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Departments: First Word

  

What's Your Motivation?

Quality isn't just about numbers.

by Dirk Dusharme

 

Last month I wrote about the importance of "I'm sorry," and how it's important to take care of your customer even if an event occurs that's beyond your control. A reader wrote in and said that she "didn't understand the relation to quality." Because my column boiled down to ethics, to me her question was: "What does ethics have to do with quality?"

Good question. Isn't quality simply a matter of making sure that your product or service conforms to specifications, meets a customer's needs, etc.? Isn't it all just numbers: 3.4 defects per million opportunities, zero complaints, 96-percent on-time delivery, Cpk > 1.5?

Nope. Those are the outcomes of quality. What's the motivation for quality? What makes you strive for zero defects? Well, that's simple, you say. It's money, right? You make good products because if you make bad products, you won't make money.

Sort of. But, no. It's true that if you produce an inferior product, eventually it's going to cost you in lost sales. But if that's your only motivation, you're going to be surpassed by a competitor who has a different motivation.

Which brings us to ethics.

You make a good product or provide excellent service because it's the right thing to do. It's a mindset. I'm going to do the best I can because anything less cheats my customer. I want to sell a product or service that I would be pleased to own or use.

If quality is strictly financially motivated, I think the tendency is to focus solely on the nuts and bolts. What actions contribute directly to the bottom line? Meaning, how much do I invest in my quality processes to provide a product or service that meets the customer's stated expectations? All energy is directed toward what customers say they want.

An ethical motivation causes you to look beyond the stated specs and look beyond even that particular customer. It asks questions such as, "Do all customers benefit or just this one?" "What is the environmental effect?" "How does this affect my employees?" "What are the customer's unstated expectations?" It causes you to look at your system as a whole, even at areas that may not directly affect your product or service.

This became evident as I was putting together our Retail Customer Satisfaction Survey, beginning on page 48. No one can doubt that Wal-Mart is successful in financial terms and is a model of efficiency, yet its ethics regarding employees, competitors and even suppliers are constantly under fire. It appears near the bottom of any customer-satisfaction survey you can lay your hands on. What's Wal-Mart's quality motivation?

On the flip side, there's Wegmans, a regional supermarket that's been in FORTUNE magazine's "Top 100 Employers To Work For" list ten years running--five of those in the top 10. It's no coincidence that it is also highly rated by its customers. Is Wegmans' motivation money or ethics?

Motivation also appears in Laura Smith's auditing article, "The Hidden Costs of Cheap Certification," beginning on page 32. There are companies that look for ISO 9001 registration to check a box and satisfy a customer, and there are those that use registration as a means to really examine their entire quality management system with an eye on how they can improve. They both are ISO 9001-registered and they both may get sales from customers who require an ISO 9001-registered supplier. But in the long run, which stands to be a better company?

Quality isn't just about numbers. It's about desire and a motivation to do what's right--not just what's right for your customers but simply what's right .