I’ve been asked a number of times whether it is necessary to have a hostile work environment to produce quality products. That is, so I think that it is a trade-off between harmony and quality. Elon Musk is highly effective, but runs a hostile work environment.
No, hostility is not a requirement for quality products. Microsoft under Ballmer was a very hostile dog-eat-dog work environment and that’s when Microsoft’s products were poor quality (Think “Vista”). Disney consistently produces quality products. Japanese auto manufacturers produce good quality products in a most harmonious way.
What is needed is a clear definition of what quality is, and then an intolerance for anything less than high quality. By intolerance I do mean hostile treatment of people who “don’t get it”.
Quality is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. Consider these principles:
Our products should have the best value in the industry. This is not the lowest price, it is the price/performance.
To accomplish this while maximizing revenues we must pioneer new capabilities, we must under-promise and over-deliver, we must understate our product’s capabilities, and we must eliminate every bug to maximize reliability and dependability.
Value is the key to success for any technology company. Value means the best Price/Performance. This means you can add functionality or you can drop price, or you can do both. When the Mac Air laptop came out the price was very high…but the value was even higher. It had a Value (Price/Performance) that no competitor could touch. The same was true with the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone. They all had outstanding value.
Disney offers superb value. Yes, they charge a lot of money for their products. But the products that they produce (Think theme park ride quality) is exceptional. Disney completely gets the concept of “Value”. Likewise, Amazon gets the concept of Value in their AWS services. Nadella’s Microsoft gets the concept of Value.
You don’t need to be a tyrant to be a great company. But it is one way to get there…by driving people to produce high performance. There is also the Japanese way.
The Value leaders talk about greatness.
* The term Price/Performancer is actually a mathematical ratio. You divide the price by “performance points”. Performance points are point scores that you assign to each feature or capability of a product. While arbitrarily assigned, the more objective the better your conclusion will be. For example, adding an automatic transmission to a car might be 5 points, adding electric windows might be 1 point, adding a good stereo may be 1 point, etc. If done objectively, it is a great way to visualize how competitive your product is. You can then plot your options on a scatter chart to see how the various options compare.
Related Reading: HBR