Quality giants Joseph M. Juran, W. Edwards Deming and Armand Feigenbaum ushered in the era of total quality management (TQM) 60 years ago. However, some lessons are hard to learn.

Companies are still being dogged by high-profile quality defects. The list is long and getting longer, and crosses every industry. At least a token “quality program” is required for companies who wish to remain in the marketplace; however, many are still at the lip-service level. Bottom line, talk is cheap—recalls are not.

Persistent, expensive and well-publicized recalls are striking companies with even the most stellar quality reputations. Toyota, for decades a company held up as a model of excellence, has suffered a rash of serious quality infractions which have had a dramatic effect on their financial health, not to mention their reputation.

With the outsourcing strategy organizations have been implementing for decades, it has become increasingly difficult to manage process and product quality. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that many quality problems are coming from global supply chains.

Organizations should view these failures as much the part of management as it is the defective products themselves. As Juran and Deming taught us, 85% to 94% of all the problems reside with management because they own the system and are ultimately responsible.

However bleak the situation has been, all may not be lost. For instance, it is encouraging that many companies are sourcing processes and products back to where they retain more oversight for quality performance. This is a by-product of managers finally understanding that quality just doesn’t happen if you have state of the art equipment. It has as much to do with committed and motivated personnel.

Talk to the manufacturing community about quality’s place in today’s environment and a pattern appears to be emerging—organizations may be finally grasping the “shared responsibility” aspect of Juran and Deming’s teachings. If quality is truly everyone’s responsibility, then the idea has to go far beyond the factory floor and into the front office, the service department, and everywhere else that provides value to customers and shareholders.

Quality is becoming a systems approach, rather than focusing on one part at a time and whether it’s dimensionally correct. Quality, after all, is continuous improvement and many seem to be getting the message.

As the manufacturing industry shifts with the rest of the economy and becomes increasingly more service-and-customer-centric, executives are seeing the need for spreading the quality message across the enterprise.

We recently finished quality training for several HR professionals at a small company. The focus was on process quality improvement so they could provide better service support internally and externally. After training and passing the arduous ASQ Certified Quality Improvement Associate’s certification exam they reported improvement of their processes and the quality of the decisions being made.

If organizations want to accomplish their mission of spreading their quality initiatives, they need only to recall the gospel of Juran, Deming, Feigenbaum and Crosby. These giants preached a hybrid approach of quality control methods and employee empowerment.

Improvements are being made but much is left to do, especially in the human aspect. Management needs to give more than lip-service to their line that “people are our greatest asset.” The employee-engagement part of the quality equation is still lagging behind defect-prevention.

Standard processes are needed to improve quality but, at the end of the day, we need people that can catch the ball whenever something happens. While the idea of quality is still mostly stuck in the defect-reduction paradigm, there needs to be a shift toward a people-centric view.

A people-centric organization requires sustaining a motivated, engaged workforce, which is a challenge and requires constant nurturing, but the reward is there. Quality has as much to do with talent and human capital as it does with product design, engineering or equipment tolerances.

Everyone appreciates a job well done. This appreciation leads to people feeling empowered and becoming more engaged. When this happens individuals at all levels accept ownership and accountability, which results in better effectiveness—a great recipe for quality.

Bottom line, organizations are starting to understand that morale is everything in quality. People want to do a good job, and organizations have to enable that culture. The search for better quality is certainly a journey and not a destination.