Care Enough to Do Your Best

Jimmy L. Smith, Jim Smith Quality

The most basic element driving performance is people who care.

No matter your position or function at your company, have you asked yourself: what are the key elements that drive outstanding performance? Certainly, having good products and processes are among those important elements, but they are only two legs of a three-legged stool. Without that third leg, the stool will topple.

While I’m a strong believer that strong products and processes are key elements to success, it has been my experience that there is a deeper and more fundamental aspect that leads an organization to outstanding performance. Over time, I’ve come to believe that the core element—the third leg of the stool—is having people who truly care about what they are doing and the products or services for which they are responsible.

A Culture of Caring
Essentially, having people who truly care about what they are doing is just as important as good products and processes. History has recorded many examples of companies that had good products and processes, but whose employees didn’t care enough to do their very best. Their people just complied with the rules and procedures contained within their quality system, so ultimately, everyone—including the customers—suffered.

Over the years, I’ve visited many companies that only had a few elements documented in their quality system, yet had a caring culture throughout the organization. They consistently produced good products on time, every time, because their workers cared a lot about what they were doing. They understand the adverse impact of doing less than their best.

This can be best illustrated by the facility of a midsized manufacturer I was asked to visit for the purpose of evaluating their overall performance. It was apparent their workers were provided detailed assembly procedures and extensive inspection checklists to ensure quality was built into their products. The parent organization felt this extensive documentation was critical to building a good product.

However, the discovery was something different than expected. It was found that some of their best performers were those for whom English was not their primary language. Because of the language chal-lenges, it was apparent that some struggled to fully comprehend the written procedures and inspection checklists. However, they were often the better performers because they were attentive and cared deeply about the quality of the work they were asked to perform. The takeaway: rules, guidelines and procedure are important, but not as important as the desire to do a good job.

An Environment of Caring
Caring isn’t a new concept. The late quality guru, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, called it “pride in workmanship.” In one of his workshops I attended just before his passing, Deming asked managers, “Do you let your workers have pride in workmanship, or does your environment strip that inherent desire away from them?” Many companies still have difficulty creating and sustaining an environment in which people have “pride in workmanship” and people really care about what they are doing. For these companies, the culture is counterproductive and doomed to mediocrity.

The principal issue is the environment that allows and encourages people to care. This is a management responsibility that begins during the hire-in process. Certainly actual skills are important, as the person must be able to properly perform tasks associated with the job; however, hiring people who will care about the work being done and the products produced is more critical. If skills are lacking, people can be trained for those needed skills, but people who don’t care will likely never achieve the expected level. They are like the proverbial rotten apple which can spoil the barrel.

It’s not unusual for companies to hire a new person who seems to be a good fit, with seemingly great skills and a good attitude, only to discover later that they just don’t seem to care—even though they are working in a good environment and surrounded by people who do.

There’s little reason to be judgmental about the new person because, in all likelihood, that person does care about things in their life; they just don’t care enough about what they’re doing in the workplace. Companies shouldn’t have a hard time replacing these people because they will likely be much happier somewhere else—where they will care more about what they are doing. This is really doing the person a favor, as it gives them a chance to excel somewhere else.

A Foundation of Caring
Through the years, I’ve visited many organizations. In doing so, I’m not impressed by the number of plaques hanging on their walls. To find out how these organizations really feel about quality and cus-tomer service, I talk with their employees.

If their employees really do care about what they’re doing, it’s so tangible it can be felt and detected in many areas. There’s a foundation of caring that permeates the organization. On the other hand, if people don’t care, it really doesn’t matter what kind of products or system they have or how many plaques they have on their walls, as they will never achieve the level of performance needed for all to succeed.

Caring lays a solid foundation from which to build a good system for performance excellence. This foundation, however, must be built, nurtured and sustained from the very top. If a foundation of caring is not present, those at the top must work to change the culture, starting in the corner office. iBi

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