Quality Magazine

Probing the Limits: Caring Lays Foundation for Quality System

July 1, 2005
The most fundamental element of a good quality system is people who care.

I'm always asking myself what are the key elements in a truly good quality system. While I'm a strong believer that the concepts in the quality profession's Body of Knowledge is fundamental to having an excellent quality system, there is a deeper and more core aspect that makes a quality system excellent. Over time, I've decided that the core element is people who truly care about what they are doing and the product they are producing.

Having people who really care about what they are doing is more important than a good documented and administered quality system. I've seen many examples where a good documented quality system exists, but the employees

didn't care and the quality

suffered. Several suppliers my company uses have only a few elements in their quality system documented, yet continue to produce good product because they care so much about what they are doing.

An example of "just caring" is illustrated by the assembly procedures and inspection checklists in use at our plant. We go to great lengths to provide detailed assembly procedures and extensive checklists to ensure quality is built into our products. We feel this extensive documentation is fundamental to building good products. What we find, though, is some of our best assemblers are those for whom English is a second language. Even though I know they struggle to fully understand the procedures and checklists, they often are our best assemblers because they are attentive and care deeply about the quality of the work they are doing. Documentation is important, but not as important as their desire to do a good job.

The importance of just caring is critical in all areas of a company such as engineering. Some engineers toss Engineering Change Orders over the fence while others do extensive testing and are personally involved in implementing and verifying that an engineering change is effective. Both follow the quality system. The results are dramatically different though because one cares a whole lot more than the other.

"Just Caring" isn't a new concept in the quality profession. My nearly forgotten hero, Dr. Deming called it "Pride in Workmanship." I always loved when he asked managers, "Do you let your employees have pride in workmanship, or does your environment strip that inherent desire away from them?" From discussions with colleagues, it appears that many companies still make having Pride in Workmanship or the ability to really care about what you are doing a difficult task.

The main issue in having people who care about what they do is having an environment that allows and encourages people to care. That is management's responsibility. Another important element of having employees who care is hiring people who really will care about the work being done and the products being produced. This is a critical function of the interview process. (See June's Probing the Limits.)

I've found that the employees in our plant really do care about the quality of our products-providing some evidence that we have a good work environment. It's not uncommon for us to hire a new person, though, and find that he just doesn't seem to care, even though everyone around him does. There is no point in getting judgmental about the new person because I'm sure he does care passionately about things in his life-just not about what we are doing and our products. I don't have a hard time replacing people who don't seem to care because I know they will be much happier somewhere else where they will care about what they are doing. It's an issue of our interview process: failing to detect a mismatch between what the person cares about and what we do in our plant.

When I audit suppliers, I'm not concerned about what certifications they have. To quickly find out about the quality, I talk to their employees and determine if they care about what they are doing. If they do care, a solid quality system built on that caring foundation gives me even further confidence that they can do an excellent job for us. If they don't care, it really does not matter what kind of quality system or certificate they have.

Do you think that just caring is the fundamental element in a quality system? Send me an e-mail, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.