Tag Archives: core values

How Do You “Sell” Quality?

In his March 2012 question to the ASQ Influential Voices, CEO Paul Borawski presents a question that he deals with regularly – and that industry has been challenged with for several decades:

“How do I convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for–pick your ending–performance excellence, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?”

In other words, how can you “sell” the value of quality to an organization and its top executives?

My response: You can’t. Quality is a core value that must be appreciated for it to be cultivated.

This point was made very clear to me in Malta. I had the opportunity to visit the country, a tiny island south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, early this year. (Isn’t that a great picture I took up above??) Speed and efficiency are not some of this country’s values… you can expect to wait for a bus forever, if you’re that patient, and there are a glut of Australian imports trying to sell you boat tours whenever you walk down the street – even when they’ve seen you every day, multiple times a day, and you’ve made it clear to them you’re not a tourist and you don’t want to hop on a sightseeing boat.

However, product quality and value in Malta – especially among the small, independent retailers – are highly esteemed. You aren’t going to get a bad cappuccino, even though you’ll only pay a Euro or two for it (even in a gas station or convenience store). You’re unlikely to get a lunch that’s made from highly overprocessed, bulk ingredients, or that tastes anything less than blissful and homemade. And no one would expect any less… because their reputations are on the line, and they are proud of their products, and proud of the personal excellence that those products represent.

So a better question is… not how do you sell quality… but how do you stimulate the appreciation of quality? Note that this is far more a question of how to impact society on a broad scale than one of how do we implement this in our companies.

(Here’s another way of saying it: How do you get the average Wal-Mart shopper to appreciate quality instead of just rolled-back prices? How do you get people to accept paying more for higher quality products and services, rather than being psychologically recalibrated to think those lower quality things are actually reasonable quality? How do you get people to purchase for longevity in a global era of planned obsolescence and rapidly changing tastes? I’m not sure. I think this may be a particularly nefarious cultural dilemma, grown in America but with the staunch support of Chinese manufacturers, with the potential to culture us all into “pink slime” politics. And we may have to distance ourselves from the notion that profit and growth are what we’re after in order to break this cycle.)

If an appreciation for quality is not ingrained into you by your culture from an early age, perhaps it can still be learned. The first idea I had here was that if art appreciation can be taught in schools, maybe we can do the same for quality. But I’m not an expert in art, nor in appreciation (beyond what I myself appreciate), nor how to teach appreciation.

How can we promote and stimulate the appreciation of higher quality throughout our society?

Undercover Boss: Why Authenticity Needs Introspection

I don’t watch much TV, but last night I’m glad I turned it on. I watched Sheldon Yellon, the CEO of property restoration company Belfor, teach me an important and subtle detail about how to achieve authenticity – not just in the workplace, but probably in life as well.

In case you didn’t watch the show, here’s a synopsis: extremely wealthy CEO with giant house, private planes, and hundreds of pairs of shoes goes to work on the front lines at his property restoration company, where the dirty work is no longer done for him. He uses power tools, cleans smoke damage, attempts to hang a drywall ceiling, pulls a dead rodent out of a wall, and shimmies on his belly underneath a house in its tiny (1′ clearance) crawlspace to check for water and insulation damage. He struggles, gets emotional, gets frustrated, and snaps at some of the employees. He just can’t do the tough jobs all of his employees are doing every day, and faced with his utter failure as a manual laborer, has an epiphany or two about how to treat them better.

The show was moving. Yellen definitely seemed to be transformed by the experience – showing emotions is risky, especially for a CEO on TV. But as you might expect, blogs have been lighting up with criticisms of Yellen’s responses to his week-long experience. For example, at Zap2It.com, someone points out that he only rectified a handful of employees’ concerns – he was just out in the field for a week. What about the concerns of the other thousands of employees? He handed out over $15K to each of the employees who appeared on the show, but what about everyone else who didn’t win this “surprise lottery”? Also, his decision at the end to institute town hall style meetings was not received well by the blog commenters. It’s a nice step, they admit, but would tend towards complacency over time – and if you’ve ever been at a company that did this, you’d probably agree.

Despite all the questions, I couldn’t help but observe how authentic Sheldon appeared to be in his interactions with the employees, and in his genuine concern that prompted the multi-thousand dollar handouts. Is he really feeling inspired and transformed, I wondered, or is he just faking it? Did the TV network give him a script that he needed to follow to make sure ratings would be high? (It *is* a sweeps month, I’m pretty sure.)

I concluded that he was really being authentic, and here’s the tipping point: he spent a lot of time on the show reflecting about his past, and his core values, and his current actions and beliefs. He recognized that his actions weren’t lined up with his core values – he was making decisions like instituting a wage freeze to help keep people employed, but without the personal contact (and without the employees being involved in these decisions) no one could see that the effort was in place to prevent layoffs.

He struggled to find ways to bring his behavior back into alignment with his values, and then (by the end of the show) he implemented some tangible changes.  This made me realize just how critical the processes of introspection and reflection are for achieving authenticity. Without examining how you’ve failed to live up to your own values in the past, you can’t fully get real with yourself – and figure out how to act authentically!

Find out more about Belfor here: https://www.belfor.com/en/us