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Basic Business Cents: Meeting customer needs primary for growth

Lou Schultz

Twenty leaders in the field of quality from five countries recently met for the 25th annual meeting to exchange observations and ideas on quality improvement.

Their stated purpose is to "Learn with each other," an update from, "Learn from each other." The meeting this year was in the Twin Cities following last year in India and next year will be in the United Kingdom. The meetings consist of one day of social nature with spouses, one day of touring examples of quality applications by good companies and two days of business meetings. Members and spouses have become good friends over the years and look forward to the meetings.

Of interest this year is the similarity of economic outlook in the various countries. The meetings start with country outlooks. Highlights are as follows:

Japan - They have six major obstacles, a strong yen, a corporation tax, environmental regulation, labor regulation, an electric power problem and the delay in trade liberalization. Their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is stable but their government is unstable and unable to work.

India - Their government is in chaos and does not work. The government inaction is slowing the economy and their trade deficit is mounting. The population growth rate is finally falling but it may be too late. They have a crisis in leadership, which is severe in government.

United Kingdom -Their economic data is confusing but are experiencing a double dip recession. They are paralyzed by the Euro crisis in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Canada - They are experiencing 7.3% unemployment with healthcare being the huge issue. The exchange between the $C and $US is at a par and this is a challenge for manufacturing. Of concern is that they are selling resources and they have a huge shortfall of engineers.

United States - Politics are deeply divided and unemployment is at 8.3 percent. Healthcare growth is at 18-20 percent and manufacturing growth is slow. Hi-tech industries are having trouble finding workers.

The economic outlook was not bright from any of the countries represented but the members of this group continue to hold out hope if more focus is placed on quality.

The Quality Improvement movement started in manufacturing but has spread to all industries. The lone area that brings frustration to this group is lack of interest in system and process improvement in government.

Each attendee is required to present a paper on their activity and latest thinking. Topics this year included Innovation in Products, Processes, and Markets in Developing Countries, Seven Strategy Tools, Childhood Obesity, New Product Quality Excellence, Quality Assurance in Customer Service, Systemic Improvement Across Diverse Cultures and Justice Concerning Quality.

The papers are shared electronically so further study of presentations is possible. Of interest this year was the focus on satisfying the true needs of the customers and how that is determined.

One lesson learned and reinforced at every meeting is how similar our problems and paths to solutions are across countries and cultures.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently works with area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@process