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Quality & You

Empathy for Quality

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    [post_content] => There’s an old saying, “walk a mile in another man's shoes.” It means that before you criticize someone or pass judgment on them, you should take a look at the world from their point of view.

To have empathy for someone means you are putting yourself in a position to feel what that person is feeling. The world could use a great deal more empathy. It’s easy to see that we could decrease disputes and disagreements by being more empathetic, and we’d quickly clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions. Taking it one step further, empathy becomes strategic as new channels of data open to us.

To illustrate this point, meet Cooper, the owner of a large family-owned insurance brokerage in Los Angeles. It was during the time when everyone was still getting used to email. Due to the nature of their business, Cooper felt that the company needed to keep a paper record of every client email.

Cooper’s office manager disagreed. She predicted enormous paper waste, but he was adamant. So the rule went into effect without further discussion. After all, Cooper was the boss.

Two years later, Cooper was working late on a presentation for a new client. The printer in his office malfunctioned, so he routed a document he needed to a shared printer in the main office. As he waited for his presentation to be printed, he looked down at the trash can and was startled by what he saw: enormous but neat stacks of printed emails. What a waste of paper, he thought to himself.

The next morning, he asked his office manager about the trash and what he heard surprised him even more: the waste was the result of his own email policy two years ago.

Fortunately, Cooper realized he needed to listen to his office manager when she explained how much waste had occurred in terms of dollars and cents: $300 a month, $7,200 since the email policy was passed, and more than $14,000 in total costs when she added toner and staff time.

After talking with his sales agents and staffers, he learned that everyone thought that the policy was wasteful and inefficient. Initially, he was frustrated that no one took the initiative to explain it to him, but then he realized that they did not because he was so adamant.

When team members employ empathy as part of their day-to-day management, it becomes a powerful tool that opens new insight and understanding about problems and situations they may not have realized existed. Instead of one or two perspectives, you can open yourself to three or four perspectives all at one time.

Just about every position in a company can benefit from empathy. In fact, I cannot think of a single job description where an ounce of empathy would not help improve productivity, team cohesion, and, most of all, the quality of output.

In a world where everyone wants to improve quality, everyone must contribute, and everyone must have a voice. By being empathetic, we also gain commitment to make quality an integral part of life both at both work and home.
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There’s an old saying, “walk a mile in another man's shoes.” It means that before you criticize someone or pass judgment on them, you should take a look at...

Quality & Economics

A Tale of Two Countries

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    [post_date] => 2013-05-20 03:23:54
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    [post_content] => Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile measured 7.0 and 8.8 respectively on the moment magnitude scale. The difference implies that the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger than the Haiti earthquake.

While the devastation in both countries was extreme, structural damage and loss of life were far less in Chile than in Haiti.  The difference in devastation is largely attributed to the difference in building standards.

[pullquote]The impact of one nation's choice to pursue or not pursue quality impacts not only that nation but almost every other nation across the globe. [/pullquote]

Very few structures collapsed in Chile and the number of deaths was far less than in Haiti even though the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger.  In other words, in the case of Haiti, lack of quality can be directly attributable to the damage caused there, while a commitment to quality in Chile minimized what could have been an even greater loss of live than seen in Haiti.

In Haiti, the death toll exceeded 200,000 and the number of buildings destroyed or severely damaged exceeded 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial structures.  In contrast, the death toll in Chile was less than 2,000 and very few structures were totally destroyed.

While the differences in building standards can be rationalized by noting the differences in economic health with Haiti being one the poorest nations in the world, the cost of poor quality proved to be enormous in Haiti.

ART_posts_haiti1Perhaps one of the most critical applications of quality is how it can have an impact on nations and individuals.  The impact of one nation's choice to pursue or not pursue quality impacts not only that nation but almost every other nation across the globe.  These decisions impact how dollars are spent and what they are spent on.  While it's often a difficult decision, especially in third world countries, political leaders who choose to ignore quality risk paying a heavy price.

Natural disasters cannot always be predicted, but you can minimize damage to people and places by integrating quality measures into infrastructures and policies.  Whether it is a hurricane, flood, tornado, pollution, or fire, the impact of the economics of quality for nations and their environmental resources can be devastating.
    [post_title] => A Tale of Two Countries
    [post_excerpt] => Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? 
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Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile measured 7.0 and 8.8 respectively on the moment magnitude scale. The difference implies that the Chilean earthquake was 500 times stronger than the Haiti...

Quality & Process

Power Up Talent

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    [post_date] => 2015-03-24 01:05:11
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    [post_content] => An executive from a company that makes electronic components complained to me that her workforce lacked the talent to move quality beyond the organization’s current level.

“My people are simply not up to the challenge,” she sighed.

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“Quite frankly, they are satisfied with being good enough—nothing more, nothing less—and leaving as soon as they can,” she replied. “We’re a component company. It’s not very exciting work.”

