I have often spoken on the topic of the human side of quality. Because it is so important to an organization’s quality system, I’m still amazed there are so many organizations that don’t manage it adequately.

Though the concepts in the quality profession’s body of knowledge are fundamental to having an excellent quality system, the human side cannot be overlooked.

More important than a good documented quality system is having people who care about what they are doing and have taken ownership over what they can control. I’ve seen many examples where a good documented quality system existed, but the employees didn’t seem to care, for a variety of reasons, and the quality suffered. On the reverse side, I’ve seen organizations with limited documentation of a formal quality system, yet they continue to produce good product because their employees seem to care about what they are doing and realize the importance of satisfying their customers. They have embraced Dr. Edwards Deming’s Chain Reaction theory which, briefly, means produce a cost effective product, satisfy the customer, stay in business, make money, and provide jobs.
One of my quality management students related this story. Her company provides detailed assembly procedures and extensive checklists to ensure quality is built into their products. What they found, though, is some of their best assemblers are those for whom English is a second language. Even though these assemblers struggle to fully understand the procedures and checklists, they often are very effective because they are attentive and care deeply about the quality of their work. Documentation is important, but not as important as the desire to do a good job.

Caring about doing a good job is critical in all areas of an organization, including engineering. Some engineers toss engineering change orders over the wall while others do extensive testing and are personally involved in implementing and verifying that an engineering change will be effective. Both engineers might follow the quality system; however, the results are dramatically different because one is motivated more than the other. This is one reason why some organizations’ cost of non-quality is elevated because much of the excessive costs are coming from ineffective engineering work.
Many of the modern quality giants spoke about the importance of caring and the human side of quality. Dr. Deming called it “pride in workmanship.” I was in the audience when he asked, as he often did to senior management, “Do you let your employees have pride in workmanship, or does your environment strip that inherent desire away from them?” From countless discussions with colleagues and quality management students, it is puzzling why many organizations still make pride in workmanship a difficult task.

The main issue is having an environment that allows, and encourages, people to care. That is management’s responsibility, which in many cases is lacking that core element themselves.

Another important aspect is hiring people who really care about the work being done and the products and services being produced. It’s not uncommon for organizations to hire a new person only to 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 that person likely does care about things in his life—just not his current organization’s products, services or customers. We shouldn’t have a hard time replacing these people because they will be much happier somewhere else where they will care about what they are doing.
When I’ve worked with facilities, suppliers or other organizations, I’ve not necessarily been concerned with what certifications they have (not to imply that they should be ignored, but just to put them in their proper perspective) or what they might say. I always want to “go to Gemba,” or where the actual work is being performed.

It’s always more informative to talk with employees and determine, fairly quickly, if they truly care about what they are doing. If they don’t, it really doesn’t matter what kind of quality system or certifications the organization has because their output will nearly always be problematic.
If they do care, however, a solid quality system built on the human side of quality will give even further confidence that the organization and their people can, and will, do an excellent job. It reinforces that the management system is nurturing and supportive, and that their quality system will generate positive results.
To paraphrase what Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa once said, a people-building philosophy will make organizations successful, but a people-using philosophy will lead to failure. Dr. Deming told us decades ago that everyone in the organization needed to work on transforming their culture. For some, the transformation has been successful and those organizations are winning in the marketplace. For others, however, progress has been at a snail’s pace.

Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development and quality management. You can reach Jim at [email protected].