Fess up to quality problems

Jul 21, 2008

Steve Tomlinson was in shock. He always took great pride in the work output of his now 80-person environmental firm, Tomlinson Consultants. But the truth was, as they grew, their quality was getting worse and worse. He didn’t want to face up to it. He had a lot of personal problems to attend to that were hurting his involvement in the company. His wife had a nervous breakdown and was in a mental hospital. His three kids— while fantastic— had gotten used to Steve doing everything for them— and they each had many activities and needs that took him away from work. Meanwhile, back at the office, Tomlinson, over a period of several years, had slowly been parting with all of his project involvements and turning over the operations to his junior partners. And, while it all seemed to be going smashingly well on the surface, as is often the case, trouble was brewing. One day, Janet Tuckerman, Steve’s most senior person from the accounting/admin area of his firm, came to him with a letter they had just received. She said, “Read this.” When Steve did, he was shocked and angered. It was from an old and valued client that they had done a major risk analysis project for. And, the client was angry. There were so many problems with the report Tomlinson Consultants had sent them that it took a 10-page letter from their CEO to list them all. In various parts of the report, even the wrong client name was used! The whole thing was botched so badly it was incredible. And if the client wasn’t such a decent guy, they would’ve simply sued Tomlinson Consultants. The first thing Tomlinson did was read the letter alongside a copy of their report. He could immediately see that at least 90% of the comments were valid. He then tried to find Charles Stout, one of his key junior principals, who was the project manager on this job. He’d been with Tomlinson for a half-dozen years or more and came to the firm from two other larger consulting firms. At first attempt, Tomlinson couldn’t find Stout. So, instead of waiting, he immediately called the client. He told him that he was sorry for their shoddy job and would fix everything. He thanked the client for writing such a thorough review of their work and assured him they would make it all right. It was embarrassing and humiliating for Tomlinson to make the call. Stout should’ve known better than to put out a final report that was such garbage! When he finally got Stout in his office, he let him know about the letter, his call to the client, and the fact that Stout’s first priority was to fix the report. He also informed him that he would personally read the final report before it went back out to the client. Stout was upset with Tomlinson because he didn’t wait for him before calling the client. But the fact is, Tomlinson’s real concern, responsiveness, apology, and commitment to make it right are the reasons the relationship was saved. Not to mention, new quality control processes requiring a second set of eyes on all final work products were instituted. And, not long after, Charles Stout was sent on his way due to his unrepentant nature! Originally published 7/21/2008

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.