Most small businesses achieve success not because they bring a truly innovative idea to market, but rather because they dazzle customers with excellent service. Yet a focus on superior execution—that is, on quality—is easier said than done. To be successful project to project over a period of years, a company has to develop habits that instill a passion for quality in all corners of the organizations. Here are five habits of organizations that focus on quality. Would you say that your business has developed them?
1. They set clear expectations.
To achieve quality, you have to define it, and you have to make sure that definition is disseminated throughout the rank and file. "It's the job of any business owner to be clear about the company's nonnegotiable core values," says restaurateur Danny Meyer. "They're the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly flowing stream. Riverbanks need not hinder creativity, and in fact I leave plenty of room between the riverbanks for individual expression and personal style."
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2. They collect and analyze data.
Collecting data is more common than ever, particularly with the advent of Web analytics. But companies that focus on quality have long stood out thanks to their passion for data. Moreover, the metrics they track go above and beyond either web or financial information. For example, Inc.'s John Case wrote a profile of Granite Rock, a phenomenally successful quarry (yes, quarry) in 1992. Customer surveys played a major role in the company's governing philosophy, with information collected at all kinds of intervals, and results shared widely among the quarry's 400 workers. "The role of managers," Granite Rock CEO Bruce Woolpert told Case, "is to make sure there's a flood of information coming into the company." Would you say that this was true in your business?
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3. They invest in capacity.
An organization stretched thin on resources will never be able to overdeliver, and quality depends somewhat on the ability of a company to exceed expectations. For that reason, "we create infrastructure in anticipation of revenue," says Dawson Rutter, president of Commonwealth Worldwide, a Boston-based limousine company known for exceptional service. "That ensures service delivery will be impeccable 100 percent of the time. We can always handle 105 percent of our absolute busiest day. Is that a more expensive way of doing it? You bet. But the fact is we don't lose customers, which means we can afford to pay that premium."
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4. They promote from within.
Hiring can be a crapshoot, even with the most formidable screening systems in place. So companies with a focus on quality know that one of the keys to success is to develop talent from within. Begin by looking for current employees who possess the characteristics of your best performers, and create mentoring relationships and employee training programs to bring them along. Recruiting employees from within has the added benefit that they will already understand your company's products and services. And promoting from within tends to help you reduce your overall turnover rate, which will in turn help you achieve ever higher standards of execution.
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5. They celebrate victories.
When you survey your customers on the quality of service, make sure that everyone, from the top down, knows of the results and receives recognition for the things that are going well. Behavioral research has shown that you get more of the behavior you reward. So don't make the mistake that many quality-minded managers make, which is harping on only the areas of poor performance; make sure you highlight those employees and teams who are doing exceptionally well, and involve all employees in brainstorming ways to improve the things that are unsatisfactory.
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