The Enemy of Innovation is Quality

Layoffs and customer losses are two events that typically garner the same response from the recently departed. Laid off workers think, “I was doing such a good job. They love me. They just told me that in my last review.” Fired suppliers say, “But we’re doing such a good job. You love us. You just said so at lunch three weeks ago.”

The tragic thing is that these are not misperceptions. These poor folks did do a good job and they are loved. So what happened?

The problem is that employees and suppliers tend to self-assess their value based on quality levels. In other words, the number of times out of 100 the output was delivered correctly. If the target quality level is met or exceeded consistently then there tends to be a false sense of security about value. The truth is, your quality can be 100% every day and your value can be low. It can even be zero.

Get this: it can be negative.

When you produce high quality and low or negative value, it means you are really good at something useless. It is the same as being great at flipping creamers with your index finger. We all do it when we’re bored, and some people can flip a creamer 100 consecutive times without missing. But no one is getting paid to do it.

All processes, services and products have a finite timeline. 100% quality will not save any job or contract where the output is no longer as productive and cost efficient as other options available in the market place. Once there is a better way to produce your output or to eliminate the need for your output, your job or service becomes the equivalent of flipping creamers.

Think automation, shared services and Lean Manufacturing. Think disruptive change.

Terminated staffers and suppliers aren’t being let go because they are messing up, and they are not going to be replaced by others who are going to produce the same output. They’re being replaced by systems and processes that produce far superior outputs – outputs that achieve more with less. Outputs that provide a greater competitive advantage.

The antidote to becoming a creamer flipper is to continuously improve value, not quality. Your rule of thumb is:

Once you’ve exceeded your quality target for two straight reporting periods, it is time to change your process and/or output.

This cannot be simpler: if you’ve exceeded your quality targets consistently, your process & output are mature and stable. It is now time to improve them proactively because there are external forces that are building something that will replace you, so you have to be the one who does it first. During your monthly / quarterly reviews with your boss or customer, do not proudly tout your fifth straight year of six-sigma level quality. Instead, openly discuss your ideas and plans for disruptive change. The first thing that will happen is that they will tell you the company’s plans for innovation in your area, and the second thing they’ll do is let you be a part of it.

There will still be plenty of creamer flipping, just not by you.

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