What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.
-Michael Dell, giving advice to Steve Jobs when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.
There is a temptation to race to the bottom. To think in terms of ‘what’s the cheapest way to do this,’ or ‘how can I shave off dollars and still deliver this thing. It always exists. And some optimizations are necessary, even helpful. Inasmuch as it doesn’t impact quality, we want to be frugal.
Some real world temptations I’ve faced:
- I’ve hired a cheaper voice talent for the video, rather than the one who does a great job.
- I’ve hired a cheaper designer, who is ALMOST as good.
- I’ve put up with late or amateurish work, creating massive management debt.
- I’ve skipped steps in a project management process.
- I’ve hired someone who doesn’t share your values because they can get the job done and check the boxes.
What happens – is capitulation. When you don’t do what you know is right, when you settle for expedience, you gain something today. But often you surrender a lot more than you gain. You become adrift.
It’s impossible to sell at a high level without conviction. It’s impossible to have conviction without quality.
That was the lesson at Simplifilm.
Sales were on an upswing. And I moved into a nifty downtown space (OK, so SE Industrial District, but close). And we sold faster than we could deliver, we had to expand. Fast. Deadlines (which we chose) were approaching. We agreed to get work out on a schedule. And our sole metric – on evaluating artists- was “do they have a portfolio,” and “do they say that they can do the work.” We had to hire fast.
We wound up with rough talent:
- A wandering nomad who had crashed absolutely every business relationship ever.
- A dude with no professional standards who ignored the brief and delivered whatever he felt like, relying on us for quality control.
- A burned out agency lifer who worked fast and sloppy – and was too good for us.
- A talented designer who gave the creepiest hugs to all comers of all genders in the office while slowly delivering mediocre but technically perfect work.
But they all had reels. And we had deadlines.
Now, to be fair, we could have had a higher standard set and set these people in a position to win. And everything that happened was my fault- not theirs. I was the leader of the company. This was on me, not them. These people failed because I let them. Because I didn’t see the big picture at a key time.
I had to cut corners on a decent hiring process. This led to decay everywhere.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
And do you know what I heard about this? Nothing. Nobody spoke up. We were delivering “meh” work and had taken three steps back. Our process broke down, and in mid-2015, we were in serious trouble. Our clients still mostly paid their bills on time and were mostly unhappy, but polite. We were still selling, based on a good track record, some SEO advantages and a great closing ratio.
But we didn’t get referrals anymore. We didn’t have the automatic “Woah, who did that” work that causes growth.
Jim Collins calls this undisciplined pursuit of more. I write this as the first piece of content on this site because quality is the only metric that matters.
Holding the line there is what will make the third major iteration of this company successful or failed. Compromise is capitulation. And I’m done.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
How long does it take to recover from a compromise you should never have made? I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I’m through it.
Our clients are getting great work again.
Our business is getting better.
But everything that was easy is now a more of a fight. The young bucks at the low end of our price scale are pushing us in ways that we never did.
But what is quality? Is it one of those things that you know it when you see it?
Here is how we will measure quality:
- Quality of Experience: Did we keep 100% of our promises. Did we do what we said we’re going to do? Did we deliver “wow and wonder” during the process?
- Quality of Deliverable: Did the deliverable “wow”. Was it 100% the absolute best value for the money? Did it have a great chance at producing a good result for our client?
- Quality of Business: Was the ratio of money to deadlines right? Was the business profitable, and did it contribute to our bottom line?
- Quality of Client: Was the client of the class that improves the ‘average’ person we’ve been working with? Were they professional and pleasurable to work with? Did they create any challenges?
Now, it’s important to note that there may be several “valid” ways to answer all of these questions.
A high-quality experience could be one where our client was involved and collaborative, or it could also be one where the client was just able to “give me money and get a result.” Both choices make sense.
A quality of deliverable can also be subjective, based on things like time and budget available, or even result desired. We grade our results based on some metrics.
Like anything, quality is never subjective, but it is situational. Each brief, each mission requires its own standards, and those must be executed at a high level.
Because how you do anything is how you do everything.
We are going to live and die on quality. This is my line in the sand.