Is the Presence of Quality a Competitive Advantage?
When I was a young man, it was very common for people of all ages to have body odor. Bathing every day was not something people did as a matter of course. The traditional Saturday night bath was considered to be enough for anyone.
Lifebuoy soap started a radio campaign featuring a foghorn that sounded "B.O." and a message claiming people didn't like people who smelled bad. It also claimed individuals couldn't smell their own odor. The commercial's tag line was, "Your best friend won't tell you."
Because the only way to know if you had B.O. was when you were being avoided, and no one wanted that, people began to bathe regularly. B.O. became less common, which then made those who didn't clean up more obvious.
Today, people assume that it's necessary to wash the body regularly. Not having B.O. doesn't bestow a competitive advantage anymore, but having it certainly creates a disadvantage.
Quality has a similar pattern. Not conforming to agreed-upon requirements places an organization in the position of being shunned by customers and disliked by employees. Organizations must pay attention to quality; it doesn't appear all by itself, just like the body doesn't get clean by itself.
Delivering the product or service as agreed is what customers expect today. Many organizations do that, so the competitive advantage is not outstanding. But not delivering the product or service as agreed causes a definite disadvantage.
Organizations that take quality for granted can develop B.O. very quickly. They are like the football team enjoying a lead that decides to relax in the last period. Management must pay attention at all times to have a reliable and useful organization.
Creating this organizational culture requires a clear policy (take a bath every day), education (wash all over), requirements (use deodorant soap) and insistence (if you don't wash, you don't go out).
About the author
Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality Is Still Free (McGraw-Hill, 1995) and The Absolutes of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1996). Visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com .