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It is management’s responsibility to establish the constancy of purpose necessary to know and then meet customers’ expectations – whether they are external or internal. Every manager and their respective teams (their direct reports) in your organization should be able to answer the following questions:

1. What do I (we) do? – What are the specific functions of my area of responsibility? What is each of my employee’s responsibilities? Are their incentives customer-oriented?
2. Who do I (we) do it for? – What are the specific flows of my process? What are the definitive customer/supplier relationships? Are the employees well versed on their part contributes to the whole?
3. How well do I (we) do it? – Are there metrics which reflect my performance as viewed by the customer? Does every function in my organization contribute directly to the needs of the customer? If not, why not?
4. How do I (we) know? – Are we tracking the valid indicators continuously and are we meeting routinely with our customers to discuss the issues and possible improvements?

Meeting customer expectations necessarily blurs the distinction between cost and quality because all levels of management are required to think in terms of their business process.

The blurred Q & A distinction is:

Q: How to I operate error free and efficiently?
A: Manage your operations so that your product is produced correctly the first time, necessarily eliminating (or re-assigning) staff and resources dedicated to the correction of the errors. By achieving quality, productivity, and efficiency, you will have simultaneously reduced cost.

Key to achieving this type of productive environment is a concept known as Irreversible Corrective Action (ICA).

Management cannot blame employees for errors; management cannot blame other departments for errors (finger pointing) as these methods have proven disastrous. Rigorous Root Cause Analysis (RCA) must be completed to determine the reason for an error or breakdown in the process. More importantly, the employees responsible for fixing the errors and breakdowns must be empowered to assist with the RCA (not blamed for fixing it slowly or incorrectly) and continuously hold their respective managers accountable to help them fix the prioritized problems.

Irreversible Corrective Action is both reactive and proactive. It is reactive in that traditional indicators illustrate a problem followed by a typical management response (generally, demanding rework be completed faster so customers’ needs are met or additional resources are assigned to the rework process). It becomes proactive when management is no longer content with managing in a reactive manner as described above. Instead, Management must consider new and creative means to ensure that the problem will not recur. In an environment of ICA, the following must be routine:

1. Management must definitively determine the cause of the problem through a thorough investigation of the root cause. What were the people, materials, methods, equipment, and environment involved? In other words, what was the process and culture?

2. After an accurate investigation of the problem (RCA), the appropriate team (managers and employees) must meet to identify permanent solutions and/or opportunities for continuous improvement. Depending on the root of the cause, this team may be cross-functional in nature. This team must decide on a definitive plan of action that will ensure that a recurrence is unlikely if not impossible. The team must ask and answer: What can we do to ensure, with a high degree of confidence, this problem will never happen again?

A solution may be as simple as counseling or retraining employees on job requirements and expectations, or as complicated implementing systems changes and/or implementation of advanced methods of statistical process control and continued RCA/ICA accompanied by weekly cross-functional meetings that employ rigorous analysis and strict deliverables. In either case, you cannot assume. A metric(s) must be in place (formal or informal) that will notify the appropriate individual(s) the problem has been or has not been resolved.

Creative leadership is essential for ICA. Managers cannot assume anything. Everybody throughout the organization must commit to solve problems in this manner. ICA is led by management, but implemented jointly by all respective parties. If implemented properly a transformation will occur and work will get done better, faster and cheaper, thereby ensuring customer expectations are met and probably exceeded.

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