Creating a Problem-Prevention Culture
Originally published: 12.01.09 by Mike Callahan
Catching Mistakes before they reach customers can save money and ensure repeat business.
There is more money to be made in your hvacr business through the elimination of problems and mistakes than through anything else you will ever do. How do I know? For the past 20 years, my associates and I have measured the truecosts of mistakes and the costs to correct them. What we have found suggests that, on average, you can multiply the measured cost of the mistake by a factor of five in order to approximate the true cost of the mistake, the cost of correcting it, and the costs of lost opportunities caused by the mistake.So, since mistakes are so costly, doesn’t it make sense to focus on preventing them rather than correcting them? Quality guru Phil Crosby saysthat prevention versus detection is the foundation of any continuous improvement process. Beyond that, hehas identified the three basic elementsnecessary for establishing a preventionorientedculture in your company. Theseelements are training, empowerment,and support. Let’s take a closer look ateach of these important factors.
Training is, without a doubt, the most critical element of the three. Without adequate skills training, you have no hope of creating a problem-prevention culture. However,
Once people are trained both at the skills level and the process level, owners/managers need to empower them to make decisions based upon the best interest of the customer. When a team member sees that something was done incorrectly — or not done at all — before they perform their piece of the work, they have three possible responses: fix the flaw before it becomes a problem ;stop the process and have the people responsible for the flaw correct their mistake; or, ouch, they can ignore the flaw, do their piece, and send the job to the next person on the assembly line. Simply put, when people see a potential problem, they can either fix it ,send it back to be fixed, or ignore it and move on. You need to know that they will choose either the first or second options because the third surely will lead to problems down the road. A (hopefully uncommon) example of this is when an irate customer calls in to complain. The last thing this customer wants is to be transferred to someone else, and then someone else again, and then be told someone else will call them back. Empower employees to respond immediately to customer complaints. Certainly, there are times when a solution will require actions that can’t be done immediately, but often a customer’s complaint can be resolved quickly if an employee listens and responds rather than automatically sending the call elsewhere. Part of creating a problem-prevention culture is empowering your coworkers to become decision-makers. Then you must empower them to make the best use of that training by expecting them to make the right decisions.
The final element that Crosby endorses is support. In this context, support means that owners/managers need to stand behind the decisions of their coworkers, even when they are wrong — so long as the wrong decision was made fo rthe right reason. Let me explain. If a team-member commits an error because he thought it was in the best interest of the customer, we should not chastise him for his mistake. Rather, we should thank him for his effort to do the right thing, and then train him on the right decision for that situation. If someone consistently makes the wrong decision, or no decision because they don’t care, then that person needs to be terminated before he infects the rest of the workforce. If you have been leading people for any length of time, you know exactly what, and probably whom, I’m talking about.
Absolutes of Quality
This article concludes my series on the Four Absolutes of Quality, so let’s recap what I have written about over the past few months. Think about these Absolutes as a sort of quality logicladder. On the top step, is the true definition of quality, which is “conformance to customerrequirements.” This should alway sbe the end-goal of your company. If we accomplish this goal, profits are bound to follow. (“5 Things That Customer’s Require,” July, 2009.)Supporting the top, the next stepdown contains your performance standards.These are the policies, procedures, systems, and processes that your company uses to reach the end-goal. They are the methods that you employ to ensure customer satisfaction. (“10 Steps Toward More Effective Performance Standards,”October, 2009.) Move down one more step, and you will find the cost of quality. This is the measurement step in the quality process. In real dollars you can calculate how well, or how poorly, your methods are working in attaining your goal. (“Calculatingthe True Cost of Bad Customer Service,”June, 2009.) Finally, the bottom, or foundation step, is the problem-prevention step that I have discussed in this issue. The establishment of a problem-prevention culture in your business creates the processes that are necessary to sustain continuous improvement in your business— not just now, but for all time.
Mike Callahan is President of Callahan/ Roach & Garofalo, Inc. The firm is anindustry leader in management andmarketing training, consulting, andbusiness sales, mergers and acquisitions.Mike served as President of The AirConditioning Contractors of America andis an internationally known speaker andwriter on business topics. Contact Mike firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-462-8217
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