We need to change the way we think about quality.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on enhancing quality culture.

Asked to give a short talk to a management class at a local university, I focused on a conversation that I had with Dr. A.V. Feigenbaum at the 2010 ASQ World Conference. We were engaged in a discussion concerning the growth of quality and the major developments that were being influenced by the global economy. The following is a portion of that discussion and talk with the management class.

Organizations and their leadership teams must embrace a different way of leveraging quality and think beyond terms of just preventing defects from getting into the hands of their customers. During the past few years, the environment is such that society demands that businesses deliver high-quality value.

Leveraging quality will feed all three consumers of an organization’s product-stockholders, employees and customers. Stockholders will be pleased because margins will grow, financial ratios will be positive and stock process will be enhanced. Employees will be motivated and engaged because of increased job security and an enhanced financial future. Customers will be happy because they will be getting high cost-price-value because of higher product quality.

Quality initiatives can no longer be contained to one department or function. In order to move to the next phase, organizations have to adopt ongoing strategy to embrace quality as the fundamental, day-to-day DNA of its core values.

Some of the major challenges influencing organizations include: accelerated changes in product development and manufacturing processes; customer demands for an increasingly higher standard of quality value-not just fewer defects-in the products and services they purchase; state-of-the-art technology in a range of business activities to speed time to market; and global distribution.

As a result of these challenges, quality has become a global language for businesses and customers. Fundamental to any business’ competitive strength is how effectively it interprets and implements the language of quality, in terms of both technical and quality processes. At the core of this language is the realization that quality is what the customer, not the organization, says it is. This may seem fundamental because quality organizations have been saying this for some time; however, many organizational leaders don’t practice this concept in the board rooms or on the factory floor.

Organizations must align all aspects of its operations-including marketing, design, manufacture, distribution and service-in very specific customer value terms. Processes must be focused, established, led and maintained to achieve customer value-based success.

Many products, from cars to computers to cell phones, with low levels of defects or complaints in the traditional quality control sense, have experienced disappointing sales results. The reason for the disappointment is that the products do not provide the quality value customers are looking for in today’s markets.

Quality needs to become a basis for guiding, empowering and supporting the constant pursuit of excellence by everyone in the organization. Most importantly, leadership has to recognize the basic principle that what makes quality better in one part of an organization, can make quality better in other parts of the organization.

Quality has to become a cornerstone for constant management innovation and leadership, which is imperative for survival and growth. To meet the demands of the competitive environment and maintain their quality competitiveness, it is Feigenbaum’s belief that organizations must use their strength and leadership in order to remain economically healthy and flourish in the future. To do so, organizations should focus on some key quality process areas, which we’ll look at in more detail next month.

Coming next month: Five key strategies to enhance your quality culture.