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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

How’s Your Credibility?

Clearing the air and correcting some misconceptions

Published: Monday, May 5, 2008 - 21:00

It seems that not a day goes by that some politician, government official, or CEO of a major company has to retract a misspoken remark or admit that a previous message was either exaggerated or wasn’t factual. Despite the seriousness of the transgression, we as a forgiving society, are prepared to accept the misdeed if the word apology is part of the hand-wringing and personal admission of guilt.

Having said that, I must admit that I haven’t been totally truthful with you readers of QualityInsider, and you deserve better. Since October of last year and through March of 2008, I haven’t actually been in my hammock but rather have penned these columns from the warm confines of our home.

What with all the publicity given to officials who have expanded on their accomplishments, I thought it necessary to file a preemptive explanation before someone else does and I lose all credibility.

In the future, I will dateline my column depending on where I’m located. I hope this clears up the matter so we can now move to the issues that affect quality and customer service. Finally, I admit that I haven’t walked to my hammock in the woods dodging sniper fire, an incident that evidently has haunted others who have stretched the truth. So there! My slate is clear and I hope my credibility is restored.

Following up on these disclosures, I suspect that many of you as quality professionals have encountered situations where the truth has been avoided, hidden, or just exaggerated. Our profession is based on people providing accurate and complete reports. It’s also of paramount importance that when we’re conducting a site visit or an audit of our own company or performing a due diligence of another company, there’s no room for deceit. I’m a strong advocate of removing people who are impediments to our fact-finding missions when we discover that information was tainted or when flat-out lies surface.

What prompted me to disclose my hammock omission was an incident that defies logic and that occurred just the other day at a local business newspaper. This newspaper regularly recognizes organizations and people in various categories throughout the year. The most recent campaign highlighted successful young entrepreneurs and thus it was labeled “20 In Their 20s.”

After a series of nominations, the paper provided pictures and detailed stories of this elite group. Once it was published, someone came forward to disclose that one of the recipients of this honor was in fact in his 30s. The paper did another background check and our honoree had to admit his real age. His letter to the paper indicated that he was withdrawing for “personal reasons.” Unfortunately, this undeserving miscreant used a much sought after slot that should have been given to a more qualified candidate. This, in my opinion, was a flagrant attempt to gain recognition, and I have no use for this individual or his company.

Our profession is based on trust, and when that trust has been abused or violated we need to act accordingly and recommend that the culprit be suspended or fired, depending on the seriousness of the transgression. Heck, here in Michigan we have a zoo director who embellished his resume by indicating that he had a doctorate degree. After several years in that position, it was disclosed that his resume was bogus. Unfortunately, the zoo board thought that his work was so exemplary that he was allowed to remain in that position. Keep in mind, he was no doubt selected over other qualified individuals who might not have had a doctorate degree. For me, I’m continuing my campaign to have him unceremoniously removed. I suspect that most of you would agree with my stance on this.

Well, let’s lighten the air a bit and move on to some other topics.

In “Oh No! Not Another Survey!, in the April Quality Digest, I discussed the practice of establishments providing a survey on their receipts for us to complete. I remarked that the incentive to complete the survey was to be entered into a drawing for cash prizes. In researching the piece, I discovered that none of the employees at the various establishments had ever heard of anyone winning the prize nor did any of the companies provide updates in the way of a newsletter providing the names of winners. My suggestion was that there should be an immediate payment given to anyone who completed the survey.

In that regard, it has come to my attention that two companies—Champps and Olive Garden—have adopted a policy of doing just that. Once the online survey is completed, a code number is provided that one inscribes on the receipt. Upon presenting the receipt at your next purchase, $5 is deducted from the check. So, hats off to these two organizations. As for the others who don’t offer a similar incentive, don’t count on me to complete your survey.

It was recently announced that the Ritz-Carlton Four Seasons in Chicago was named the top hotel in the nation for the seventh time by readers of Condé Nast magazine. We have dined at this hotel. Yes, the ambience is top notch, the staff is courteous and hospitable, and there is a view of Lake Michigan from some of the rooms but does this constitute its ranking as best in the country?

