Quality, Wherefore Art Thou?
The Bottom Line Benefits Of Participation
Quality, Wherefore Art Thou?
The interest in quality improvement is quiet compared to a few years ago. We are living the myth that the quality movement has become so ingrained in our way of doing business that we no longer need to give it a special name.
There are smaller numbers of quality professionals working for organizations, there is reduced attendance at quality conferences, and the office walls where quality measures used to be displayed, are now empty. I am told that what has changed is that every manager now takes quality improvement as an integral part of their job.
I am not so sure.
It seems that there has been a shift in values from quality
improvement to transaction time and economics. The quality movement was
born of our concern for competitiveness and brought widespread focus to
customers, the elimination of errors and the involvement of employees. There
was a spirit and hope in these efforts that has faded.
In the Name of Speed, Relationships and Service Have
When we call for customer service, we get a taped recording, which then transfers us to another recording. You have to ask for an exception to reach a human voice.
Speed has replaced substance and contact. We don't send anything in the mail, which means I never see the humanity of anyone's handwriting. Too much trouble. We needed overnight delivery, and when that was too slow, we sent a fax and now its e-mail. What was designed to improve communication has the effect of creating a false sense of urgency and messages that are void of personality.
Our Relationship with Employees Has Become More Instrumental
The workplace has invaded our car and our home. I now take and receive phone calls everywhere. As I work more and more at home, I delude myself into thinking that because I am at home, I am living a more balanced life. Not true, now I am unbalanced closer to the kitchen.
The workplace of the future promises to become employee free. We seem to have acquiesced to the idea that employee loyalty is a thing of the past. We are all self-employed. Part-time workers. Since organizations can no longer offer a safe and predictable future, we are on our own, packing parachutes. We make no commitment to the organization; it makes no commitment to us. We romanticize this alienation by calling it the virtual organization.
Making Money and Reducing Costs Have Become the Point
The movement in the public sector is to remove functions from government believing that the private sector can do better. If you believe this, look at what has happened in health care. Costs have gone down, with service following close behind.
These trends are questions of quality. Dr. Deming declared
that quality was ultimately a question of the human spirit. If that is true,
the obsession with cost, economics and speed is hard on the human spirit.
Quality needs to be redefined as the care for the well-being
of the whole institution. The workplace will always need committed, accountable
employees and managers. If we allow an organization, in the name of progress,
to become an unpopulated, hollow shell, customers will feel this and leave
as soon as they have a choice.
Stop leaving messages on machines and tell companies that if a person does not answer the phone we will not place the order or use the service.
Let's tell the truth about how little commitment really exists to participation and employee involvement. "Been there, done that" is a conversation-stopping form of denial. When it comes to redistributing choice to lower levels, spreading the experience of self-management, creating dialogue between the top and the bottom, we have hardly begun. What we have done is "Said that, moved on."
We might create some boundaries around allowing information technology to define our future. Bill Gates is the prophet of isolation. He would substitute an electronic relationship for one that requires presence, touch and place. Technology is not the problem; it is just that it gets out of balance. Keep the technology as the tool, not the point.
What is most disturbing is that voices for genuine involvement have fallen silent. We act as if money, speed and virtual existence are the wave of the future. They are not. They are today's version of the industrialization that has been dominant for 300 years. Today, however, it is our dialogue, our homes and our emotional connection to the workplace that is being industrialized.
We may not be able to change any of this, but we can certainly call it into question.