The Best There Is
“Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to the joy of workmanship.”
-From W. Edwards Deming’s “14 points” for manufacturing
Whatever happened to “the joy of workmanship”, much less the “right” to it? OK, maybe it’s just that the Gender Police have Tasered the “man” out of “workmanship”; however, if so, the “joy of work” is something quite different than the “joy of workmanship.” You can have fun working on Popsicle-stick houses, while workmanship is about skill and the satisfaction of creating something first-rate. Even if producing a great result was a trying and exhausting experience, you still have that great end-product, not so much justifying the means but casting a patina of excellence-joy on the entire undertaking. Said another way, You can have a great time making a lousy product but you can’t have a lousy time making a great product.
What got me thinking about quality was talking with Charles “Chuck” Holland of QualPro. I wrote recently about his first-rate book on quality, “Breakthrough Business Results with MVT” (with David Cochran) and then spoke with him and got him to reminisce about working with Deming.
Holland persuaded Deming to come to the South to do his seminars, and eventually the two became close business allies. Holland quotes Deming as often saying, “My aim is the transformation of the American style of management. Your aim, Chuck, ought to be to teach them the techniques and show them how to improve processes.” Holland says, “I used to tease Dr. Deming by telling him, I think I’m doing a better job making progess on my side.’”
That you could tease Deming might be a surprise to those who attended his seminars, for he was known for his gruff, blunt manner. My favorite of Holland’s recollections on that topic: “At the time I was bringing Deming to Tennessee, our Governor was Lamar Alexander, who had that politician’s eye for the limelight. He decided that he would give Deming an award at a press conference so the two would have their pictures on the news together. Well, the Governor started talking about what the Japanese had accomplished with quality, then really got into it, telling the audience that ‘Made in Tennessee’ was going to be a stamp of quality and become world famous. The Governor asked Deming to comment, and he declined. Alexander insisted and Deming finally took the microphone and said, ‘Governor, you mean well, but you don’t know what’s going on.’ Well, the Governor got his picture on the front page the next day, but with Deming’s finger poking him in the chest.”
Deming was also known for being hard on his audiences, at times giving them the old “there are no stupid questions,” then later responding to participant’s inquiry with “Now, THAT’S a stupid question.” And, on another occasion, cutting off a query with “That’s not a question, that’s a dissertation… NEXT!”
That was Deming, but so was the man who set Holland up in business, sending him 90 percent of his customers in the early days without asking for a cut, who worried about Holland’s back problems, and who gently chided him when he was wrong, shaking his head sadly and saying gently, “Charlie is still learning.”
When I asked Holland what Deming would think of America’s current car makers, he said with heat, “He’d say that they’d forgotten what they learned in the 80s, and gone right back to short-term thinking. They’re back to believing that they can get there with marketing and deals. People would rather pay 50 grand for a Japanese vehicle with the same materials and less labor than an American car at zero interest and 20 grand. American auto executives think the can get out of the problem with marketing, instead of hard work and quality.” Then he added a sentence that has been echoing around my head ever since: “You don’t get there by having suppliers out-cheap each other.”
No, the formula is profound in its simplicity: You become an industry leader by leading. And you get to that point by creating a product that every worker can look at and say, “I help build the best there is.” That’s the joy in workmanship, and getting there is the joy of leadership.
Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab. His latest book is “(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success” (John Wiley & Sons). Please write to him in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th ST, 15th Fl, New York, NY 10019, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
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