If you want to improve quality and service at your operation, don’t start with your line employees. According to the late W. Edwards Deming, one of the foremost authorities on quality improvement who helped transform Japan into a world-class industrial giant after World War II,
“The worker is not the problem. The problem is at the top! Management is the problem!”
He further emphasizes the point by saying,
“There is much talk about how to get employees involved with quality. The big problem is how to get management involved.” *
Among Deming’s many observations is that quality is achieved by a complex sequence of (manufacturing or service) processes and it is management that establishes those processes. Until the barriers to quality inherent in ill-conceived and implemented processes (often created by management without a true understanding of what factors contribute to quality) are removed, the lack of quality or service is only the natural consequence of such poorly-designed, integrated, and applied processes. Recognizing this, it is clear that quality improvement can come about only through the leadership and direction of management.
So what’s to be done about improving quality?
Leadership. As usual, it all comes back to leadership – that often ill-defined quality that everyone talks about, but few truly understand. Let us first of all be clear, leadership is not a position. A position carries authority and responsibility, but as we say in Leadership on the Line,
“Exercising leadership involves building and sustaining relationships between leader and followers. Without that bond or connection, there are no willing followers and, therefore, no true leaders.”
In Leadership on the Line – The Workbook, we go on to say,
“The quality of your leadership is determined by the influence you have with your followers, which, in turn, is established by the quality of your relationships with them – and your relationships are built on a foundation of trust, of which integrity, competency, consistency, and common decency are primary ingredients.”
In speaking on the same topic, Roger Enrico, former Chairman at Pepsico, said,
“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”
But what are we really talking about when we speak of the ‘soft stuff’? As we say in The Quest for Remarkable Service,
“In short, it’s the people skills – those aptitudes and abilities used to get the best out of our human assets. It encompasses all those things we talk about when discussing leadership – the highly nuanced interactions with a diverse workforce that result in motivation, morale, enthusiasm, focus, commitment, productivity, teamwork, organizational cohesiveness, and group success.”
Finally, a prime ingredient of leadership is example. As Albert Einstein once said,
“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”
Without the disciplined direction and consistent example of management at all levels of the operation, quality and service will remain forever elusive.
Establishing Expectations. You cannot expect that your line employees with their vastly different backgrounds, education, and life experiences will inherently understand what the quality and service expectations are for your operation. These must be spelled out in great detail and reinforced continually. The same is true for your management staff, but with far greater consequences. Your management team sets the standard and the example for your entire operation. Without consistent leadership, explicit communication of expectations, and reinforcement of well-defined values, expecting your employees to meet your standards of behavior and service is unrealistic in the extreme.
So the requirements must be to:
- Train both managers and employees thoroughly in your Organizational Values and Culture of Service, and
- Spell out in detail what your quality and service standards and expectations are for both managers and employees.
Employee Empowerment. John Tschohl, founder of the Service Quality Institute, says,
“Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader. Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”
The major role that leaders make in empowering their employees is to create a culture where employees are valued and recognized as vital resources of the enterprise. They must also understand that to be successful with employee empowerment, employees must fully sense the company’s commitment to such empowerment; simply saying that employees are empowered, does not make it so. Leaders at all levels must do more than talk the talk.
While employee empowerment may be seen as a desirable practice by management, it ultimately comes about only with the recognition by employees that they are empowered. This means that the focus of leaders must not be on what employees are doing to achieve empowerment, but on what they themselves are doing to promote and enable it.
Training. All of us who work in the service business understand that operations are both people-intensive and detail-intensive. It takes a lot of employees to provide the requisite levels of service and every aspect of service involves many details. These two facts make detailed, ongoing training an absolute necessity for any successful operation. For a list of those topics that must be covered in training for both managers and line employees, see the article entitled Training Requirements in Hospitality Operations.
Recognizing the high cost of training, Hospitality Resources International has created a number of On the Go Training resources for operators.
Your Employees. How you treat your employees will have a great deal to do with their attitudes and dedication at work. Read Give Them More Than Just a Paycheck for ways to increase their commitment to their place of employment and the quality of their service to your customers/guests/members.
Bottom Line. None of the above is rocket science, but it does take a disciplined approach to your work. At the end of the day, discipline is probably the most important ingredient for any efforts to improve quality and service. As Jim Collins says in his groundbreaking book Good to Great,
“Much of the answer to the question of ‘good to great’ lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then seek continual improvement in these. It’s really just that simple.”
“A culture of discipline is not just about action. It is about getting disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who then take disciplined action.”
So as you go about making your plans to improve quality and service, remember it starts and ends with your management team. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also train your employees in the finer points of service and your expectations for them, but without the active involvement of management at all levels, it ain’t gonna happen!
* For those interested in Deming’s logic in approaching quality improvement, read Improve Quality – Lower Costs
Thanks and have a great day!
This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.
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