We then talked about some well-known innovations and the people who created them:
  • Jonathan Ive, the in-house designer responsible for the now iconic iPod, iPhone, and iPad, as well as other products.
  • Chris Anderson, a staff editor at Wired who created the concept of “long tail economics,” and later wrote a best-selling book about his findings. Long tail economics is now studied by business and economics students around the world.
  • Claire Diaz-Ortiz, an early hire at Twitter, who developed many of the social media concepts that transformed Twitter (and other platforms) into major media leaders.
Talent drives excellence, and excellent always drives quality. Talent contributes to the overall success of the organization, and demonstrates to others how excellence is within our grasp. While it may seem that talent is spontaneous and unplanned, the truth is, talent already exists within organizations—you just need to know how to tap it. The problem in many companies, and with many individuals, is that we’re often focused on people like the programmer who is a coding genius or the salesperson who has a knack for closing deals. Sometimes we’re so focused on what is most visible, that we miss talent waiting to be mined. Part of this is our failure to notice people who are the everyday heroes. These are the people who make the rest of the workforce more productive, and able to focus on improving quality. For example, the woman in accounting who is the ‘go-to’ person for Excel spreadsheet formulas, and the mail clerk who has a flair for fixing the copier, have talent that helps the company move forward. These people possess talent that is just as vital to success as a single history-making invention. Talent is an essential part of business, and something that should be encouraged with all employees, not just those involved with the well-known projects and assignments. Talent shows itself through innovation and creativity, but it also motivates people in the organization by inspiring all of us to find higher levels of excellence. Most importantly, talent exists throughout the organization, and enables people to contribute, succeed, and feel invested in the company. And when everyone feels invested in the company, we all win. [post_title] => Power Up Talent [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => power-talent [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-10-11 01:06:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-10-11 01:06:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://subirchowdhury.com/?p=1415 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
An executive from a company that makes electronic components complained to me that her workforce lacked the talent to move quality beyond the organization’s current level. “My people are simply...

Quality & Me

Valuable Trash

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    [post_content] => Not all waste is created equal. Some of it is extremely valuable; especially when it teaches us something about the way we run our business. The owner of an insurance brokerage in Los Angeles, CA – we will call him “Cooper” – relayed this story to us recently.

Cooper was working late one night on a presentation for a new client. The printer in his office malfunctioned, so he routed a document he needed to the printer that the staffers shared. As he waited by the printer, he looked down at the trashcan and was startled by what he saw: heaping but neat stacks of printed email, dumped straight into the round file. At the time, his office had about 35 employees, so he imagined that it was an isolated incident. But he knew that he should take a closer look.

The next morning, he asked his administrative manager about the trash and what he heard surprised him even more. Two years earlier, he had set what he thought was a mundane office policy to require a paper record of all emails relating to client business.

Email was still a relatively new business tool. Cooper didn’t know that people tended to communicate with each other via the “Reply To” function. As a result, many emails grew into long strings of messages that included every comment made with the important details sprinkled all over. Outlook and other email managers help search for the important bits, but when you print, you get the whole enchilada including every joke, recipe, sports prediction, birthday greeting, salutation, and thanks.

Because of the policy, agents were forwarding customer emails to staffers. At the close of every day, the staffers printed everything, kept what they needed and tossed out the rest.

Cooper measured the stack of paper and found that it was almost even with a fresh package of paper, or about 500 sheets. The real shock came when the manager revealed that this stack was light. Not only did the process occur daily, many times the amount of waste was double, even triple what Cooper had seen.

Cooper and the manager estimated that the cost of wasted paper from printing emails was running up a $300 a month bill; $7,200 since the email policy was passed. When they added toner and staff time, the total cost soared to more than $14,000.

Talking with agents and staffers, he learned that everyone thought that the policy was wasteful and inefficient. And yet, no one took the initiative to anything about it.

Not long after this incident, a non-paper solution was adopted and Cooper was pleased that he could reduce cost and increase efficiency from one small change. Then he realized that this one example was a symptom of other perhaps more costly problems and worried where they might be. About a year later, “The Ice Cream Maker,” was published.

Cooper bought a copy and read it one afternoon. Inspired by the concept of using quality as the benchmark of behavior throughout his business, he bought a copy for everyone in his office. To this day, new employees receive a copy as part of their training.

Another underlying message in this story is the fact that many businesses pass office policy without attention to a quality process. Had Cooper focused on the outcome rather than the solution, he might have avoided this problem entirely. Luckily, the trash was the clue. In my experience, the cost of such mistakes can produce even greater expense.

Something to think about the next time you’re in a position to set what you think is a mundane office policy.
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Not all waste is created equal. Some of it is extremely valuable; especially when it teaches us something about the way we run our business. The owner of an...