December 26; Does Quality Have A Cost?
MANAGEMENT BY THE BOOK:
365 Daily Bible Verse &
One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful

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26 December

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:16

Does Quality Have A Cost?

Excellence

Your Business Professor always, always came in next to dead last. It was the high school basketball team practice during what Coach Brown called the ‘suicide drill.’

This was where the team lined up on a base line and sprinted back and forth to the various lines on the court. It was painful.

But there was one player, John, who I always beat and it wasn’t because I – or the rest of the team — was better.

We cheated and he didn’t.

Years later our paths crossed and he marveled how everyone beat him in those drills (the pain of losing can last for decades). The trick was simple: Where John had his head down to hit the lines and make the turns his teammates were looking at something else.

We cheaters would be sneaking peeks at Coach Brown, as he would pace on the sideline. Whenever he would turn around and turn his back — the team sans John would pivot instantly. We were cutting corners and saving steps.

We would run the shorter distance and finish faster and had a better short-term performance. John had terrible numbers in practice but had amazing cardio-capacity at the games. He was getting better. The rest of the team was not.

He demonstrated, unknowingly, that some short-term efficiency did not always make an organization effective. Efficiency may not be effective. Getting better often has a cost in the short run and must be in the lifestyle of the organization.

Consultant Tom Peters writes,

If the word “excellence” is to be applicable in the future, it requires wholesale redefinition. Perhaps: “Excellence firms don’t believe in excellence—only in constant improvement and constant change.” That is, excellent firms of tomorrow will cherish impermanence—and thrive on chaos. (Peters 1988)

Peters is describing an excellent mindset for continuous improvement. It was possible to predict the mismanagement that caused the exploding Ford Pintos. Substitute ‘gas tanks’ for “doors” in the following passage.

Tom Peters in Thriving on Chaos, says that the best management is obsessed with quality, “…One of the best descriptions of the emotional component of mounting a quality revolution appeared in The Big Time, a study of the Harvard Business School class of 1949. Conrad Jones, a top executive at the consultants Booz, Allen & Hamilton, painted this picture,

…Let me tell you about two meetings I sat in on. Both were with companies that were having some problems with quality control.

One company was professionally managed. Their approach to the problem was to analyze everything.

How many doors, say, were falling off? What percentage of doors were falling off? How much would it cost to stick ‘em back on? What were the chances of getting sued? How much advertising would it take to counteract the bad publicity?

Not once did they actually talk about the doors, the hinges, or why the [heck] they were falling off. They weren’t interested in solving the problem; they just wanted to manage the mess…

This “management” is in contrast with,

The other meeting was at Coleman Stove…They were having a problem with some boilers that were cracking.

So picture it—the Executive Committee assembles, there’s the usual small talk…Then the service department comes in with the reports, the clipboards, the yellow pencils, and everybody hunkers down for a serious discussion.

Well, you know how long that meeting lasted? About thirty seconds: Old Man Coleman sits bolt upright in his chair and bellows out: “You mean we’ve got goods out there that aren’t working? Get ’em back. Replace ‘em and find out why [gosh-darn-it].”

And that was the end of the meeting. There was no financial analysis. There was no legal analysis. There was no customer-relations analysis. There was no [gosh-darn] analysis.

The issue was the integrity of the product—which meant there was no issue at all. We stand by it, and that’s that. (Peters 1988)

Tom Peters explains how companies can become excellent. He quotes Peter Drucker who points us to IBM’s Thomas Watson. Drucker noted that, “Above all Watson trained, and trained, and trained.” (Peters 1988)

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16 

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Tom Peters in Thriving on Chaos, 1988; Page 4, 70, 323

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3 Responses

  1. John Tieso says:

    Jack:
    The concept seems to be quality and reality, and whether or not both can be achieved in normal business functions. I would argue that they can, and that really they are cooperative in nature for most people. People generally want to be successful, and they want to do the right thing. The problem is how to be ‘right’ and also how to be ‘successful’; without violating either ethical or standard business principles.

    Most people have no problem adhering to ethical principles in their personal life. The same people have often significant proble3ms adhering to the same principles in the business world. The question is WHY?

    When we were kids, cheating was not considered a crime. We did it to be better than others–no mean intent considered. As adults, we are often affected by our experiences in the younger life, and in the late teens and early 20s use the same e4xperiewnces to fashion our thoughts on adult life. Cheating, even minor cheating, is still OK. But it is not really OK, and it takes some time to realize that fact. by the time we do realize that life is different, we have already made several mistakes, and have to fix them.

    Luckil for many of us, the sense of ‘right’ overcomes the sense of doing whatever is accepted. We learn to think about how much better it is to do things that both we and our compatriots accept as a quality result. We learn to do THE RIGHT THING. When we do the right thing, we succeed, and are accepted for what we do, by others who have similar thoughts and ambitions. those are the people who are important to our growth.

    Your article points us in that direction , and thanks for sharing.

  2. Jack Yoest says:

    John, you are right — people want to do the right thing — and real leadership encourages: that is, gives heart to, doing the right thing right.
    Cheers,
    Jack

  3. Byambasuren Myagmar says:

    Sometimes I wish my parents were talking with me more when I was a kid. They are baby boomers who strongly dedicated their work during socialist construction or upbuilding and they had no time to spend with us. They fed well us and gave us a comfortable home but they barely fed our brain. The only teacher tried to teach us science which totally different from real life. And plus teachers in public school in 1985-2000 must have handled in 35-40 kids in in one class in the developing country. I learned good math or history but I was no idea outside of world!

    So there was no talk about how cheating could effect in our behavior in adult life. What is a shortcut or quality? The result is we never stop looking for shortcuts and cheat even in our diet or exercise routine. I am not blaming here the past or our parents. Maybe they had the same problem and it is true that they rised up totally different society -socialist- that used to teach them “one for all, all for one!”
    My point is, the article brought me up the idea of keep talking with my kid about the value of quality that would be the antidote of cheating at least not in their personal development…

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