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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

We Need a Quality Time-Out

What will you do with yours?

Published: Monday, March 31, 2008 - 21:00

Starbucks’ announcement that it would close for three hours on February 26 to retrain about 135,000 in-store employees sent shudders through the thousands of coffee fanatics in the nation. Would java aficionados have to forego their venti-decaf-no foam-double vanilla-light whip-extra caramel-cinnamon on top-espresso frappuccino? Oh, the humanity! While there was a certain amount of panic from loyal customers after the announcement, I think more organizations should try a similar shutdown.

Starbucks’ management indicated that closing and retraining the staff was a way to implement all-new standards for how their beverages are created. A spokesperson stated that in so doing the customer experience will be ratcheted up to new levels of satisfaction. As a follow-up to the three-hour closing, more changes are expected to be unveiled during the next several months.

Consider for a moment if some companies and individuals took a three-hour time-out, or if there were a cessation of some of the more irritating events that constantly bombard us in the media. Let’s examine the benefits of a temporary shutdown. Maybe we too will be able to ratchet up our levels of satisfaction personally and for our customers. For starters:

  • Management by walking around. In this simple technique management comes out of their hallowed offices to actually mingle with the staff and ask them if they have comments about the business or problems that prevent them from doing their jobs. An assistant should go along to record comments and issues for follow-up.

Few in management have the courage to interact with the staff—they’re afraid of what they might hear. If exceeding the expectations of customers is the goal of the company, interacting with the staff is crucial because employees are customers of the management team. A management team that fails to acknowledge that should be catapulted out of the company by the board of directors.

  • Speaking of the board, it’s incumbent on all members to assure themselves that the goals of the organization have cascaded down to every employee. Certainly there’s a reliance on management to accomplish that goal, but board members who don’t take it upon themselves to verify and clarify management’s role in the organization are shirking their responsibility. Instead of dining together after the board meeting, how about if members of the board dined with a group of employees? Certainly that would be a better use of their three hours and would ingratiate them with the staff. Who knows? There might be some nuggets of information that would propel the company into the financial stratosphere.

  • How about a three-hour time-out for the staff to review their own goals and aspirations? If your personal goals, standards, and ethics are being compromised by a management team that’s out of focus with you, it’s time to jettison yourself out of the organization. I’ve found myself in that position twice in my 40-year career, and in both instances I was able to land in other organizations that provided the personal reinforcement that I was seeking. Life is too short to be harnessed in a company that provides little recognition or workplace support, or a management team that is better suited for the dinosaur age.

Over the years, I have conducted numerous workshops on quality, customer service, and performance excellence. In all instances, attendees have embraced the concepts but have cautioned that their CEO or manager would never accept the philosophy so they felt boxed in when it came to making changes. My solution? Find a company that parallels your thought process. You should first try to convince management of your recommendations to infuse a customer-driven atmosphere into the company. Then, absent any change in management attitude, it’s time to pull your exit ripcord.

  • How about a three-hour time-out for the board of directors to examine the incentive package for top management? I’m sick and tired and disgusted with the exorbitant salaries paid to CEOs when company earnings are in the tank. Case in point is Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp. Not only did this greedy miscreant receive nearly $250 million of compensation for 1998 though 2007, he also collected an additional $406 million from sales of Countrywide stock. Then to further feather his nest, he demanded that the board reimburse him for taxes owed when his wife rode on the corporate jet.

On the heels of this extravagance comes Gary Cohn and Jon Winkelried of the Goldman Sachs Group, both of whom received reasonable salaries of $600,000 in the fiscal year ended November 30 and then got bonuses of $67.5 million each. CEOs are the poster boys for what is wrong with business. Do these captains of industry really provide knowledge and inventiveness and intuitiveness that equal their compensation?

Coincidentally, I have been in several meetings with CEOs and have waited for some utterances that would separate them from us the unwashed, and I’m still waiting. I can recall one such meeting where the CEO who chaired the meeting actually fell asleep at the table while the rest of us toiled over some new projects that would have a tremendous financial impact on the company. His salary was in excess of $5 million. So all in all, the various boards need to use their three hours to take a hard look at whether management salaries are in line with the results of the company. If they are, so be it, no argument from me. But if they’re out of line then the board needs to exercise their fiscal responsibility to the company and make the appropriate changes.

