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Robert Nix

Quality Insider

Ten Things Every Top Manager Should Do to Destroy the Quality Culture

Basic steps to defeat this thing called quality

Published: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 22:00

My first experience with the word “culture” comes from my high school science class. We grew a living organism on a nutrient base, which the teacher called a culture. The girls in class described it using the medical term, “Eeewwwww!” Years later, in the business world, I find top managers subjected to the pressure to incorporate a quality culture into their business, describing it in the executive term, “Eeewwwww!” Like the old cereal commercial, they are told it’s “supposed to be good for you,” which means it doesn’t taste very good.

Everybody’s talking about “quality” disciplines: Six Sigma, zero defects (NOTE: the only difference between the two is about 3.5 defects), ISO 9000, the Malcolm Baldrige Award, and so on. Our customers tell us we need them; consultants tell us we need them; nine out of 10 doctors tell us we need them. “Yeah, well, smart people and their pomp and flourish have never run a business like mine.” Yes, top executives know how to run their business. But they also realize they have to indulge and pacify those fools advocating “quality.” So they do the first of 10 things to effectively neutralize the virulent quality culture: they hire a quality manager. For all of you future business executives, all 10 of the following things should be implemented to ensure the death of the quality organism eating away at your “bottom line.” It’s already being done successfully in many businesses throughout the world. Here are the steps:

1. Hire a quality manager and stand behind him or her—way behind. In fact, don’t give anyone the impression you even know the quality manager, let alone support his or her quality initiatives. There are two benefits to this approach:

  • It’s the QM’s job, not yours, to ensure quality. That’s why you hired a quality manager
  • Take the circus trapeze people as an example. They become much more professional and conscientious when they work without a safety net. Take away support from the quality manager; it builds character.


2. Assign the quality manager the task of becoming certified to an international quality standard. But remember: don’t support it—just insist it gets done. Yes, insist on getting certified, but make it clear it’s only for the sake of getting a certificate. Every top manager knows that to be efficient, a company only must provide the minimum customer requirements. Customers generally just want to see a certificate on the wall, but they may ask for a faxed copy once a year. Give it to them.

3. Establish policies, but be the first to violate them. This is a great way to show everyone who’s the boss. The explanation should be, “I can do it, but you can’t.” For example, establish safety policies throughout the building that ensure employee coverage from the top of their hard hats to the bottom of their steel-toed shoes. Then walk around the plant in Bermuda shorts and open-toed sandals. Or, send a mandate to all personnel regarding “on time” meeting attendance with no exceptions. Then walk in 20 minutes late for each meeting while talking loudly on your cell phone. These techniques help clarify to all employees the pecking order.

4. Don’t spend a lot of time planning, organizing, strategizing or even managing. Fighting fires is the most productive use of your time. Besides, it’s the comfort zone of most top managers, as it’s likely how they got where they are. Getting involved in every-day problems shows you are a “hands on” executive and your people will respect you for it. It should be noted, however, that this effort shouldn’t be in cooperation with the quality manager, as that would violate point No. 1. above. Remember the goal is to kill the quality critter.

5. Make sure all goals are short-term. Yes, there’s a lot of hoopla about long-term goals out there, but keep in mind all business factors linked to short-, not long-term goals:

  • Your bonus plan and pay out is generally one year, not three to five years
  • Faster turnover of personnel means impressions must be made more quickly
  • Your boss expects tangible results now. In relation to goals, management should also avoid any clear mission or vision statements. These things paint top managers into a corner. It’s important to stay fluid, flexible and ready to go in any direction at any time. A side benefit’s this keeps employees on their toes, always ready for any shift in the wind.


6. Assume the bottom line is really the bottom line. Financial statements like the P&L really say it all. They are precise, clean and easy to remember. Chief executives should focus all their attention on financial considerations. CFOs are always looking after top management to make sure their retirement is lucrative. CFOs are the only ones who care. So, when those quality “types” present their data and facts regarding customer satisfaction, problem resolution success, training effectiveness and other intangibles, diligently avoid rolling your eyes. Placate them with a smile, a “well done” and a “keep up the good work.” That has the Pavlovian effect of making them drool. Likewise, if anyone else comes to top management with a suggestion, the person who brought it up should handle the project (obviously without the provision of resources). They’ll think twice the next time.

7. When it comes to measuring business performance, don’t measure what’s important; measure only what is easy to measure. For example, measuring rework is complicated. It means making sure the employee reports time accurately, tracks reasons, makes graphs, tabulates material costs and so on. A better measure is to account for how long an employee takes on breaks. Another important point regarding performance measurements is to never measure anything that might implicate or embarrass top management. Keep all things regarding top managers’ performance nebulous and circuitous. When reporting company performance to the employees, speak using jargon that only elicits a wink from your fellow executives. The amoebic I.Q.s of the shop people will quickly cause their thoughts to shift to who’s buying the first round after work.

8. Speaking of I.Q., never hire people smarter than you. They may take your job someday. Once hired, you control their breeding. Send employees to training on things they can’t possibly implement. If they never put their training into practice, they continue to be unmarketable, and you reduce turnover. However, executives shouldn’t go to any training themselves, because they already know everything they will ever need to know. This, of course, doesn’t exclude business retreats and other conferences where they can consume copious amounts of beverages, eat foods, and enjoy entertainment. These are necessary things for the company’s future.

9. Be inconsistent. One of the insidious spores that emit from the quality culture is that consistency is tantamount to quality. Consistently followed procedures, consistent motions, consistent statistical control and consistent processes supposedly lead to better quality and happier customers. But that is a smokescreen for the quality manager’s true mission: to expose inefficiencies in the organization. But keep in mind that people may associate these inefficiencies with you. Therefore, keep everything in a state of flux. It’s harder for people to realize the sources of incompetence when everything is murky.

10. Finally, avoid closure at all costs. Don’t finish a project and don’t let others finish theirs. If they linger interminably, you continue to have work. The quality culture suggests that if everything is working smoothly, the quality people will appear unhurried and, at times, appear as if they have nothing to do. That can’t be productive. Support the starting of as many projects as possible, then find reasons to prolong them, delay signing approvals for each step of the plan, and find ways to amend or add to the original plan. This includes not completely killing the quality culture. If it hangs by a thread and is kept on life support, the quality department will always feel hopeful and you should feel good.


In a nutshell, this is what you should do to almost kill the virus of the quality culture:

  1. Hire a quality manager and keep your distance.
  2. Just get a certificate for the wall.
  3. Establish policies applicable to every employee (except you, obviously).
  4. Fight fires instead of planning, organizing and strategizing.
  5. Establish only short-term goals.
  6. Focus exclusively on the “bottom line.”
  7. Measure just the easy things that don’t make you look bad.
  8. Keep training in its place.
  9. Keep things in a constant state of flux.
  10. Never finish a project.


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About The Author

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Robert Nix

Robert Nix is the quality director for Merrill Tool Holding Co., a privately owned business headquartered in Saginaw, Michigan, that includes machine design and build, machined parts manufacture, and metal fabrication. Nix has been in quality management for 27 years and is an ASQ-certified Quality Engineer and Reliability Engineer.