The --seven-- Five Steps to Achieving Perfection

Let’s start this out on the right path. To be honest with you, there aren’t five steps or seven steps or any prescribed steps to perfection. Seven appears to be a magic number and I wish I could write a book that gave you the seven cures. Books that provide that clear-cut analysis are best sellers because it sounds like an easy fix. “Wow, all we have to do is these seven things and all our troubles will disappear, we’ll be golden.” Then the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus will team up with Superman and the Green Hornet and sprinkle fairy dust all around, making all the bad things go away. I’ll tell you a little secret: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Superman and the Green Hornet are fictional characters, as is the belief that the “seven anythings” will cure your ills. Sorry to burst your bubble.

However, riding on the coat tails of those best sellers, I will give you these seven generic themes to follow: be tenacious, always learn, adapt what you learn to your culture, adopt it to your culture and continually improve. OK, I know it’s only five, but seven seems to have magical powers, so I still retain the right to its use.

Another bubble to burst

Perfection is a fallacy. (“Oh no, say it ain’t so.”) As soon as we think we have reached perfection, something comes along that is newer, better, faster or just different and knocks us off the pedestal. I am not going to lead you down the primrose path to reveal the seven epiphanies and nirvana. I will tell you the painful truth: there is no one true path, zero is not achievable and perfection is fleeting at best. Does that mean you are cut free and adrift in a morass of chaos without guidance, doomed to drift aimlessly on forever? No. I’m done. Take two pills and call me tomorrow.

I wish it were that simple. I am a lousy sales person, so I am not going to tell you that this Chop-O-Matic uses no electricity and will grind up rocks into gravel for your driveway or that the ShamWow is capable of soaking up the water of a small pond. I already told you that there is no one true path, that zero is not achievable and that perfection is a fallacy. Now I’ll tell you that there is a right path and chasing zero and pursuit of perfection is the only worthwhile goal. How confusing is that?

Am I trying to tell you that the seven cures, seven best habits, seven whatever are worthless? No. Are those books a waste of time? No. They provide valuable information but don’t rely on them as a panacea. I will tell you right from the beginning that what I say is also not a magic potion. What I will say is that you need to think without blinders on but that doing so will not fix what you have wrong. You have to do that yourself.

Failed attempts

I mentioned that one of the steps is to continuously improve — this has morphed into the “Program of the Month Club.” Companies have been trying to perfect processes and become more efficient to improve the bottom line. Some airlines in particular have sought bankruptcy protection, cut manpower, wages, benefits, pensions and anything else to reduce costs. This is not new in the airline industry and has become a 10-year cycle since deregulation in 1971, with several airlines going out of business in 1991 and a new round of bankruptcies in 2001. Once airlines emerge from bankruptcy, they go on a spending spree to apply the latest processes that they were unable to in the past. Many of these are old programs with new names and some are recycled processes. “Lean” is a revised edition of “efficiency” programs from the 1950s and 1960s and TQM comes up for air every once and a while.

These programs will bring moderate success at best because the key component has not been addressed. Companies try to revive a despondent workforce with seminars that play board games to get everyone involved, but they fail to address the real problem. These seminars are intended to infuse the workforce with a sense of one big team effort but only prove to incense the workers. Employees see it as another waste of money and that the company is ignoring the real problem. The theory is that “quality programs and processes have been very successful in other companies, so they should work well here.” That is all fine and well, but you can’t just take these systems and plug them into your organization and expect results like a Chia pet (water and watch it grow). Yes, there may be some success, but it will never reach its full potential until the organization changes one key factor.

main components

There is a trilogy of components that encompasses and affects everything within an organization. They are management, quality, and safety. And of course you are always going to have the three Cs: controls, culture and climate. Controls are your rules, regulations and policies and frame the ideal; culture is what is actually occurring and is reality; and climate is the attitudes, what are the feelings of the climate and controls. They are all interlinked and there is one key component that is the glue keeps them together or apart.

The main factor

I have been using the terms key factor, key component and real problem but avoiding naming what it is. I was just wondering if you could figure it out. The key item is trust.

A company doesn’t go anywhere without trust. Customer satisfaction is based on trust in the company. Service companies, such as airlines, rely on customers to be satisfied. In order to satisfy them, you need satisfied employees to serve those customers. It’s no wonder that the airlines are at the lowest customer satisfaction index with one airline rated lower in customer satisfaction then the IRS. That’s pretty sad. The customer is No. 1, but without your employees you won’t have customers. Without satisfied employees, you won’t have satisfied customers.

This is too wide an area to discuss here, so let’s look at one section that you have heard before ...

Safety culture

Many organizations will attempt to infuse a company with a safety culture through setting new policies, designing new forms and audits and providing training. That is all good but what is needed for any process to be successful is how close the controls, culture and climate are to each other. The more aligned those three are, the more you will be where you want to be. To determine how good or bad you are you have to measure the three Cs and analyze the gap; the wider the gap, the weaker the trust factor. Filling the gaps requires movement on all parts (control, culture or climate), so it isn’t just developing a safety climate. Remember, these are interlinked and they influence each other.

Interestingly, one organization that had a poor safety history made great strides in improving the trust levels between workers and management but was confronted with more safety reports than when it was under the older system. This was supposed to be an improvement and now they have more safety reports then ever. The reason is that the old regime worked under the punitive principle and many safety issues were suppressed out of fear. If you reported a problem, you were either stuck with additional work to fix it or punished for finding it. Although the organization was open to listening to suggestions, little was acted upon so the suggestions slowed. The old guard pointed their finger at the new process and said, “See, it doesn’t work, you have more safety complaints then under the older process.” True — but under the older process, the complaints were suppressed and the safety record showed that there wasn’t any progress. When employees get involved, they are showing their vulnerability and willingness to trust. It is a marriage of sorts and if the spouse cheats, it is very difficult to regain the trust. In Total Quality Management it costs more to gain a customer then retain a customer and it is most costly to regain a lost customer. The same holds true for employee trust — loyalty is gone, but that is another story.

Perfection may be impossible to achieve and the concept of zero in defects and injuries is also unachievable, but it is the only ethical pursuit. If we could obtain and sustain perfection and zero, there would be no need for continuous improvement. Oh, and by the way, the Boogie Man is also not real ... I think. 

Patrick Kinane joined the Air Force after high school and has worked in aviation since 1964. Kinane is a certified A&P with Inspection Authorization and also holds an FAA license and commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating. He earned a B.S. in aviation maintenance management, MBA in quantitative methods, M.S. in education and Ph.D. in organizational psychology. The majority of his aviation career has been involved with 121 carriers where he has held positions from aircraft mechanic to director of maintenance. Kinane currently works as Senior Quality Systems Auditor for AAR Corp. and adjunct professor for DeVry University instructing in Organizational Behavior, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Critical Thinking. PlaneQA is his consulting company that specializes in quality and safety system audits and training. Speaking engagements are available with subjects in Critical Thinking, Quality Systems and Organizational Behavior. For more information, visit

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