The Quality Revolution

A case of Motorola:
Motorola, a global electronics company with record sales of $17 billion in 1993, had also posted a particularly good year in 1979 as measured by profits and sales. At a meeting of its senior management, however, Arthur Sundry, senior sales manager for the Communications Sector stood up and said, ‘our quality stinks and we ought to do something about it’. Such a statement would signal the end of career at many companies but, at Motorola, the company found upon culture of innovation, employees are encouraged to speak their minds. The CEO Robert Galvin, son of Motorola founder Paul Galvin, took Sundry’s words to heart, particularly considering that they were coming from the National Sales Manager of Motorola’s largest, fastest growing and most profitable product line. According to Galvin, managers looked at each other and said, ‘If Arthur thinks that’s true, it must be true We’d better do something about it’.

So we had a very personal, a very emotional buy-in, almost on an instantaneous basis, which got us started recalled Galvin. Finding the apt hot quality was neither easy nor smooth. We muddled and stumbled for a good period of time, he reported. Managers reached out and listened to anyone inside or outside the company with ideas and Galvin implemented a top-to-bottom review of Motorola quality.

The review indicated that Motorola’s products generally enjoyed a superior rating for long term reliability, but any new products frequently failed during their first three to nine months of service. The failure of new products damaged Motorola’s quality reputation. In addition, the internal company review located problems in manufacturing and product delivery.

In response to such problems, Motorola management began a series of continuous improvement initiatives in 1981 with a goal of increasing quality and customer satisfaction ten fold within five years. Many employees thought that the goal was unattainable.

Motorola management determined that the key to achieving total customers satisfaction lay in empowering employees with the authority and responsibility to improve manufacturing processes throughout he company. Before Motorola could empower its employees, however, the company needed to give its workers the tools to improve quality. We went to the intellectual experts, the people in academia and learned a great deal from them recalled Gavin. We brought in consultants talked to our customers. We began a process of reaching out to learn from every source we could. Finally we engaged in a very formal training to teach ourselves all manner of the new ways and means. Teams of trained and empowered employees would lead to higher quality.

A $10 million, 88,000 square foot training center, dubbed Motorola University became the cornerstone of an intensive employee education program. The company reorganized its traditional training and education unit into a worldwide facility with its own board of directors. Management set target levels of education and skills for every job description in the organization. Motorola believed that it could reach its product quality goals only by consistently improving employee education. The university became the nerve center for constant reeducation and retooling of the workforce.

By the mid 1980s every department was required to devote 1.5 percent of its budget to education and employees had to take a minimum of 40 hours of training each year. Overall the Schaumberg Illinois, electronics giant was spending $70 million a year on training, with 40 percent targeted at quality instruction. Motorola did not limit its training programs to rank and file workers, the company’s top 1,200 executives were compelled to attend two weeks of training each year.

Quality improvement programs often fail without deep top-management commitment. According to George Fisher, Motorola CEO from 1988 to 1993, we learned the hard way that unless you start at the top with your training programs you have a phenomenon where people are going back to their jobs after taking a course, they want to implement some new process or procedure and they’re all enthusiastic to do it, and lo and behold, they go in and talk to their boss and he doesn’t know what they’re talking about. With Galvin spending more than 50 percent of his time on quality issues, this problem was not an issue at Motorola.