Customers have zero tolerance these days for any kind of error. Ever since the publication of Philip B. Crosby’s book Quality Is Free, organisations have realised that errors in any part of a business are extremely expensive. Crosby estimated that the cost of quality was 25% of revenue! This caught on to the extent that companies are almost totally intolerant of any form of poor quality.
“Zero defects” is every organisation’s ideal. But since zero defects are realistically impossible, it has led to the current fad known as “Six Sigma”. This means that Six Sigma organisations are not satisfied unless error rates one in a million or less. While no one would argue with such a goal, the problem is how to get from where you are to there.
Kick or hug?
Technically, there are only two ways to get there. One is with positive reinforcement, and the other is negative reinforcement. In other words, we can demand improvement (negative reinforcement), or we can do things to inspire people to be excited about making improvements.
The most common way is to demand improvement and to fire, discipline or reprimand people when they make an error. The problem with this approach is that contrary to common belief, it is the slow and costly way to get improvement. Negative reinforcement gives managers the illusion of control, not real control.
The fastest way to improve your situation seems the slowest. That is, you should identify the behaviours that create high-quality or error-free output, develop a way to measure and monitor them, and then provide positive reinforcement for improvement. You should not measure errors, but instead track desirable behaviour like listing “shipments without an error”.
Remember, you want to measure what you want people to do. This differs from what is commonly done, which is to measure errors. Create a graph so that you have increasing numbers, not decreasing ones. Place the graph in an area that people frequent every day. Try to track results daily if possible.
Once you have determined the behaviours and results you want, you need to develop a plan to positively reinforce the behaviours when you see them and celebrate sub-goals along the way. Set small goals in the beginning so that improvement is easy. This will allow people to receive the positive reinforcement that will create energy and excitement about improvement. Remember, the more you positively reinforce, the faster the improvement.
Think of positive reinforcement as any interaction with your employees that communicates that you like, appreciate or value what they are doing. When you reach a sub-goal, spend some time letting people tell you what they did to make the improvement. And finally, be patient with the small improvements. If you are, you will make more, and better, progress than you believed possible.