We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

July 12, 2012

By Sparta Editorial


About 236 years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned the words:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”   This month, the United States celebrated its independence, but it is also a time of sober reflection on our ability to live up to these words.  It took us 100 years to free slaves, and almost 150 years to give women the right to vote and hold office.  We are a slow work in progress. In manufacturing, we hold this truth to be self-evident:  quality is essential for existence.  Despite this belief, there have been serious recalls in the past few decades: Tylenol, Firestone tires, Dell batteries, Nestle Tollhouse cookies, unsafe beef and tainted spinach.  Meaningful progress takes time and passing laws does not make quality conventional wisdom.  Great leaders do that.

I first met Larry Bossidy when I was a young engineer at General Electric.  I met Larry again at an SAP conference after he retired from Honeywell.   When you meet Larry, you instantly wish you had the opportunity to work for him.  Hopefully sharing some of his quotes will inspire the leader within all of us.

- “I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and training people.  At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”

- “The foundation of changing behavior is linking rewards to performance and making the linkages transparent.”

- “Execution is the job of the business leader.  Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing how and what, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability.”

Quality is a widely used word so its impact has been diluted. Quality-minded people realize that the pursuit of perfection enables sustained organizational effectiveness.   Quality professionals must see themselves as collaborative partners in the new agile marketplace.  Personalized medicine, medical devices and consumer packaged goods will demand quality that can innovate on a dime.  Our future success will be wagered on individuals who make agile quality a reality.

The metrics of quality are murky.  The linkage between nonconformances and profitability is not measured well, or at all.  One of our customers monitors deviations per batch as a critical metric of operational efficiency.  It is a gross metric with direct line of sight to supplier material issues, process ambiguities, equipment challenges, documentation errors, training ineffectiveness, etc.  This direct linkage and transparency has resulted in an overall 2-3% gross margin improvement.

Organizational accountability is never an accident.   Consistently recording mistakes requires selfless discipline that is tirelessly cultivated by leaders.  Mistakes are inevitable in the pursuit of excellence.  Tenaciously tracking all defects, investigations, root causes, corrective actions and effectiveness checks is the very definition of accountability.  We attempt to eliminate repeated errors and errors yet to be.

The pursuit of quality (or happiness) does not guarantee excellence (or happiness).  Strict compliance is not quality leadership, and tracking defects does not automatically yield quality improvements.

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