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Total Quality Stephen R. Covey

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The Quality Life
Stephen R. Covey
May 1992

The secret life is the key to a quality life and that in turn is the key to a quality culture, products, and services. Once in New York City, I attended the Broadway play, The Secret Garden. The play was particularly poignant for me that evening because my mother had just died.

The Tony Award winning musical is the story of a young girl whose mother and father die of cholera in India as the play begins. She is sent to live with her uncle in a large British manor. The old house is filled with romantic spirits. As the restless girl explores the grounds of the estate, she discovers the entrance to the magical secret garden, a place where anything is possible.

When she first enters the garden, she finds that it appears to be dead, much like her cousin, a bedridden boy, and her uncle, still haunted by memories of his lovely wife who died giving birth to the boy. In harmony with natural laws and principles, the girl faithfully plants seeds and brings new life to the garden. As the roots are warmed and the garden cultivated, she brings about a dramatic transformation of her entire culture within one season.

In my many years of teaching and training, I have seen several such transformations brought about by proactive people who exercise principle-centered leadership and the Seven Habits in their secret, private, and public lives.

When I returned home to Salt Lake City the next day to speak at my mother’s funeral, I referred to the Secret Garden, because for me and many others, my mother’s home was a secret garden where we could escape and be nurtured by positive affirmation. In her eyes, all about us was good, and all that was good was possible.

Our Three Lives
We all live three lives: public, private, and secret. In our public lives, we are seen and heard by colleagues, associates, and others within our circle of influence. In our private lives, we interact more intimately with spouses, family members, and close friends. The secret life is where your heart is, where your real motives are the ultimate desires of your life.

Many executives never visit the secret life. Their public and private lives are essentially scripted by who and what precedes and surrounds them or by the pressures of the environment. And so they never exercise that unique endowment of self-awareness the key to the secret life where you can stand apart from yourself and observe your own involvement.

Courage is required to explore our secret life because we must first withdraw from the social mirror, where we are fed positive and negative feedback continuously. As we get used to this social feedback, it becomes a comfort zone. And we may opt to avoid self-examination and idle away our time in a vacuum of reverie and rationalization. In that frame of mind, we have little sense of identity, safety, or security.

Examine Your Motives
The most critical junctures in my life take place when I visit my secret life and ask, “What do I think? What do I believe is right? What should my motives be?” These are times when I choose my motives. One such time occurred when I first heard Dag Hammarskjold say, “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual, than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.” That statement had such a profound effect on me that I started to say to myself in regard to my relationships with other people, “Wait a minute it’s my life. I can choose whether I want to make reconciliation with this person or not. I can choose my own motives.”

One of the exciting fruits of the “secret garden” is an ability to consciously choose your own motives. Until you choose your own motives, you really can’t choose to live your own life. Everything flows out of motive and motivation that is the root of our deepest desires.

Now, when I get into a frustrating or perplexing situation, I enter into my secret life. That’s where I find not only motives but also correct principles; that’s where the inner wisdom is. As I learn to be proactive in exploring the secret life, I tap into self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and into the exercise of free will to choose another motive.

People who regularly explore their secret life and examine their motives are better able to see into the hearts of others, practice real empathy, bestow real empowerment and affirm worth and identity.

A healthy secret life will benefit your private and public lives in many ways. For example, when I’m preparing to give a speech, I read aloud a favorite discourse on faith, hope, and charity because it helps me to purify my motive. I lose all desire to impress. My only desire is to bless. And when I go to a public setting with that motive, I have great confidence and inner peace. I feel more love for the people and feel much more authentic myself.

Executives who attend our leadership training in the mountain setting of Sundance often tell me, “This is the first time in many years that I’ve done any soul searching. I’ve seen myself as if for the first time, and I’ve resolved that my life is going to be different. I’m going to be true to what I really believe.” Recently, many people have written me to say, “Your habits and principles have made the difference. I’d never really thought about some of them before, but I resonate with them.” That’s because these principles are found in people’s secret life.

And yet most of us spend our busy days privately doing our thing, never pausing long enough to enter the secret life, the secret garden, where we can create masterpieces, discover great truths and enhance very aspect of our public and private lives.

Having a healthy secret life is the key to having a quality private and public life, as well as a quality culture, product or service.

