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1997 Speeches

Laurie A. Broedling

The Boeing Company

"The Quality of Quality Is Not Strained"

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Robert W. Carey Award Ceremony

Washington D.C.

September 25, 1997

It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you today. As a representative of the defense industry, I see a common bond between people in my business and all of you in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What is a veteran? According to its Latin root, a veteran is simply someone who is able to grow old. Down through history, that has been a luxury denied to millions of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Thus the word is commonly applied to soldiers who are fortunate enough to survive their tours of duty.

In the defense industry, we know that there is a direct relationship between the quality of the weapon systems we produce and the ability of our side to deter and, if necessary, defeat an enemy, with the least possible loss of life on both sides, and especially our own. This was borne out in the Persian Gulf War earlier this decade. With 460,000 U.S. troops deployed, our side sustained fewer than 150 fatalities in defeating a vast, entrenched army.

Our people product, therefore, is the American veteran -- the same people you serve in your agency.

There is another bond that unites the best people in your organization and mine . . . and that is a passion for excellence.

Along with NASA, the Department of Veterans Affairs is the only civilian agency or department of government that has won the President's Achievement Award in each of the past two years. That is a great tribute to the dedication of thousands of people working at 173 VA hospitals, 58 regional offices and 114 cemeteries across the United States.

It is also a tribute to the successful application of Quality principles in the operation of this vast public sector enterprise. TQM is a management style that works. It works by energizing and empowering people. It works by removing constraints, creating trust and providing a clear focus on improvement. Over the past several years, a strong commitment to teamwork and quality at the VA has led to measurable improvements in the health and welfare of the 25 million-plus veterans in the United States.

I speak to you as someone who has devoted most of her life to the quality movement -- in the Navy, DoD, NASA, and, for the past four years, as part of McDonnell Douglas and now the Boeing Company. Whenever I think about quality, I am reminded of one of the most famous of all Shakespearean quotes. It is the one about the quality of mercy.

"The quality of mercy is not strained," Shakespeare said, "it droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

Like the quality of mercy, the quality of "quality" itself is not strained. It springs from a passion for excellence, in the delivery of a product or service. This kind of quality is twice blessed. It rebounds to the benefit of giver and taker alike.

Within the quality movement, we talk a great deal about customer satisfaction. That is as it should be. But we can also think in terms of producer satisfaction. That is the kind of a satisfaction that comes from a job well-done; and giving everything that could be expected, and more.

There is no greater satisfaction than the one that comes from exceeding the expectations. That is true for parents in relation to their children, and for children in relation to their parents. It is true in the context of friendship; it is true in the context of artistic endeavor; and it is true for everyone who is serving some kind of a customer, whether in the public or the private sector.

Big organizations -- like yours and mine -- become big as result of being able to meet great challenges. But one of the perverse effects of bigness is the Hapless Giant syndrome -- a sense that nothing any one individual does really matters. An organization that is caught in the grip of the Hapless Giant syndrome is an organization that stifles the desire and ability of people to meet, let alone to exceed, expectations.

There is no more powerful antidote to the malaise of bigness than the Quality movement, especially where TQM is associated and aligned with efforts to promote teamwork at the grass-roots level.

Around the VA today, there are more than a thousand teams working to provide the most compassionate, high-quality services to veterans and their families. As one of the judges for the Robert W. Carey Quality Award -- both this year and last -- I am personally acquainted with the details of scores of outstanding success stories where teams of people inside the VA have very much exceeded expectations.

To cite just a few examples:

At the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Florida, teamwork has reduced the waiting time for a new appointment with the GI clinic from 8 weeks to one week. Though the efforts of the Thrombolytic Therapy team, a heart attack patient now receives life-saving therapy in less than 30 minutes compared to a response time of 92 minutes in 1992.

In Denver, Colorado, the VA Distribution Center has used TQM principles to achieve dramatic improvements in timeliness, accuracy and cost in keeping more than 320,000 veterans supplied with prosthetic devices, hearing aids, and orthopedic items.

In Portland, Oregon, a self-directed team has effectively combined adjudication and claims processing. The upshot has been greater speed and timeliness in the delivery of benefits, combined with substantial cost savings.

Across the country, teams of workers at VA cemeteries are finding innovative ways of reducing costs while treating the family and friends of deceased veterans with dignity and respect.

Congratulations are due to all the applicants that have come this far in the judging process. All of you are among the very best in organizational excellence and performance. And one of you -- today's Robert W. Carey award winner -- is truly the best of the best.