The Art of Strengths Coaching

N is for Never Walking Past A Quality Problem

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A Managing Director taught me the meaning of the phrase Never Walk Past A Quality Problem.

Sitting in the reception area of his company’s offices, I saw him park his car and begin walking toward the main entrance.

Suddenly he dived into the hedge and emerged with an empty drink can. It was 7.30 in the morning and the can had obviously been thrown from the nearby main street during the night.

“I refuse to walk past a quality problem, otherwise I have said it is okay,” explained the MD.

“If we don’t keep our hedges and car parks clean, visitors will think we don’t pay attention to our products.”

Let’s explore how you may want to follow this principle in your own way.

Clarifying the high
quality standards

Imagine you lead a team and want to set high quality standards.

Certainly you must act as a good model, because people will learn from what you do, not what you say. But how can you then get people to deliver the required standards?

One approach is to tell it from the top, instructing people to behave in certain ways. That may be necessary at first, but can lead to a culture where people refuse to think for themselves.

Another approach is to set the tone from the top, but also involve people in setting the required quality standards. It is then to give them the support to deliver the goods.

How to make this happen? Gather people together and invite them to take the following steps.

Describe a specific area of the work where they want to deliver high quality standards.

They may choose to focus on a specific aspect of the team’s customer service, products, professional behaviour or other area of activity.

Describe the specific results they want to achieve – including the actual words they want to hear customers, colleagues and other stakeholders – saying about their work in this area.

Describe the specific Dos and Don’ts they can follow to achieve these results.

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Communicating the
high quality standards

People sometimes need reminding about what good looks like. How to make this happen?

Every Wednesday the MD mentioned above sent out an email called Weekly Wins.

In addition to highlighting business successes across the company, he described specific ways that people had demonstrated the quality standards. He said:

“It’s easy to report acts of heroism.

“Like many companies, we have employees who drive through a blizzard from London to Glasgow to deliver an important package.

“Certainly it’s vital to tell these stories, but it’s crucial to highlight the daily acts of people doing things in the right way.

“So we publicise the efforts of the employees in the boiler room, as well as those on the bridge.

“This reinforces the quality standards we want people to demonstrate each day.”

Some leaders reinforce the standards by producing success stories that keep showing what good looks like. There are many frameworks for producing such stories. Here is one approach.

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You will have your own approach to showing what good looks like. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe how you can keep communicating the high quality standards.

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Never walking past
a quality problem

Imagine the scene. It is 9.30 on a Monday morning and one team member arrives 30 minutes late for a 9.00 meeting at the office.

“What a terrible day,” he announces to the rest of the staff.

“The trains are late, the traffic is terrible and later I am due to meet the client from hell. What a way to begin a Monday.”

What to do about such an entrance? You can ignore the person, confront them or adopt some other approach.

I witnessed such an incident when the leader asked the late arriving team member to leave the room, saying:

“I wonder if you can replay that situation. Everybody has found it hard to get into work today, but we want to get on with the job.

“I would like you to go out, then come in again. This time, think about the impression you are giving to people in the office.

“I don’t want you to come in with a forced smile, but I do want you to think about the tone you are setting on a Monday morning.

“Right, do you want to try it? It’s up to you.”

That approach sounds heavy, but it actually worked. The team member smiled wryly, accepted the message and said ‘Sorry’.

They left the room and came in again 30 seconds later with a totally different attitude.

The leader was not looking for clones, far from it, but he did want people who behaved professionally. Allowing the situation to have gone unchallenged would have said:

“It is okay to start the week by infecting other people.”

Team members must be able to express their feelings, but they must also understand the consequences.

You will have your own way of never walking past a quality problem. This can be relatively easy when it applies to physical products or customer service. But it can be harder regarding human behaviour.

People must get the message that certain actions are encouraged, however, whilst others are unacceptable. Corporate misdemeanours can often be traced back to ignoring people who behaved badly.

“Reward the behaviour you want repeated,” is a key rule when developing a desired culture. But it is also vital to draw the line at unacceptable behaviour.

This can also be a superb way of reinforcing the required quality standards. If you wish, try completing the final exercise on this theme.

Describe the specific things you can do to ensure you never walk past a quality problem.

This can also include giving people a positive way forward by suggesting the quality standards that can be delivered in the future.

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