Part of the ranking comes from a misunderstanding of the true identify of this hotel. In name, this is a Ritz-Carlton with the requisite lion logo but in reality it’s a Four Seasons Hotel. In the voting process there may have been an unintentional urge to select this hotel based on the exemplary reputation of the entire Ritz-Carlton network of hotels. The Ritz-Carlton is the only two-time winner of our nation’s highest award for quality, namely, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a distinction not shared by the Four Seasons hotels.

Would there be as many votes if the name were Four Seasons Chicago? I think not. Some voters might just confuse this with Frankie Valli and those Four Seasons. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago Four Seasons is merely piggybacking on the award winning reputation of the real Ritz-Carlton, and that dismays me.

While on the subject of the Ritz-Carlton, congratulations to John Timmerman, who was presented with the Ishikawa Medal by the American Society for Quality on May 5 in Houston, Texas. John is the corporate vice president of quality and program management. The award was presented in light of John “serving his fellow ladies and gentlemen within the Ritz-Carlton and around the world by advancing the practical application of Dr. Ishikawa’s precepts and achieving world-class customer engagement and financial results by ensuring the emotional engagement and well-being of employees.” I featured John in “The Ritz-Carlton Mystique,” in July 2007.

Each year, the top one percent of McDonald’s restaurant managers from 13,700 locations across the country are presented the performance-based Ray Kroc Award. One of my community’s own managers, Patty Horton, was among the 137 winners, six of whom were from Michigan. I have dined at this establishment and under her leadership it’s top notch.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal struck a resounding chord with me. It had to do with the circumstances under which people leave an organization and how they are treated when they announce their departure.

If the reason for leaving is for a spouse’s transfer or a career change, the employee is feted on his or her way out. If, on the other hand, the departure is to a competing company or for increased pay and benefits, there’s no party. It’s almost like the person never existed. Human resource departments pick and choose how departing employees will be treated, and some employees are almost treated like departing criminals. Let me give you a personal example.

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to become director of quality and customer service for state government. The position was new, relatively unstructured, and required some major fund raising, I was attracted to it because the current governor was a strong supporter of the concept of improving companies and making them more competitive by infusing concepts patterned after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program.

Much to my surprise and irritation, a human resources representative at the financial institution where I was employed suggested that I remain and dangled some stock options in front of me. Against what she considered a “bad move” for me, I opted for the state position. Her parting words of “once you leave here you will be burning all your bridges” didn’t discourage me, and in fact made me more determined to leave.

In my new role, I was able to interact with hundreds of well-run companies, met Presidents Clinton and Bush, was named quality professional of the year by the local chapter of ASQ, was appointed to the Baldrige board of overseers by the secretary of commerce, and made new friendships that will last a lifetime.

Now semiretired, I write articles for several national publications, including Quality Digest and QualityInsider, about performance excellence issues, do radio voice-overs; am on the USA Today vacation panel, and frankly have a fruitful and enjoyable lifestyle. Sometimes, holding your nose and closing your eyes while you dive into new surroundings and challenges is better than treading water at a company that does little for the concerns and aspirations of its employees. I’ve discovered that there’s life even after a bridge is burned. Frankly, that one was the best bridge I ever burned and abandoned. My theory is “no rear-view mirrors.” Never look back.

In closing, don’t forget to register for the Quality Expo Detroit taking place June 11–12 at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, Michigan.

Whatever you do, don’t misstate your age when entering recognition events or you’ll have me to deal with. Even though I’m 65, I still compete in duathlons, and I will track you down.

Well, the hammock feels good after a long, cold, dreadful Michigan winter. If you should ever travel to Lake Orion, where signs at all the entrances herald, “Where Living Is A Vacation,” be sure to look me up. You can relax in my hammock, and we might just visit our local McDonald’s and visit with Patty Horton. Then back to the hammock!


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.