and celebration. You simply have
to say thank you
again and again.
NFC: I presume you installed a rigorous
Townsend: Yes! Quality teams have to hit certain
goals: bronze, silver and gold.
Based on the implementation of 10 ideas, or the
implementation of a fewer number
of ideas that save $10,000, hard or soft, gets you
bronze. And then you climb up.
Twenty five ideas or $25,000 gets you silver, 50 ideas or
$50,000 gets you gold.
Then we went into what we’ve come to call the
“tuple” awards. You go to
“septtuples,” “octtuples,” and
I’m running out of tuples. I’ve got one
that literally is at the octuple level already.
Basically, it’s a combination of material
and symbolic things and personal and public things. The
president of the company
gives the thank yous. And they’re delivered along
with his personal thanks, some conversation and warm
handshakes all around and they get their name in
NFC: Are you noticing an increase in spontaneous
“thank yous” and “jobs well
Townsend: I think so. I see more things around the
building. People seem to be
quicker to say that to each other.
NFC: Really it’s hard saying it. It seems
part of our culture is, “You’re not
to enjoy yourself,” which applies to
“Don’t say thank you.”
Townsend: That is not the approach here. We
believe that we should be having
some fun, as well as making money. But there’s no
question, as far as I’m
concerned, you do this quality thing for four reasons.
The first and primary is: It
makes money. For a person who does the quality process
well, it makes an extraordinary amount of money. The
second reason is: Quality done well wins
loyal customers. Over the years, I finally settled on the
idea of loyal customers. I
don’t call them “delighted” or anything
else because “delighted,” and all the
phrases seem to be temporary. A “loyal”
customer is whom you’re really looking for. Loyal
customers will stay with you, they’ll bring their
friends and they’ll forgive you
to a degree. And the third reason for quality is: It
leads to loyal employees for many
of the same reasons. They’ll stay, they’ll
work with you and they’ll even forgive you
to a point.
NFC: Not just because of what they’ve been
saying, but they’re able to participate in getting
their work done.
Townsend: Yeah, and the fourth reason is: If
making money is not attractive, if loyal customers and
loyal employees aren’t attractive, this is the
ethical thing to do. People
try to make quality so complicated. What a quality
process does for you is it enables you to do what you
promised you would. It really comes down to that.
NFC: Ten years ago you implemented this first
process, not really being the expert, doing a lot of
guess work, but having a lot of faith in people and
leadership, then it
was up to the company. After you left, the president of
the company, who was a big supporter, retired. Between
then and now, what have you learned or how are you
to approach things differently?
Townsend: You need to work even harder at making
sure of the depth of commitment
at all levels. So the president does become, while very
important, not irreplaceable.
You really have to work on that. I recognize the
tremendous importance of that more
now than I did in the beginning. The thing I realized at
the second company I worked
at was the tremendous importance of top-management
commitment. It was a given at
my first company, so I assumed it was always a given and
it wasn’t at the next place. So, I try very hard to
work with management at all levels. The training has
definitely increased the amount of time spent. We have a
strategic plan that is under the stewardship of the
quality department too. This gives us another avenue to
keep reminding the senior managers about the interplay
between strategic plans and
quality and the commitment to both.
NFC: Let’s look down the road two or three
years. Presumably the company is in
much better shape and is run much better and then someone
says, “Gee, we aren’t saving as much money as
we used to.” What have you built in now so that
doesn’t become an issue?
Townsend: The question I asked was,
“We’ve had a tremendous level of
for two years now, when is it going to slow down?
What’s the shelf life of this thing?”
And the team leaders all looked at me like I’d been
struck stupid. One of them said, “Why should it
slow down? All we’re doing is keeping up?” So
long as the external companies keep changing, so long as
the equipment keeps changing, so long as we keep fighting
new and different policies, all we’re doing is
trying to keep up and make things better. But, it’s
a moving target—so long as the outside world keeps
changing, that change can be improved.
NFC: Are you glad you did this?
Townsend: Oh yes, very much. I can truly say this
is an absolute pleasure. I hate
the part about the separation from my family, that part
of it is ugly, to be honest.
Aside from that, the job is a joy. I’m thinking in
five years I’ll go back to writing and speaking.
I’m looking forward to writing a book on the
experiences here because I
think once again, people can learn from this. Coming here
was a chance for me to revalidate what I’ve been
telling folks for years and it’s a pleasure to find
out that I was telling the truth. The speeches that I
gave were true. Looking back at them and what I said
could be done, can be done. One hundred percent employee
participation can be accomplished and can be done
quickly. Building a complete quality process can be done.
So I’m very tickled about being here. I learn from
these folks everyday.
NFC: What would you say they have taught
Townsend: Probably the importance of measurement.
I was not as strong on measurement as I might have been
previously, both for the impact of the process
and the credibility of the process. The measurements that
John and Candice do
when they certify ideas are very detailed and they really
show what’s going on.
Plus, the relationship with the president of the company
is such that we have a lot
of long conversations about this and oftentimes it comes
back down to, as Tom
Cruise would say, “Show me the money.”
That’s very valid, because how can you
show you’ve improved unless you can show where you
were and where you are?
February 2001 News for a Change