Always Meeting or Exceeding the Customer’s Expectation for Quality
In the post that started this conversation I mentioned John Adler, the one-time CEO of Adaptec. There is a great anecdote about John Adler and quality that I’d like to share.
Adaptec was a public company. As such, it’s quarterly earnings were subject to scrutiny by “the markets”. Near the end of one quarter in the early 1990’s, an executive VP by the name of Paul Matteucci had a problem. Paul’s business unit was behind schedule in the development of a new product, and that delay was going to cause the business unit to miss its revenue projects for the quarter. Bad news if you are a public company.
So, Paul went to the CEO, John Adler, to talk about the delay and its financial impact on the company. As Paul told the story, at the end of the meeting he stood up to leave John’s office. As he was doing so John stopped him and said, “By the way, Paul, if you ever knowingly ship a product that doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations, I’ll fire you that same day.”
Hmm. At first blush that seems like any “big-CEO” kind of threat. But, let’s look deeper. John isn’t telling Paul that he’s upset about the financial shortfall. John is telling Paul that he cares deeply about quality. And, in a more nuanced way, he’s defining what quality means: quality is “meeting the customer’s expectation”.
This exchange became part of Adaptec’s company lore. John was charismatic. Both John and Paul were well respected. The story was repeated, and repeated again, and repeated again. If given a choice between “making the numbers for the quarter” and “meeting the customer’s expectation for quality”, which way do you think employees were trained to decide? For quality, of course.
Who is the Customer?
In short, the customer is anyone for whom you have set an expectation of quality. Does this sound a little like making and meeting commitments? If so, it should.
The anecdote above is obviously talking about external customers, the kind who buy your products and allow you to pay your bills. But, I believe that the best way to apply this value is towards any deliverable, be it product, service, task, or otherwise, for which a commitment has been made.
What is Quality?
Quality is a difficult term because it can mean so many different things to different people. So, let’s go back to John Adler’s original phrase: “meet the customer’s expectations.”
- If you are a company that sells “premium” products, then your customers have a “premium” expectation.
- If you sell medical equipment, your customers reasonably expect that your products won’t harm them.
- If your product specifications say your product is faster and more reliable than the competition, then, well, it had better be faster and more reliable than the competition.
- If you are delivering a market analysis to your coworkers about a new opportunity then you should put in the effort to understand the market realistically and accurately.
- If you agreed to buy bagels for the office on Friday, then you should make sure you know what kind of bagels and cream cheese your coworkers like and make sure you show up with the goods on Friday!
The short answer is that you ultimately set the expectation in the mind of the customer, whether that be an external (i.e., paying) customer, a coworker, a vendor, a manager, and employee, a shareholder, or some other stakeholder.
Tying the Values Together
- Open and Honest Communication
- Making and Meeting Commitments
- Always Meeting or Exceeding the Customer’s Expectation for Quality
Along the way I’ve pointed out where these three values tie together. One could adopt values like these in isolation, but I believe there is a value in showing how the values work together. Doing so helps to reinforce the values in each employee’s mind and establishes a more comprehensive framework for decision making.
By the way, did you notice something about these values? There is no value that says, “our goal is to make X dollars this quarter.” I’ve come to believe that revenue growth and profit are symptoms of doing everything else right, and these values help to establish how to get there.