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Columnists: Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Photo: Pat Townsend


Photo: Joan Gebhardt


A Reminder About Why We Do This Quality Thing

Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt



Every so often, it’s worth the time to circle back in our thinking and make contact with the touchstones, with the basic truths that both define the field of quality and define the need for quality professionals. What follows are some of the building blocks that serve as a foundation supporting most everything worthwhile that is done in the name of quality.

* If a business is properly defined by the activity for which the organization spends the most time and money, most American companies (if not all companies throughout the world) are in the business of waste management. Whether you call it the cost of quality, the cost of nonquality, the price of nonconformance or whatever name your current consultant has put forward, the fact remains that, in a large percentage of organizations, 30 to 35 percent of gross income is spent on prevention, detection, correction and failure.

* A quality process should be a means of surfacing ideas and discussing possibilities for moving efforts back toward the prevention end of the scale.

* If it’s an accepted truth that insanity is defined as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results, then quality offers sanity. Quality offers the opportunity to do something differently and, thus, reasonably expect a different result.

* “That’s not quality; that’s your job,” is an empty argument. Written job descriptions are mostly of interest to historians and ISO 9000 certifiers. A person’s de facto job description is whatever he or she did (and was not criticized for doing) during the pay period before receiving his or her most recent paycheck. The fact that Task A is in a person’s written job description doesn’t mean that a decision to actually do Task A can’t be a quality idea. The questions to ask are, “Was it being done?” “Is it being done now?” and “Do we want it to happen regularly in the future?” If the answers are, “No,” “Yes,” and “Yes,” it’s a quality idea that deserves a bit of appropriate praise.

* Recognition is a key part of the quality cycle (even if it doesn’t show up in “plan-do-check-act” and other sequences). Recognition makes the change official; it makes it real in the minds and hearts of the folks who will have to continue doing it the new way.

* The correct question to ask in the beginning stages of defining and planning the implementation of a quality process is not, “Who should we involve in this effort to improve?” The correct question is, “Who can we afford to exclude from this effort?” The answer can only be, “Nobody.” Welcome to 100-percent employee involvement.

* The only logically defendable approach to defining and implementing a quality process is 100-percent employee involvement. If not the only logically defendable approach, it’s the only approach that can be taken without writing off some percentage of the work force--the ones to be excluded--as not being able to have an original thought.

* The quality movement is the day-to-day manifestation of a significant shift that has taken place in the marketplace during the last three decades: Because of the number of competitors and the dramatic rise in mobility of both goods and services, the customers have wrested control of the marketplace away from the owners/managers and the workers.

* This quality thing isn’t going to go away. Customers are not going to give up their relatively new-found power in the marketplace.

* The basic choice remains for any organization in a competitive field: Do quality (at least on a relative basis in your field) or lose market share.

Every quality professional gets caught up in the day-to-day hustle, the requests to take on nonstandard projects, and the need to teach and inspire others. This article is intended solely as a break in the day, a break to remind professionals that theirs is a stunningly important job. They need to keep the basic truths close at hand.

About the authors

Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and six books, including Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992); Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997); How Organizations Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize (Crisp Publications, 1999); and Quality Is Everybody's Business (CRC Press, 1999). Pat Townsend has recently re-entered the corporate world and is now dealing with “leadership.com” issues as a practitioner as well as an observer, writer and speaker. He is now chief quality officer for UICI, a diverse financial services corporation headquartered in the Dallas area. Letters to the editor regarding this column can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.