I was catching up on a missed year or two with an old safety friend via email the other day. He accounted that he had become a real "SixSigma" convert and conveyed how these new quality improvement tools had 'lifted" him out of his all too often boring "lockout/tagout" world. I could sense his elevated enthusiasm by the descriptive words he chose. "How's your safety program going?" I queried. "Oddly enough, it is doing better and better. I don't know why," he added. It was no mystery to me. I knew exactly why.
No. It didn't have anything to do with Six-Sigma implementation. It had everything to do with the process aspects that a program such as Six-Sigma embodies and the change in the economic environment.
My passion has always been aimed not at what works but why. Too often, we are seduced from one "fix" to another when we chase the elusive "what works" mantra. If we widen our focus and seek out why processes (programs) interface successfully (and unsuccessfully) given environmental/organizational dynamics, we strip the fad from the fact, get a whole lot smarter, allow ourselves to adjust our personal approaches, have greater impacts in our organizations and become much more successful.
The New Economy
Many currently hot business gurus have recognized a new business economy that hallmarks the increasing power of the customer (1-3). Often labeled as the "Customer-Economy," perhaps Chuck Roth and Roy Alexander detailed it best in their business best seller, Secrets of Closing Sales. Because their book is sales-oriented, I doubt if it got much reading in our safety and occupational health world. In their book, they went farther describing this new economy than other authors, even to the point of defining nine different types of customers and explaining the different approaches necessary to close the sale with each. But what is this new economy? Is it just something that business-types and sales people need to worry about?
In past economies, business only recognized "consumers." In brief, the business belief was, "if you build it, they will come," a near-Pavlovian consumer response to the availability of products and services. The driving business paradigm was that as the supply increased, the demand would follow. But then came increased choice followed by more features, better quality and then by price deflation. The business paradigm changed as a result. Demand was disassociated from supply. In supply's place sprang new dynamics such as product aesthetics and "coolness." To a lesser extent, price also played a role, but if the product or service was "ultra cool" or "super aesthetic," price became a secondary driver. During this business economic change, consumers changed to become customers. This change did not translate to a level of customer-reverence. It only stepped up to a level of customer-respect rather than consumer-disrespect.
In today's world, the Internet and a customer expectation of speed, both in acquisition and product development, have rewritten the business paradigm again. Together with the customer's increasing dependence on and demand for convenience and ease, the new business paradigm recognizes the true "power" of the customer. Today in the "Customer-Economy," businesses must develop a profound reverence for the customer if they are to succeed.
So what? Does this Customer-Economy impact us in our safety and occupational health programs? Why is this important to us? In reality, we deal with "customers" every day. We train or talk to employees. We work with engineers and contractors. We work through supervisors and front line management. More importantly, we try to sell our ideas and provide options to management. Are any of these not part of the Customer-Economy? Are any independent of the current customer expectations and behaviors? The answers are no. The inescapable conclusion is that anyone who wants to be successful in an organization, in their job, in safety, needs to understand how to be successful in this Customer-Economy. …