A Total Approach to Total Quality
Stephen R. Covey
June 1994

Every executive could learn some valuable lessons from Solectron, a company that won the Malcolm Baldrige Award. From my study of the Solectron Corporation, I conclude that in our efforts to improve quality, productivity, and profitability, we have to work holistically. We can’t just do a quick-fix program to improve communication, for example, if we have misaligned systems. We can take people into the wilderness for two days and have them do free falls off mountains to learn trust, but if they come back to misaligned systems, all our improvement efforts are undone. We can reorganize, restructure, or reengineer the company or simply come up with a new compensation system or a new strategic plan but if we lack a foundation of trust, again our work is undone.

Solectron designed a total approach that deals with the entire package. Their high degree of employee empowerment allows them to move away from inspection toward prevention. They anticipate and prevent problems, so that quality is designed and built in from the beginning. They know that to compete and win in the international arena, they have to offer world-class products and services. And so at Solectron, quality management is not just a strategy, it is a new style of working and thinking. Their dedication to quality and excellence is more than good business; it’s a way of life.

Solectron molded an extraordinarily diverse workforce into a model for global competitiveness. Their work force consists of people from cultures and countries all over the world. For many, English is a second language. This gives Solectron its greatest strength, diversity, ability to communicate and be flexible and look at things in new ways. Their people take ownership of the continuous-improvement process. They combine some of the best principles, practices, and processes from around the world. They are flexible and responsive. They take their cultural diversity and mold it into a new operating style.

And the lesson is clear: We see more success when we create an environment that empowers people to do their jobs and experience the satisfaction of accomplishment.

The Power of Principles
The power of the Malcolm Baldrige process is that it’s not self-evaluation, but rather it is based on objective, external criteria and standards that put management and everyone else through their paces. Executives who just listen to themselves all the time have a hard time understanding the concept of external criteria based on timeless principles.

At Solectron, winning the award was the culmination of many years of work. The quest began in 1984 when Solectron implemented statistical process control. The Japanese kaizen system of continuous improvement was introduced in 1986 to further drive improvements. By 1987, Solectron started focusing on quality by prevention, employing new methods to consolidate quality, such as using computers to notify engineers when tolerances begin to drift.

Solectron applied for the Baldrige Award in 1989 and received examiners’ input on their strengths and areas for improvement. That same year, Solectron introduced the Six Sigma program of defect reduction and again applied for the Baldrige Award. Many changes were implemented in direct response to the examination process. Solectron University, an internal departmental learning facility, was formed to provide training for workers in management skills, communications, and manufacturing excellence.

Employees are given the chance to help shape their company by participating in a company-wide communications program making suggestions on waste reduction, environmental improvement, customer satisfaction, quality improvement, and safety issues. Over 60 percent of the suggestions are implemented.

Solectron executives also use the roundtable meeting, a weekly informal luncheon between management and small groups of line employees. It’s a dialogue, not just one manager dictating or one group of employees bringing up their complaints and concerns. They seek information from customers by initiating comprehensive surveys, getting feedback from customer executives consistently and frequently to keep the quality high and the costs down. They know that they can’t do it alone, that it requires the participation of customers as partners to drive the costs down.

Quality is improved through three processes a quality-improvement process, corrective-action process, and a customer-complaint resolution process. These processes involve everyone. Every person in the company gets the big picture.

Solectron also adopted the Japanese “Five S” approach to cleanliness and orderliness. They see the Five S as a tool to help organize their manufacturing processes and work environment.

They started a partnership program with key suppliers and customers to tap their resources, ideas, and talents. As a result, Solectron has improved productivity, performance, and effectiveness. Defect levels declined, yields increased, and on-time delivery reached 98 percent.

Executives create openness and trust with all internal and external stakeholders by entering into strategic partnerships with employees, suppliers, owners, shareholders, distributors, and customers. They share with each other, and synergize around common problems. They also study their competitors and identify the best practices in different functions so that they have benchmarks. Improvement accelerates when performance is measured and benchmarked against the best in the world.

With a partnership, communication channels are more open; there’s more trust, more focus on what needs to be done, and more opportunities to do things better, to optimize the organization, and to relate to each other.

Communication with customers begins with customer-focus teams. Each has a project manager, sales rep, project engineer, quality engineer, and customer service representative. They help customers define the project and the relationship, using a seven-step procedure. The team then meets weekly with the customer to discuss schedules, engineering changes, test results, yields, and process improvement plans.

