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The Drive to Compete on Quality

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When I talk to contractors in the metal construction industry, I always ask, "How do you compete against your quality competition?" I find it's a good way to get them to articulate the best aspects of their companies, rather than just the mundane.

Still, I often hear responses, such as, "We have great attention to detail." Or "We put the customer first." Those are great platitudes and important accomplishments, but they say nothing about how you accomplish those tasks. And it is in process where performance falls short of expectation. And for companies who want to compete based on the quality of their work, their inability to articulate how they deliver quality means their customers won't believe them. Why does this matter? Because have become inured to messages of quality. Everybody talks about it, but nobody delivers it.

A decade ago, Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck wrote a great book called, "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done." At its publishing in June 2002, it received tremendous attention, and I had the privilege of hearing Charan speak a couple of times about how important executing tasks was to successful companies and how successful companies made sure that proper execution happened.

You should know that I'm a process kind of guy. I like a regular system that can produce a reliable result and will push hard to make sure that happens. In the editorial field, this is a common occurrence thing, because we have well-proven systems of writing, editing, designing and proofing with specific requirements at every step of the way. In construction, there are a lot more variables, and building reliable systems to execute a project with true attention to detail requires much greater effort. Still, it's necessary.

If a company wants to compete on quality, especially if it's in a field with low-priced alternatives, it has to be able to both execute quality and articulate how its execution of quality is different from quality competitors.

There is one, initial step to executing quality that I often see standing in the way of success. Many companies just don't have a sense of urgency. The cultures within those companies are not driven by the necessary and almost genetic need to execute quickly. Sure, deadlines can help drive a process, but a sense of urgency puts real push behind projects and tasks.

Does your staff push for change and improvement? Are they restless? Does your management team grow frustrated with the slowness of the work pace?

I recently spoke to an exhibitor at a trade show and asked, "What's new with your product?" He explained that his product was essentially the same as it had been when he introduced it 30 years ago. Somehow, the advances in building technology, changing demands of designers and building owners and improvements in construction processes had evaded him. His company did not have the sense of urgency that is imperative to success in today's market.

In today's market of greater competition and tighter margins, a sense of urgency is essential to precise execution. And execution is essential to delivering quality. And delivering quality is essential to success. And, finally, an ability to prove quality is essential to gaining market share.

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