Why Manage Better?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No Spectators in a Quality Journey

A lot can be learnt by and from companies that come back from the dead (well, almost). General Motors is one such company. It has been in a hole and is trying to claw back. And early signs are good. 

While reading (and watching) Terry Woychowski, GM’s new vice president of global quality, speak to ASQ on GM’s three Ps: Promise, Personal, and Performance, I was surprised to see how clear the messaging was.  Clarity of purpose was one of Deming’s favorite principles and I could see it in action as Terry spoke.

Is GM out of trouble? Not yet.  Can we learn from it? Plenty, I think.

First and foremost. I loved the clarity of Promise, Personal, and Performance. Laurel Nelson-Rowe of ASQ says, rightly, that this could be a fourth P: Pointing. Pointing the company in the right direction. Consistently.

Terry says, and I am hoping GM believes, that customers trade their hard earned money with us for a promise – that our product will work.  Big deal. Everyone says this. I was very impressed with what he said next. Product promise is to deliver state and implied needs AND anything else that a rational mind would expect from a car.  Wow!

Terry then quoted H J Heinz (of Heinz) having once said “Quality is to a product as character is to a person”. Profound. Quality of products is a reflection of the character of the of its employees (though I think it is more a reflection of its management, but well said Terry.

The defining statement in the interview was when Terry announced that “There are no spectators in the Quality journey”.  This reminded me of a similar observation by Suresh Krishna, CMD of TVS Fasteners (Deming Prize winner) about their quality journey.  What he said amounted to – “I will try and convince you to join the journey, but if you don’t or cant, bad luck. Please get off the train or I will push you.”  

Change is not and should not be very democratic.

How do we know the quality journey at GM is working? They don’t have much to show yet but are doing the right things for sure. Warranty is down 50%. They are using the right quality methods such as DFMEA and DFSS in the design phase.  Cherry on the cake – Head of Quality calls two customers every week and ask if their service issue was resolved properly. I was at Qimpro (www.qimpro.com) when we used to advise CXOs to call customers. Some listened. Others did not. But I can assure you the effect of such calls is magical.  Of course, you have to back it up with performance.

The new GM is also speaking what investors like.  It is as if GM had forgotten that there is a customer and investor that actually run the company.  Terry spoke about a new board member who joined them recently (2010).  This board member narrated the story of his GM car breaking down in the 1980s!!! 30 yrs down the line he remembered every detail of the breakdown. That’s the impact of poor quality.

GM has actually done fairly well in India. And it is doing even better these days.  Watching Terry talk I got some hint why.  He spoke about quality surprises and mentioned the speed bumps in India.  Now this is a familiar grouse and I thought here is another ‘global professional’ admonishing Indian roads.  NO. Terry talked about how GM changed its design to suit Indian roads.  To me, that’s quality. Full marks, GM.

GM has dreams of being no.1 quality vehicle maker in every market, every segment it operates in.  Initial signs are good. All the best Terry and co.

What are some quick lessons we can draw from the new GM.

1.       Clarity always helps
If you want people to work for a purpose, please clarity to them what they are working for. By clearly saying GM wants to design, build, and sell the world’s best vehicles, GM has just done that.

2.      Have a Dream
You are never going to excite and earn people’s hard work with boring goals.  Jim Collins said have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).  GM has done something similar.  Even if you fail you do pretty well chasing the dream.

3.      Have a Plan to achieve the Dream
Having a dream is not enough.  Build a detailed plan to achieve the dream. But don’t get lost in the details.  Keep spaces for changes.

4.      Execute the Plan
Put your head down and execute. No one ever won in the marketplace for having a great plan. You win by execution.

5.      Customer Satisfaction is the only metric that matters.
Finally, have internal metrics but remember that the only metric that matters is how many customers are satisfied with you.  And how much? Are they voting with their money?

Do you have to be GM to follow these principles? No. You can be a department or any other company and these will work well for you.  I hope they do.  If you follow these suggestions, and have a story to tell, let me know.  All the best.