Q: What's your professional background?
A: I'm a tool and die maker by trade. I went [through] a couple of years of engineering school at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. I started at Trident as a sales engineer in 1985 with a technical background. From there, I became the manager of sales, then the VP of marketing. Then I gave up my marketing hat and went to the operations side. In a small business you have the opportunity to do that. When I joined the company there were only 19 folks, so we all got to develop the manufacturing operations and procedures. Even though I was in sales, I got to be on that team.
Q: Was that one of the reasons behind your big push on training and development of your people?
A: There's a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and operational performance. Keeping your customers satisfied is to provide them what they need. And to do that, [employees] have to have the [right] skill sets. And it's hard for your customers to be satisfied if your employees aren't, because employees drive operational performance. It's the measurement of all those things that makes [Trident] a better place.
Q: What are the most important HR lessons you've learned over the years at Trident?
A: Patience. When you go on a total quality adventure, it becomes evangelistic a little bit. I could preach [on this topic] forever. Here at Trident, it's working. It's a living thing. And it makes everyone's life a little better. But you have to take things one step at a time. Just because you've got this great idea, it doesn't mean it's a light switch [that you flip on]. The culture isn't going to change automatically. Once the culture has changed, though, you better be ready, because this is something people like and enjoy. You have to be prepared for [the day] when management finally convinces folks that this isn't just the flavor of the month. When the atmosphere starts to work, it's a rapid change. And people will challenge you. So you have to be prepared for it-because you can't let people down.
Q: You're a fairly small human resources department, but you've done really big things. What lessons can you teach other small companies?
A: Don't use small as an excuse. We have an advantage because we're small-the bureaucracy is smaller. We can get things done quicker. The downside is we don't have as many resources. But you don't need a lot of money and huge training resources to pull this off. It's pretty much common sense and a dedication to quality. Anybody can do it. But it isn't easy. And we're constantly talking HR strategy.
Q: What advice do you have for other people in HR whose companies are embarking on a TQM adventure or on a culture transformation initiative?
A: You should do this for yourself and for your company. Don't do this because you think you're going to please somebody else. If you're going to become a TQM company because you think the result of that is you're going to get more customers, that's the wrong approach. It's something you must truly believe in. If you don't truly believe in it, find another system. If you truly believe people are your biggest asset, then develop your systems around [that].
Q: What skills do you think are going to be important for human resources people in the 21st century?
A: As the workplace changes, we're all being asked to learn more things-which is good. In the past, HR people had to worry about one career per person. In today's [and tomorrow's] world, most people will have more than one career. From the training side, it's [teaching] creative thinking-how to think outside the box. It's [having] all of the skills to get the job done. But I think HR's got a [good] handle on that.
Workforce, February 1998, Vol. 77, No. 2, p. 46.