Over lunch, a friend showed me a photo of their new corporate business cards the made in-house. He works at a design company, so they make cards all the time, but this time it was special. These particular ones were for an owners, and he received a full box of cards that read ‘Business Manger’. A typo – from a design company – to one of the owners. Things got messy.

He had to laugh. Not because it was truly funny, but more of a pathetic ‘we’re idiots’ kind of funny. My friend was in sales, so he didn’t take part in the error, but he had the same sense of disappointment.

“I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” He went on further, “In the past months we’ve had massive ad banners produced at the wrong dimensions, desktop calendars built so poor they wouldn’t stand up, and an owner now manger.”

I admit I laughed at that. But it reminded me of a story of a major company that suffered the same way. I might catch flack for not remembering the name. It was an Asian electronic manufacturer many years ago (like decades ago) that was well known for poor quality. One day the president pulled everyone into the courtyard. There, he made everyone smash their products into bits and burned it all. A dramatic display to burn your work and it had people crying on the ground.
“We have the talent.” He continued. “Heck, we made award-winning material. Somehow the quality is gone. The one fallback we always had was our commitment, and now it’s sinking.”

Cleary he can’t burn his work in a statement and start over, but I started thinking how companies become this way, and how you get the passion back. Losing control over quality in a competent company means it’s not a matter of whether or not people can do a good job, it’s whether they care enough to. You have to understand that it’s not about improving quality anymore; it’s about motivation and commitment. Quality was just a symptom of a deeper problem.

We sat there and started talking through some of the systemic problems their company faced, and what we thought could help make things better. The items below were what we saw as more ‘root’ causes of their problems.

Accountability – “It’s someone else’s job.”

This kinda bothers me, but I get it. Everyone is responsible for the company’s success, but if people don’t pull their weight, eventually you get tired of picking up everyone’s slack.

The solution is transparency and accountability, and it has to start at the top. Great companies I’ve seen will work with struggling people, help them see where the problem is, and build a path to success. If that person can’t right his ship, well, I’m sorry, at some point you have to let people go.

If you can’t hold people accountable for bad work, you pollute everyone with a dwindling sense of responsibility. If you see other employees under-performing, you might not let your quality drop, but you stop looking after everyone’s work and start becoming a ‘head down’ employee. You get up everyday, do a good job at your desk, and put up blinders to everything else. This doesn’t build strong companies.

Recognition – “Do my efforts matter?”

I believe that many people start out wanting to be excellent. There is this desire to do a great job, and even do more then required, but this passion has shelf life.

After so long of extra hours and extra effort with no recognition, many people lose that desire to go the extra mile. Of course people shouldn’t work hard for recognition, but we’re human and emotional, so how we appear to others is important. Build programs that allow for peer recognition, rewards for extra effort, and take the time to sit down with people and tell them they’re doing good work. It matters. Trust me.

You want to build a culture where people are willing to put in a little extra. I believe that innovation and excellence come from going beyond what is expected. You can’t put in a job description ‘be innovative’, but you can build an environment that compels people to be outstanding.

Motivation – “Why should I put in any extra effort?”

Because it’s your job of course! It can be rather aggravating when people need external motivation, particularly when it comes to doing their job. The problem is that without a clearly visible goal or something to achieve, everyday starts looking the same.

Motivation comes in a variety of flavours, too many to mention here, but you need to figure out what works for your people. Team rewards are fantastic. Build production goals that everyone needs to collaborate to achieve, and reward everyone. Sometimes people need individual goals to aim for like a promotion, performance reward or new responsibilities.

Creating a motivating environment can be one of the biggest challenges, but if you stop at ‘I’m paying you, so do just do it’, you’re walking a tightrope. Visible, measurable and attainable goals help people stay focused on producing the quality work you need them to.

About the author: Sean Kopen


With a unique, story-based approach to writing, Sean Kopen is an experienced content marketing specialist and instructional designer. Review some of his personal stories and perspectives at his website

This article was first published by Sean Kopen

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