In this month’s “ASQ Influential Voices” series, ASQ President Paul Borawski asked, “How Do You “Sell” Quality?,” particularly to senior execs and CEOs. Paul asks how we convince senior leaders that quality is essential to long term performance.
Through my attempts at taking a “Blog Break,” I’ll keep this post short. I think if we’re having to convince our CEO that quality matters, then our organization might be a lost cause and maybe it’s time to find a new job. Yes, CEOs can learn and adapt (Dr. John Toussaint’s personal CEO lean transformation is noteworthy). But Toussaint already knew quality was critical. He gained new insights from Lean and learned to take a new leadership role in his behaviors and time allocation — to truly lead quality from the top, as Dr. Deming taught.
It begs the question: Can all senior leaders change?
Given the choice, I’d rather work with people like John Toussaint, Paul O’Neill, and Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s. Executives like them may or may not have a method, but they have the core understanding that you don’t build a great organization by skimping on quality. The idea of “selling quality” seems about as silly as “selling safety.” If somebody became a CEO without realizing that we need to do all we can protect worker safety (and, in the case of hospitals, patient safety), it’s possible they can’t change. It might be too late.
If somebody has gotten to be CEO without having an appreciation for quality, we should maybe look at the root causes of how that happens. By “an appreciation for quality,” I don’t necessarily mean formal Lean or Six Sigma training. I’m taking about the quality mindsets — such as the idea that better quality is the path to better financial performance over the long-term, as opposed to traditional MBA cost-cutting and short-term ROI thinking. How do we educate and influence people earlier in their careers? How do we get companies and boards to promote those who are quality minded, as opposed to being just cost minded (or just sales minded).
Some leaders can change their spots. But, some can’t. I think you need to figure out what kind of senior leaders you are working with before you invest much time or personal energy or time into changing them. People have to choose to change. You can’t necessarily make them realize quality is important if the first 30 or 40 years of their careers have led to too many bad mindsets, habits, or practices.
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