WHY do managers automatically reject what appears to be a complaint from the workers? No, it’s not about wages and benefits but a concern about the product’s image to customers. Sometimes I can’t help but conclude that some managers think they know better than the people who are proximate to the problem.
Take this example. A group of workers are relaying to their boss repeated customer complaints about the packaging of their product. The workers are also complaining because it affects their sales performance and take-home pay. It appears that the product suffers a leak during delivery from the factory to the retail shops and warehouses, tainting other packs which are then routinely rejected by customers.
When this was brought to the attention of the boss, he readily rejected the complaint by saying: “It’s only a small percentage. Besides, the packaging supplier has already certified that it’s only about a three percent defect and that we’re getting the best material in this part of the world more than what our competitors can offer. OK, go back to the trenches now.”
The boss turned a deaf ear and offered no solution. Instead, he condemned the workers to be like Sisyphus who must roll a rock (product) to the top of the mountain (customers). When the rock falls back, the workers must continue pushing it back up despite its weight and do it again and again, ad infinitum. Unwittingly, it becomes more of a dreadful punishment than futile labor.
Under the principle of lean manufacturing, managers who are receptive to this problem would not simply sweep the problem under the rug. Instead, they would talk about continuous improvement, which is often referred to as Kaizen by the Japanese. And you know the Japanese, they’re excellent copycats, but they make sure that when they copy, they create products that are much better than the original.
But why can’t the manager in our story accept the problem as is and do something to eliminate packaging leaks? Or if you’re a manager similarly situated, what would be your best response? I talked to three quality managers from different industries who chorused about a slogan called Zero Defects and talked about eliminating the “packaging leak” no matter how insignificant it may look to the boss and his supplier.
The concept of Zero Defects was attributed to Philip Crosby (1926-2001), author of “Quality is Free” (1979). At Martin Company, Crosby was the quality control manager of a missile program that reduced its defect rate by 25-30 percent during his time.
Cosby was also credited for prescribing the principle of “doing it right the first time.” This principle includes two major strategies: “quality is conformance to customer requirements” and “the system of quality is prevention.”
Going back to our packaging problem, is the packaging leak in conformance to customer requirements? Obviously not! Therefore, how do you solve it? If it were up to me, I would create a special problem-solving team composed of people from the ground including those with a technical background.
The first order of the day is to calculate the amount of losses – both tangible and intangible. Even if the loss is a bit small in terms of the monetary aspect, if the problem is allowed to continue, there will come a time that it will also impact on the satisfaction level of the workers, which to me is equally important.
The next step is to use a simple Fishbone Diagram to determine the root causes of the packaging leak. As soon as you’ve identified the most probable reason, then you can validate it by doing a Why-Why Analysis.
After that, do a brainstorming session to generate as many possible solutions, categorized into low-cost and high-investment classes. The more options there are – including absurd ideas – the better. If you’re not happy with the result, do the same procedure under the plan, do, check, and act approach.
Whatever it takes, the thing here is that both the customers and employees are complaining. Now, how can you argue against that?
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.