A winning equation Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Most CEOs and business owners continually strive to improve the quality of a business’s product or service in a variety of ways — from new equipment or technology to changes in management to employee incentives. But, quality does not come from superficial adjustments, says Louie Hendon, director of quality programs at Corporate College.

“There are two elements that must be in place if a business is to achieve quality in products or services: good leadership and good teamwork,” Hendon says. “And one goes hand in hand with the other.”

Smart Business spoke with Hendon about how business owners can achieve quality in their products or services by making some fundamental changes in their leadership style, making teamwork possible.

You say teamwork and leadership are prerequisites to quality. How does that work?

Teamwork is always a top-down approach. The leader needs to be part of the team and not just sitting alone issuing directives from an ivory tower. The CEO of Pillsbury, for example, always walks the shop floor and talks to the employees. He is truly a part of the team. It is important for every supervisor, even midlevel managers, to do this and not insulate themselves from what is happening in the team. This is not micro-managing but simply staying involved and encouraging people to think about teamwork and quality as part of their jobs. Having the leader be part of the team is a critical part to developing a team atmosphere.

At the same time, this kind of leader must also be willing to let go and allow leadership to emerge from a team. Leaders must be able to train their subordinates to take charge and own a project. Leaders need to ask themselves: If I left for a month, would the objectives still be met? The team members must be able to operate independently from the leader. A CEO who becomes a micromanager and does not encourage leadership abilities of individuals below him or her thwarts good teamwork.

Why is this kind of leadership important to creating a good team?

Because you want everyone talking the same language and working toward the same company goals — there should be no disconnect between upper management and staff. For example, if you wandered around your office right now and randomly picked an employee and asked him or her, ‘What is one goal for the company this fiscal year?’ would that employee know the answer? It is important that everyone does know the goals, and it is the responsibility of the leaders to make sure that everyone understands those goals and is on the same page.

Is this approach to quality possible for every company?

Most traditional companies operate under the idea of a strict hierarchy, with many levels of authority that are increasingly removed from the workers. Employees only hear the ‘quality talk’ from their CEO once a year, if ever. However, newer, smaller companies inherently use this leadership model because everyone — even the CEO — has to share the load.

It isn’t impossible for larger, more established companies to become connected with their employees and ‘walk the talk’ of teamwork. But the leadership does need to make an effort and, in most cases, it is a huge paradigm shift. This kind of leadership shift is a change businesses must undergo in order to survive in today’s global economy. Business owners are beginning to understand that quality initiatives are intricately tied to leadership attitude and many team-building exercises and leadership workshops have been created to fulfill this emerging paradigm shift.

Could you sum up the link between leadership/teamwork and quality?

This basic premise is the same no matter what type of company or industry you are in — service or manufacturing. Basically, it all boils down to good leadership, which is more than just telling people what to do. True leadership encourages teamwork by allowing employees to emerge as leaders and make decisions. When there is team-work, employees understand that they are important in the bigger scheme of the company and feel ownership. When there is a feeling of ownership, high quality of products and services emerge from that feeling.

LOUIE HENDON is the director of quality programs at Corporate College, which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Contact Corporate College at (216) 987-2917.