  • On February 28, the world lost an icon, Joseph M. Juran, the father of quality improvement. His motto, “There is always a better way; it should be found,” can be a guiding light for organizations even today. How about each of us using our three-hour time out by revisiting some of Juran’s works, including his memoir, Architect of Quality (McGraw-Hill, 2004), or the Quality Control Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 4th ed. 1988), originally published in 1951 and still a template for performance excellence. Juran initially thought that upper management was more focused on finances than quality and it wasn’t until the 1980s that a change took place in that philosophy. The emergence of various quality awards, including the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, has influenced this change in attitude, and more needs to be done. Juran was a strong advocate of the program and served as an overseer for the program in its early years. He even came out of retirement to testify before Congress on behalf of the program in the mid-1990s.

  • Consider using your three hours to review the 2008 criteria for the Baldrige Award. Studying category 1, on leadership, might just be a good way for management to spend three hours. To mingle with this year’s Baldrige winners and learn about their quality journeys, and hear from past winners too, consider attending the Quest for Excellence XX on April 22–25 in Washington, D.C.

As an aside, Baldrige is celebrating its 20th anniversary in April this year. Congrats to director Harry Hertz and his talented team for constantly improving and updating the criteria, which have become vital for thousands of organizations that benchmark against it.

  • I spent my three-hour time out reading Jacked Up (McGraw-Hill, 2008), a biography of Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric, written by Bill Lane, his former speechwriter. It’s a fast-moving account of Welch, his management style, and how he empowered the people around him to build and maintain one of the most respected and successful companies in the United States. It’s filled with fascinating insights and illustrates why Welch was such a powerful influence on the company. His management style wouldn’t resonate well with some, especially his screaming at the top of his lungs about an issue that had infuriated him. It’s also entertaining when the author explains the hiring of a press relations assistant who as it turned out had no idea how to write a press release. So if you’re looking for an enjoyable read, pick up a copy of Jacked Up. If the inner workings of GE don’t interest you, then I recommend The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (Wiley, 2007), by Patrick Lencioni. You might discover that you’re reading about your own position and company.

  • U.S. economists need to spend their three hours determining whether or not we’re in a recession. There seems to be a group that abhors using the “R” word, preferring to call record bankruptcies, foreclosures, and two straight months of job losses merely a “sluggish economy.” In “What Makes a Good Employer,” I mentioned an interesting methodology to be used in assessing our economy. In light of the prognosticators who are loathe to signal a recession, maybe this is the metric that they should be analyzing. It comes to us from Stew Leonard, Jr., CEO of Stew Leonard’s Supermarket in Connecticut. Leonard says it this way: “I look for the mashed-potato effect. If customers are buying our freshly prepared mashed potatoes instead of whole potatoes, then the economy is doing well. Lately bulk potato sales gave been up, so there’s concern where the economy is going.” Perhaps we should forward this metric to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. What would he do with his three hours?

  • Last month Fortune Magazine announced “The 100 Best Companies To Work For,” and this month brings us an issue with “America’s Most Admired Companies.” The majority of the companies are on both lists, so my suggestion is that you or your management team spend your three hours reviewing their attributes and determine how many are characteristic of your organization. Having done that you can spend the remainder of the three hours preparing an action plan on how a good portion of those attributes can be infused into your organization. Each organization is different, and what works for one may not work for another, so just implement the ones that are consistent with your company’s culture.

  • Let’s have all the meteorologists go through a three-hour retraining program so that they can more accurately predict impending storms. The breaking news segments warning us to stock up on food and premature closing of schools and businesses before the first flake falls have become so ludicrous that most of us ignore the exhortations because few of the predictions become reality.

  • Commercials for hospitals, health care, and of course a myriad medications have taken over the airwaves, and I think a three-hour timeout is appropriate. Do we really need more information about pills that reenergize and regenerate the male’s virility and ego? As for hospitals, the three-hour shutdown could be spent computing the saving to patients if commercials were eliminated.

Well, I hope all of you have decided on for your three-hour shutdown. I’m using another three hours and more to navigate the reams of paper necessary to sign up for Medicare, and supplemental insurance for items not covered by Medicare. I turned 65 in March, and for my birthday we dined at the 1913 Room in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the subject of “Bon Appetit for Quality” in May, 2007, and the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in Michigan. This is the sixth year in a row that this exquisite restaurant has won AAA’s recognition. Congrats to the management and staff! By the way, I’m grateful to all of you who are still working and supporting me on Social Security and Medicare. I will spend our money judiciously.

I thank Starbucks for inventing the three-hour shutdown. Now I’m off to get my decaf vanilla latte, and evaluate their retraining efforts.


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.