(Originally posted on LinkedIn)
Time and money. The drive to lower costs and outpace the competition is bigger than ever. No matter what industry you’re in, you feel it. Amazon is doing to retail what Henry Ford did to the buggy industry 120 years ago.
As business leaders, we’ve always prioritized time, financial performance, and quality, which many view as the three primary dimensions of business success. From time-to-market for new products to growth in revenues, businesses are measured by these fundamental results.
Time and money make you sharper; and they challenge us as leaders. Mastering them can make you stand out from the competition. As a leader, you’re out to grow your business and maximize the time spent doing so.
But those two dimensions can only do so much. What happens when prioritizing time and money comes at the expense of quality
When quality loses
One tragic answer to this question was the 1986 Challenger space shuttle crash. After a thorough inquiry, investigators blamed the disaster on the failure of an O-ring designed to prevent hot gas from leaking through a joint in the solid rocket booster.
Some of the people who worked on the project said they knew in advance about the O-ring quality issue. But there was pressure to meet the launch date and stay within budget, and critics have argued that NASA lacked a culture that would have encouraged engineers to stop the production process and fix the O-ring problem.
The NASA example shows that a culture of hierarchy can make people feel uncomfortable raising concerns. But if there is a problem, shouldn’t the culture foster an environment to solve it
People must feel like they have institutional support when they speak up about something wrong. In business, it’s imperative that companies develop and nurture a culture that encourages everyone to point out quality deficiencies.
The O-ring example shows that when you don’t have an environment that encourages personal accountability, you won’t promote enterprise-wide thinking. And the enterprise will suffer for it.
Too often, employees don’t speak up when they should or when they don’t feel there is a welcome environment for new ideas. There may be cultural or financial pressures. They may not want to jeopardize the results they’re being measured by, or they don’t want to slow down the team.
If you want to solve problems and achieve quality in your organization without sacrificing your financial responsibilities and your timelines, you needa culture where people feel empowered to speak up. Like the manufacturing industry of the twentieth century, where often a single factory worker could stop the assembly line, a culture must empower its employees to speak up and make sure a job is done right.
Going beyond your role
I recently sat down with my Chief Information Officer (CIO) to pose the question: what really determines quality
His response was enlightening. He used the example of a software engineer who develops an app, makes sure it meets the specs, and delivers it to the team. But he noted that while the process delivered the app, the engineer has a responsibility to stay involved. What if the app doesn’t generate any momentum What if hardly anyone uses it The engineer must embrace personal accountability, which is getting people to use it. It’s not just about whether the engineer delivered the app to specs, but whether people used it and it was successful.
That’s not only personal accountability; it’s also creating an optimistic environment where employees are challenged to go beyond the status quo and drive quality into the organization.
The real world
My industry, health care, is under intense pressure to reduce costs and deliver even faster access to physicians and other care providers. Making the most of time and money are important, but in health care, success will be determined by the health of our nation, not just our individual enterprises.
Quality in health care means better clinical outcomes and a better physician/patient experience. Our accountability is to the consumers, providers, and partners who use our systems, not to the systems themselves. By creating a culture of empowerment, aligned around the health of the individual, our industry can help build a healthier country.
As a leader, you play a big role in setting the tone for a culture that embraces quality. Time and money will always bring pressure, but that third dimension quality — is non-negotiable. Fostering personal accountability in your organization and promoting a culture that embraces quality and new ideas will benefit customers and create a more cohesive workforce unified around a common purpose. In the end, accountability won’t be an option. It will become a welcome obligation.