Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the homebuilding industry as well as construction engineer, site manager and in training, auditing and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental and safety management awards for clients.

Denis is co-author of 'The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence'.

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How consistent is your business?

November 09, 2011

When was the last time you did some walk arounds in your business, asked your customer service or construction teams some basic questions, spoke to some of your customers face to face? This simple approach can really give you down to earth insights into your business, allowing you to see how it functions on a daily basis, from your customers perspective.

I have found over the years that by asking the same question to three different people in the same department results in three completely different answers! For example if you get a no to a warranty question, then call back and ask a different person they might say yes. This is all about procedures, training and of course consistency. There can often also be the approach of ‘well that’s what I was told to do’ or ‘that how we do it here syndrome’ or ‘well that’s policy’ or ‘well that’s a different department from us so we can’t do anything’ which persists even if what they are doing doesn’t make sense.

Take the rental company that was replacing dishwashers of the same type and model in two apartment buildings. In one apartment the appliances were all black in the other all white. The order forms stated that the black dishwasher was to be installed in the apartment with the white appliances and visa-versa. The residents in each of the rental apartments were home when the new dishwashers were installed and each commented that surely this was the wrong dishwasher. No they were assured this was for the correct unit for this apartment. Indeed the installer called to explain to the main office and was reassured that this was correct. So they were installed and everyone went on with their business. The renters thought it was stupid, but they didn’t own the apartments so really why should they care?  Of course next time the apartment is to be rented, don’t you think that the dishwasher will stand out and look strange?

We need to constantly cultivate a culture that encourages everyone to make improvements wherever they can, that people are alert to issues that just don’t make sense. Processes are used to ensure that our work is effective and efficient. To achieve this they need to be improved and changed whenever necessary, otherwise we end up following procedures or policies that don’t make sense in a robotic manner.

Why don’t you ask some questions today, in fact try asking the same question to three different people. Remember, while each of these issues are by themselves small, how many times and places do they occur throughout your business each day and how many more significant problems are also happening on a daily basis? If these things are happening and you didn’t know about them, how many other things are going on that you don’t know about? Just how consistent is the rest of your business?

Ask if there are any ‘stories’ about your company, those stories that everyone talks about and laughs about or roll their eyes about. How much is this costing your bottom-line in multiple call outs, installation of the wrong equipment and customer frustration. 

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