Quality eLine Newsletter
March 2004
Vol. 6, No. 3

Six Sigma and More: 
Customers, numbers, and enthusiasm

by David R. Schwinn

A few years ago, a young fellow named Wayne Kelderhouse walked into my office. He had been studying landscape architecture and wanted to start a business designing and installing landscapes. I offered to help with my suggestions. About a year later, I asked Wayne how he was doing. Despite a very competitive industry and an economy in which consumers had little discretionary income, Wayne had established Bekwa Landscaping and wildly exceeded all his projections. I asked him the secret to his success. He replied,”Start with clients who like you and take care of them, know your numbers, and work your butt off.” Good advice, I think, but what he didn’t say explicitly is also worth sharing.

Take care of your clients. Well, that seems like an obvious thing to do but how often do you, as a customer, feel taken care of? More importantly, do you really know if your customers feel taken care of? It seems to me that a continually improving feedback system that works on “being taken care of” ought to be a part of every Six Sigma organization. Let’s move to what Wayne didn’t say explicitly.

Who are your clients? Who should they be? Wayne gave us a hint. Start with clients who like you (and whom you like). Some clients don’t pay. Some pay late. Some are in businesses we don’t really think reflect “right work.” We may suspect that some are conducting their activities unethically or illegally. In other words, we may be uncomfortable doing business with some of our clients. Maybe it’s time to find some replacements. I’d also like to expand the more obvious definition of clients to stakeholders. Take care of all your stakeholders. But if that doesn’t result in win-win relationships, it may be time to find replacements for them, too.

Know your numbers. I like Wayne’s language here. He doesn’t say manage your numbers. He doesn’t say manipulate your numbers. He doesn’t say report unearned sales to make your profits look good to your stockholders. He doesn’t say report artificial costs to drive down your taxes. He doesn’t say redefine manufacturing jobs to make unemployment numbers look better. I believe he is saying figure out which numbers matter, report them honestly, remember that “The most important numbers are unknown and unknowable,” and act to change the plan if the numbers aren’t what you expected.

Work your butt off. Of course. This admonition reminds me of an auto supplier I worked with several years ago. Frequently when I would go into the CEO’s office, he was playing Solitaire on his computer. Frequently when I would enter a staff support office, they seemed to be spending more time engaging in personal conversation than in doing the job. I let it go except to persistently make requests for assistance from these folks. I should have been more critical. They no longer supply the auto industry. So, if you want your employees to work their butts off, work your butt off. Don’t forget to give them the opportunity to contribute to something they think is important and larger than they are. Finally, watch to be sure your rewards and recognitions don’t serve as disincentives to the people who work for you.

If you want your Six Sigma effort to be successful, don’t forget what Wayne said, “Start with clients who like you and take care of them, know your numbers, and work your butt off.” And don’t forget what he didn’t say.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. I’m at support@ pqsystems.com.


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