Quality Controls: Keep it Light

For many managers, there is a natural tendency to address operational errors with tight controls around the specific process that has experienced a problem. This is especially true in cases where a mistake has a high amount of visibility in the organization and there is pressure from the top to take definitive action and ensure it never happens again.

This seems necessary at the time it is administered, but continuously adding controls is quite damaging over time. Since controls are applied to processes across all individuals who perform them, every control you implement reduces the productivity of individuals who would otherwise perform the task correctly. The penalty of adding a control to those who don’t need it is greater than the gain of a new control correcting the behavior of those who occasionally mess up.

When a mistake is made it is most often a people problem, not a process problem. Think about operational execution this way: if we all made the right decision every time, there would be no need for controls. No operational manuals, QC logs, checkpoints, or mile-long approval chains. Multiple layers of middle management could be reduced. Productivity levels would be mind-blowing.

It is true that the human race is far from perfect. We are, however, always becoming more perfect. Think of your workforce in these terms: instead of adding controls to catch and correct imperfect behavior, hire and develop people who continuously improve in their decision making. Free up their time by looking for ways to remove controls, only using them where valuable measurements are collected. If a process is control-heavy and it doesn’t appear possible to remove them, figure out a way to eliminate the process altogether.

By keeping controls light-weight, you place the focus on the real problem: a person, not a process. This keeps you productive and solves the problem more effectively. Being light-weight allows your people to develop more quickly into star performers, able to resolve problems on their own and to add value in ways you couldn’t possibly control for.

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