American mathematician, philosopher and firebrand, W. Edwards Deming, taught Japanese manufacturers the meaning of quality and efficiency. His death last December is occasion for tire dealers to reflect on his beliefs, asking themselves if they're progressing, or simply ``doing business as usual.'' In my last column (Jan. 24 TIRE BUSINESS), I recalled attending a Deming seminar several years ago. This 90-year-old awed us with his legendary energy and conviction that sustained his goal to get businessmen back on track.
Several key points from Mr. Deming's presentation stand out as food for thought for tire dealership owners and managers. First, he repeatedly urged the boss to try thinking for himself, seeking his own solutions. The self-deprecating Mr. Deming, himself a widely sought consultant, teased us that hiring consultants may be counterproductive because they often know so little about our businesses and industry.
What's more, some bosses only need to look out to the shop floor or question their workers to learn what ails production efficiency or the quality of service.
Mr. Deming insisted that few bosses had the initiative or backbone to take a hard look at their own operation or swallow their pride and quiz workers about improving productivity and quality.
However, both large organizations and individuals naturally resist honest, thorough self-appraisal. Sometimes, a third party such as a consultant is the only one in a position to recognize obvious problems such as a chaotic shop layout and work-flow pattern and/or outdated equipment.
Second, Mr. Deming underscored the personal and professional value of the common worker. No starry-eyed romantic, he cited decades of practical experience working with businesses here and abroad that convinced him-and managers perceptive enough to listen-that the average Joe wants to do a good job.
But historically, few managers recognized and capitalized upon workers' knowledge and pride. If anything, managers often thwarted and stifled workers' intentions through overmanagement.
This created an ironic situation where workers have solutions but management has the authority to effect those solutions. Nothing is solved and the business doesn't progress because bosses just aren't listening, Mr. Deming said.
Where some critics charge that innovation and resourcefulness are fading from the American workplace, Mr. Deming countered that those virtues are present, but ignorant managers fail to recognize and cultivate them.
His gutsy remarks hit home. My work as a reporter, equipment salesman and trainer has taken me into countless service shops. Too often, I've found the boss was the last to see or admit what the staff already knew: New equipment, extra bays and/or additional training were sorely needed!
Far too often, I heard smartmouthed bosses verbally trash the people who make his business tick, creating a counterproductive me-vs.-them atmosphere.
Think long term
Other business sins Mr. Deming discussed struck nerves. For example, he attacked bosses who lacked a ``constancy of purpose.'' These people have shaky long-term plans-or no long-range plans-because they aren't genuinely committed to a market or industry. This breeds a pervasive insecurity and discontent that hampers productivity and quality of service. This reminded me of ``wannabes'' who can't decide if they really want to be in the auto repair business.
Mr. Deming also blasted executives for their obsession with short-term profits, which consistently undermine quality and productivity. I immediately thought of shop owners I've met who rely on cheap, unskilled labor and bargain-basement replacement parts to ensure that their shops turn quick profits. Typically, these businesses are known for high employee turnover. The comebacks they create besmirch the entire industry's reputation.
Finally, Mr. Deming advised bosses to maintain a healthy respect for figures that are vital but may be nearly unknowable. One example is the real cost to the business of a salesman who oversells but underdelivers. Another is the multiplier effect of happy customers who generate word-of-mouth referrals to your store.
Reading Mr. Deming's work is worthwhile because it prompts us to re-evaluate how we do what we do. Plus, case history backs up the validity of his ideas.
Finally, it reminds us that large and small businesses share more problems and solutions than we realize.