Friday, January 23, 2009


One morning, during the mid-nineties I received a phone call from my boss.

“T.T.,” he said, “Come to my office right away. I need to speak to you about a very special assignment.”

I strode over to his office. Through a cracked vertical blind I could see him practicing his golf swing. I knocked on the door and heard him call out. “Come in.”

When I was uncomfortably seated in the visitor’s chair my boss began, “I’ve been reading this book.”

My eyebrows shot up at this news. I had never seen my boss read anything and had for years suspected he couldn’t read at all.

“It’s excellent. The author’s brilliant and I want you to implement this approach here. It’s called TQM and everyone’s doing it. It’s the cutting edge and we don’t want to be left behind you know. This is going to revolutionize our office.”

My heart sank. I had heard about TQM. My feeling was the acronym stood for Terrible Quandary en Masse, but I nodded in silent agreement since he was just getting warmed up.

“It’s been proven to work across all industries,” he enthused. “You’re just the man to make it happen. We’re going to do everything right the first time and then you’re going to create a measuring system that will constitute the critical indicators. It will be a sort of dashboard so we can seamlessly analyze all the data and report out the areas of opportunity.”

“By areas of opportunity you mean mistakes or errors, don’t you?” I asked.

“Well yes of course,” he replied, “But we don’t use those terms. We call them opportunities for improvement or areas of development.”

“But if we do everything right the first time, doesn’t this mean that there won’t be any um…opportunities for improvement?” I countered.

“Well, yes. I mean no. I mean, well you know what I mean. I mean of course nothing’s ever perfect. There’s always room for improvement. That’s what we’re all about here, developing our resources.”

“But you just said the focus is to do everything right the first time.”

“Yes,” he replied, “According to the book that avoids rework.”

“Well then, creating the dashboard will actually be rework in a way, because it will be a process to look for errors where there aren’t any since we did everything right the first time.”

“How many times do I have to repeat myself T.T.? The word is not errors, the word is opportunities. Anyway, I guess when you put it that way, you’re sort of right. Just do me a favor and go out and tell everyone to do things right the first time. While you’re at it remind everyone about my Open Door Policy. The book mentions that it’s very important to keep communication flowing in all directions. It’s kind of a detail in this whole TQM thing. Or maybe that’s another management book, the one with the walking around thing. I get them mixed up sometimes. Anyway, just remind them will you.”

“Sure thing boss,” I said and picked up the nine hundred-page tome he had thrust at me when the conversation began. “Do you mind if I look at this?”

“Go ahead. Read it and bring it back. It’s an excellent book you know. It’s going to change everything.” He buried his nose in a pile of papers, indicating that the meeting was over.

“Thanks,” I replied.

As I was leaving he called out, “T.T., aren’t you forgetting something.”

“Of course I am,” I said and dutifully closed his office door. As I closed it I saw him practicing his putting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Boy, you nailed it.