Performance and Culture – Contrived vs. Legitimate Quality

I read with interest and appreciation the comments on the View from the Q blog about what not to do with respect to Performance Management.

I have encountered reporting situations and the ultimate result is that more energy and effort is spent on creating a convincing report than on attending to the task at hand.

While this applies to any management initiative, I will use quality as an example.

Imagine that you are an independent used car salesman, and you have a car of questionable and uncertain capabilities.  It may or may not be a lemon.

If you were to use this vehicle for a cross-country trip taken by your family members, consider the extent to which you would go to ensure safety and reliability.  No cost would be spared and no effort would be too great to protect your loved ones from harm.  I refer to this as “legitimate quality”.

Now, being a proprietor of a business, you have to sell this used car before it consumes your inventory and becomes a burdensome cost.  In order to convince a prospective customer of its value, a series of convincing checks and inspections are made and passed with full check marks.  Additional enhancements are made to give the impression of superior quality (paint touch-ups, adjusted odometer, over-inflation of tires so that “kicking the tires” returns a firm response).  I refer to this as “contrived quality”.

Executives love their dashboards, but the culture will determine how they are used.  If the culture is punitive, where “green” indicators are rewarded and “yellow” or “red” situations incite hostility and rebuke, then the implicit message is to conceal problems until they can be assigned elsewhere, deflecting blame and accountability.  Comparative numbers will always be positive because baselines and references will be skewed to always reflect a “good news” story.

If the culture seeks and rewards legitimate quality and the identification and correction of root causes, then problems will be sought and recognized.  Integrity will be championed and whistleblowers will not fear for their jobs or reputations, but appreciated as contributors to quality improvement.

The best data manipulators will eventually be caught and called out.  People have an inherent pride in their work, and when they are constantly being asked to overlook or conceal findings and details, they will become jaded and cynical.  In such situations, the “rats and weasels” will thrive and prosper, tainting the overall culture to adopt similar traits.  “Eagles” will soar elsewhere.

The cultural differences between organizations that penalize and reprimand employees for reporting bad news, and those that embrace the opportunity for improvement are revealed over time by the order of magnitude in product and service quality and employee engagement.

What is our solution?  Repel the contrived approach and always strive toward legitimacy and integrity.  Work as if your family’s safety was dependent on your efforts and decisions.

About Daniel Zrymiak

I am the ASQ Regional Director for ASQ Region 4, Canada, for the 2015-2016 term. I aspire to collaborate and support with all quality practitioners worldwide, but especially with my fellow Canadian ASQ members and Member Leaders. I am a distinguished professional in Quality, having attained multiple recognitions through the American Society for Quality and International Academy for Quality as a practitioner, leader, author, conference speaker, and influential voice. My professional experience is currently in management consulting, and over the last 20 years I have been engaged in increasingly complex and progressive work in financial services, manufacturing, medical device development, software delivery, telecommunications, resources, and professional services. I have also taught quality and operations management at several post-secondary institutions in the Metro Vancouver area. LinkedIn Profile
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