Win-win agreements are made with all stakeholders. The win-win agreement is a clear mutual understanding based on a mutual-gain idea produced through synergistic interaction with other people. At Solectron, much communication takes place among all stakeholders.

Solectron makes it impossible to be out of touch with customers. All customer contact personnel, from the CEO on down, carry personal pagers. Customers receive customized pager numbers for the focus team members to give them control of the communication process. In addition, surveys called the “Customer Service Index” are completed weekly with all customers, evaluating Solectron in a number of areas.

Weekly they ask their customers to rate them on quality, delivery, communication, and service and then they share this information with customers. These meetings are used to not only tell Solectron where it’s been, but precisely where it has to go. This process gives Solectron the vision to chart a successful course of business for the future.

They have a very de-centralized company. You can’t de-centralize without empowering people and creating an environment of trust. You can’t run a company from the top because the decision process takes too long. The person or team at the top can’t know everything that’s going on daily because the real action is between the employee and the customer.

They know that quality control can’t be imposed from top to bottom; they understand that quality management must cut across departments and offices, that quality culture does not depend upon titles and job descriptions, and that they’re only as strong as the intelligence, judgment, and character of their people.

What works for Solectron can work for other companies. Winning the Baldrige Award confirms the power of a principle-centered approach where quality is seen as a dynamic process, continuous, and evolutionary.

Keys to Total Quality
Stephen R. Covey
March 1991

The key to a total quality company is a total quality person who knows how to program and use a compass. I’ve always liked the expression, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” In reality, you and me are the keys to total quality. It’s what I call an inside-out approach to quality, and it’s a cure for the cynicism that often comes with “yet another program.”

As Donald L. Kanter and Philip H. Mirvis write in The Cynical Americans: Many companies undertook programs in hopes of gaining a quick fix for productivity, quality and morale problems. Such innovations were marked by fads and easily recognized as a sham. Cynics aptly called this the “program of the month” approach to change.

Programs of the month are characterized by external treatments of internal problems, by an outside-in approach. But quality cannot be inspected in it must flow from the hearts and minds of the people doing the job. You simply can’t manage yourself out of problems you behave yourself into. You can hire the hands and backs of people, but they volunteer their minds and hearts. To get quality, we need a principle-centered, character-based, inside-out approach, meaning that we start with ourselves our paradigms and motives. his often requires personal changes not personnel changes as it requires us to function effectively on four levels on the basis of four principles:

personal trustworthiness;
interpersonal trust;
managerial empowerment; and
organizational alignment.
Trust is the foundation of total quality, and trust is made up of both character (what a person is) and competence (what a person does). A corporate culture, like the human body, is an ecosystem of interdependent relationships. If we seek quality with something other than a principle-centered approach on all four levels, our efforts will be necessary but insufficient. Many managers suppose that if they correct the structure and systems (programs), the problems with people (programmers) will go away. The reverse is actually true if you correct the people first, the other problems will go away. Why?

Because people are the programmers, and they use systems and structures as the outward expressions of their own character and competence. Effective executives lead by principles. Principles are like a compass. A compass has a true north that is objective and external, that reflects natural laws or principles, as opposed to values which are subjective and internal. Values are maps. Principles are territories. And the maps are not the territories; they are only subjective attempts to describe the territory. The more closely our values or maps are aligned with correct principles with the realities of the territory, with things as they are the more accurate and useful they will be. But, when the territory is constantly changing, when markets are shifting, any map is soon obsolete.

The map provides a description, but the compass provides more vision, and direction. An accurate map is a good management tool, but a compass is a leadership and an empowerment tool. We are too locked into certain mindsets, into management by maps, into old models. The old quality model is obsolete. It’s a road map. The key to creating a total quality company is to first create a total quality person.

The manager of corporate training for a major U.S. company recently told me: “The single most important benefit we’ve received from your Seven Habits program has been increased personal effectiveness because that’s the key to corporate results. By improving teamwork, communication and employee empowerment, the Seven Habits played an important part in boosting profits in our overseas operations by 90 percent the first year!” People who don’t make quality their number one priority won’t make it through these tough economic times, say winners of The Malcolm Baldrige Award.

The best way to predict your future is to create it. In today’s chaotic market, road maps are obsolete; only a compass can help you navigate the rough, changing terrain.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

December 29, 2006 at 12:00 pm

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