CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
Trust for quality
Trust for quality
When you ask people to trust you, you are inviting them to have faith that you will be worthy of their trust. When you go further and say something like, "You can trust me", you are actually making a commitment that obligates you to respond honestly and well to the trust you receive.
Trust is a precious commodity. If you want real quality in your organization, you must have the trust of the people in that organization. This point is fundamental. No trust equals inadequate quality.
The temptation in many companies is to dismiss this fundamental point. Elaborate checking procedures come into use to ensure that people meet quality standards. Managers regularly delude themselves that they have quality when those standards appear to be met.
If quality falls down, punishments may follow. In some cases, senior managers may threaten entire establishments with being shut down entirely if they do not measure up. In extreme cases this might even involve forcing one location to compete with another, with the loser being closed down.
If such measures bring quality, what is the problem? Management by fear can seem to produce the results you want. And if you manage by fear you do not have to put up with all the bother and detail needed to build a quality workforce. What could be better? You get the quality you want and keep down the costs associated with messy human resource activities.
In large measure, the path of fear seems to have been followed by many if not most companies in North America in recent years. This path often enables senior management to obtain bottom line results in the form of good financial returns. And the whole point, finally, is to please the shareholders, is it not?
Well, let us think about it. Some would argue that the company's first goal is to remain alive. If a company is driven into the ground while producing good shareholder returns, who really benefits? Others would argue that a company must have, as one of its goals, the expansion of market share. Acceptance of its products or services in the marketplace is vital to survival and future growth. Some might dare to say that a company exists to meet consumer needs.
The concept of quality cuts through the whole equation. If the enterprise has quality, it markedly improves its chances of beating out competitors. The Japanese have given us ample proof of this point. A company focused on quality tends to be a winner. (The caution here, of course, is that the price of the company's goods or services must remain competitive.)
The appearance or charade of quality might be provided through various means. But a true quality operation can only arise from a system that promotes quality processes at all times in all corporate activities. Central to such a system is trust.
Building genuine trust in an organization is definitely possible. But it does take time and real commitment from the top. Further, it involves dealing with the organizational culture and probably changing it – no small task. When it comes to trust you can truly say that the devil is in the details.
Managers may balk at working to build trust systematically. The rituals, actions, and programs involved can seem like too much bother. In the end, will the results prove worthwhile?
Trust building for quality performance and output can end up for naught. If a company is in deep trouble, building trust will likely come too late. If product development has lagged for too long, better levels of trust might be irrelevant. If a company builds up trust among its people only to be taken over by or merged with another company, all the work on trust might go for nothing.
Building trust can be a risky business. You cut down on the risk if you think about implementing it within a company that is doing well already. Such an organization can probably afford to invest in trust. And it can usually wait for the benefits of trust and better quality to arrive.
In his 1986 book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker estimates that building up trust will usually take a minimum of three years. Such a longer-term prospect can seem daunting to management. But it is a specific form of investment, with deep rewards at the end.
In the Harvard Business Review in 1983, Thomas H. Melohn reported on the success he and his partner, Garner Beckett Jr, had achieved in building an atmosphere of trust in North American Tool & Die after they had bought this computer components company.
To summarize the last three years, our sales have gone from $1.8 million to over $6 million, our pretax earnings have increased well over 600 percent, our stock appreciated 36 percent in 1980 and again in 1981, our customer reject rate has declined from 5 percent to 0.3 percent, our productivity has doubled, our turnover has dropped from 27 percent to 6 percent, and we've all had a good time.
Hard and positive data emerged from a systematic program of building and maintaining trust.
In the eighth of his famous 14 points, Edwards Deming insists that corporations must:
8. Drive out fear. Create trust. Create a climate for innovation.
In his 1989 book on leadership, On Becoming a Leader, Bennis noted "… trust is the underlying issue in not only getting people on your side, but having them stay there …".
Trust is not something you can demand or order. It must be earned. You can have my trust only when I feel that you are worthy of my trust. If the slightest doubt creeps into the process or, worse, you betray my trust, an environment of distrust will ensue.
Trust has definite and bankable value. Without it, a true quality system or business cannot work. Consider the chart in Figure 1, The quality trust cycle.
Our diagram shows the self-reinforcing aspect of trust in the organization. It also helps to show that it must be a systems construct, not mere wish making or sunny rhetoric.
When you seek to build a system of trust, you must examine all the details of interaction that people have with you, other managers, their peers, and the general workings of the enterprise. Small details of distrust that no one had recognized can sour things. And all such interaction details must be seen from the point of view of the employees themselves. I cannot tell you what to accept as trustworthy. You must believe something is trustworthy and then become trusting.
Sometimes, when organizations do achieve a reasonable atmosphere of trust, they relax a little too much. Work may proceed well, customers are happy, order books are filling up. Wonderful! But this can be a time of vulnerability. A new manager comes on the scene, a large order brings unexpected urgencies, a slip of the tongue occurs, something else happens that betrays trust, even momentarily, and suddenly an atmosphere of distrust can emerge.
