Magazine article Personnel Journal

How Xerox Won the Baldrige

Magazine article Personnel Journal

How Xerox Won the Baldrige

Article excerpt


The company spent five years and more than $100 million training employees in the tools of quality.

By Shari Caudron

THE QUEST FOR QUALITY HAS BECOME an obsession in Corporate America. During the early 1980s it became the obsession of the Stamford, Connecticut-based Xerox Corp. after a dizzying drop in market share. Long the undisputed industry leader, Xerox went from an 18.5% share of the US photocopier market in 1979 to a 13% share in 1981 and eventually bottomed out at 10% in 1984. Besieged by aggressive Japanese and American firms, Xerox's reign as king of the copiers had ended.

Challenged by the gauntlet, Xerox, under the leadership of David Kearns, chairman and chief executive officer, developed Leadership Through Quality. which cost an estimated $125 million and 4 million work hours, swept through the company's 100,000-plus work force and every corner of operations, including management, training and communication.

Unlike many quality programs, this one worked. Customer satisfaction increased by 40% and complaints decreased by 60%. According to San Jose, California-based Dataquest Inc., Xerox now holds the top position in the low-end US copier market. The real proof of the program's success, however, is winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1989 (see sidebar).

Xerox began its corporate overhaul by having its top 25 senior executives throughout the world develop a quality policy. There are two basic aspects of the plan: 1) Customers must be satisfied: and 2) quality improvement is the job of every Xerox employee. "Our policy is that if the customer's satisfied, it isn't because he or she didn't get a bad product, it's because the bad product never got made," says James E. Sierk, vice president and head of Xerox's national quality office.

To reflect this in the company's Leadership Through Quality initiative, Xerox studied firms that are known for their regard for quality and implemented competitive benchmarking. The process is described in a company newsletter as "a tool to translate the natural interest in other's business practices into action in order to meet our customer requirements better."

As a result, L.L. Bean, the Maine-based catalog firm, became the benchmark for distribution. Federal Express Corp. became the model of billing efficiency. Cummins Engine Company Inc.'s near-perfect production schedule record became the new standard. Xerox, however, did more than just ask these organizations to reveal their records; it investigated how their records were achieved. This gave employees tangible goals to work toward as well as the methods by which to reach them.

The mechanisms used to implement the company's quality initiative included management role modeling, transition team support, new standards and measurements, rewards and recognition for quality achievement and employee communication. The executives identified training as the way to integrate this policy into the company.

This was no easy task for a company as big and diverse as Xerox. It took more than four years for the training to flow through the entire corporation.

Sam Malone, project manager in corporate communications, says: "Our mission was to train the equivalent population of the Rose Bowl stadium in the tools and techniques of quality. To compound the problem, imagine that the stadium's orange section spoke Dutch, the red section French, the blue section Spanish, the yellow section English and so forth. We also made the decision that members of row "A" would train row "B", row "B" would train row "C" and so on."

A six-month, company-wide orientation that explained to employees what leadership through qualiry meant, what each person's role was and why Xerox was undertaking such a massive campaign kicked off the quality training. Because Xerox is highly decentralized, the company realized that the quality effort had to follow strict corporate guidelines to be successful. …

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