Damage control now becomes a must. Immediate action must occur to rebuild trust. And this action must be sincere and seen to be sincere. With luck, quick and perceptive action will rectify the situation.
In some situations, immediate action may not occur, or if it does occur it may not be sufficient, or the incident of distrust may be so grave as to defy quick remedy. In such cases, an immediate problem becomes a major problem. The self-reinforcing cycle of increasing quality output will suddenly reverse into a self-reinforcing cycle of decreasing quality.
Our diagram in Figure 2. The quality distrust cycle, illustrates the problem at this stage. People will gradually withdraw their sense of quality work from the process or task in which they are engaged. Instead, they will work to meet imposed, external criteria that may or may not result in quality output.
Imposed quality work is not total quality work. It relies on the sophistication of whatever means of surveillance or inspection is used to obtain and monitor quality. Instead of putting work and effort into the work process itself, work and effort by management must now go into better and better surveillance systems. The whole apparatus of distrust is expensive and unwieldy. In many cases, however, it may work sufficiently well to maintain a workplace status quo that produces results that are good enough.
In an era of global competition, continuing innovation, deregulation, and economic uncertainties, good enough results might not cut it. Almost inevitably, someone else, with better quality, will become your corporate nemesis. And chances are good that their better quality emerges from a situation of better trust for their workers.
Quality and trust go together. If you want to have quality on a sustained basis, you must have trust. Without trust, you may simply be setting up an elaborate corporate system of quality self-deception. Ever more intricate financial manoeuvres may cover this up for a time, but only for a time. In the end, quality based on trust is the most durable condition to build for corporate survival and success.
From time to time you should examine your own organization. How does trust occur? Is it systematic or sporadic? What about the quality of your service or product? Is it consistently high, or do you have problems with it now and then?
Trust in your workplace is worth thinking about continually. And such continual thinking requires continual acting. Times change, priorities shift, but trust remains a constant if you make the effort – and the effort is definitely worthwhile. Without the effort, short-term and inadequate measures will become the order of the day.
It all comes down to trust in yourself. Can you trust yourself sufficiently to trust others to produce quality results? Examine that question carefully. If you decide you can trust yourself to trust others, then put in the work needed to build and sustain trust in your organization. This work will most likely bring you longer-term and genuine organizational improvement.
Better quality and a better organization could be yours just for the trusting.
Robyn PetersonCanadian School of Management, Ontario, Canada
ReferencesBennis, W. (1989), On Becoming a Leader, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.Drucker, P.F. (1986), Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Harper & Row, New York, NY.Melohn, T.H. (1983), "How to build employee trust and productivity", in Gumpert, D.E. (Ed.), Harvard Business Review, January-February, Vol. 83 No. 1, pp. 56-61.
If you want real quality in your organization you must have the trust of the people in that organization.
Imposed quality work is not total quality work. Instead of putting work and effort into the work process itself, work and effort go into better and better surveillance systems.
Trust in the workplace is worth thinking about continually and such continual thinking requires continual action.
Key ingredients for the effective implementation of statistical process control J. Antony, A. Balbontin and T. Taner, Work Study, (UK), Vol. 49 No. 6, 2000
Introduces the features of statistical process control (SPC) as a problem solving technique used for monitoring, controlling, analysing, managing and improving a process through statistical methodology. Outlines the potential benefits of SPC and the practical difficulties of successfully introducing SPC in organizations. Suggests the need for a number of ingredients for the successful introduction of SPC, which include: management commitment and support; training and education for SPC; teamwork; and process prioritization and definition.
Quality focus says:A journalistic article which is highly readable and has implications for both research and practice.
Call centre management: is service quality a priority?A. Gilmore, Managing Service Quality, (UK), Vol. 11 No. 3, 2001
Suggests that, with the rise in importance of call centres, service quality has often been neglected in a production-line quantity-measurement approach to answering customer calls, and compares this with the more customer-oriented empowerment approach. Investigates the strategy pursued at the four call centres of a major company that has been trying to improve service in recent years through a case study based on observation, interviews with managers and group discussions with front-line agents. Finds that managers preferred the existing production-line approach which focused on tangible aspects of service quality, such as number of calls answered, but that the agents themselves felt that customer service suffered as a result, and therefore they experienced conflict and frustration. Recommends a combination production-line and empowerment approach to the problem, outlining how this could be achieved.
Quality focus says:A case study – strong on practical implications.
Misplaced marketing: a service economy whose employees say "customer service is not my job!"H.J. Rotfeld, Journal of Consumer Marketing, (UK), Vol. 18 No. 2, 2001
Asserts that despite the move towards a more service-based economy, firms are failing to provide good customer service. Provides colourful examples of poor customer service from the airline industry, software retail industry and restaurant industry, illustrating the strict job demarcation mindset of managers and employees which leads to customer dissatisfaction. Contends that controlling costs, which appears to be the focus of many organizations to the detriment of the customer, should be secondary to service.
Quality focus says:A journalistic article – highly readable.