A number of years ago it was my pleasure to become acquainted with Philip B. Crosby, author of “Quality is Free” and a number of other books on quality and leadership. I was so inspired that, in 1985, I attended his Quality College in Winter Park, FL, for a highly informative week. At the session, we received a binder full of material that I have kept over the years.

Recently, in preparation for a presentation to a group of quality manager students, I was flipping through the Crosby workbook and was struck by his focus on quality improvement. He stated that “In all these years of struggle I never met anyone who was against quality improvement.”

Most of us might agree that, like Crosby, we’ve not heard anyone say, at least openly, they were against quality improvement. However, something is amiss. With no one against quality improvement then management must be supportive and working nonstop to emphasize continual quality improvement. Agree? Sadly, many might disagree. If everyone supports quality improvement, why isn’t there an epidemic of everything getting better?

It is not easy to find many cases where service or product quality is actually better now than it was before. It seems that organizations are willing to spend a lot of money to lower product cost through less expensive materials, lower manpower costs and relocating factories, but wonder why the bottom line doesn’t change much. They miss the importance of lowering their cost by focusing on the cost of non-quality which impacts the bottom line dramatically. Organizations spend about 20% of their sales dollars doing work over or fixing their mistakes!

One of Crosby’s points was that no one, not the powerful or the powerless, was against quality improvement. All of his books, speeches and educational material show that doing things right the first time costs less than doing things wrong then fixing them later.

His point was “If everyone wants improvement, and we know how to make it happen, and it costs a lot less than doing it the way we are doing it now, how come hardly anything gets better?”

Crosby came up with three reasons why this might be happening:

  1. The highest paid and most talented people in a company do not work on improvement.These people are paid to focus on the aspects of the organization that have little to do with the service or the product. They produce marketing reports, planning manuals, reorganization plans and strategic plans. It might be a safe bet that the last strategic plan which a dozen people worked on for months has yet to be communicated and is now on a shelf gathering dust. These people are working hard on things that make very little difference. In fact this effort produces confusion and false priorities that acts as a barrier to quality improvement. Everything is up in the air and nothing seems to get done.
  2. People who understand a subject do not get to help determine the policy for improvement.Do you ever ask yourself who dreamed up some of the ridiculous plans and initiatives? A director of quality at a large corporation called me one day to say that he just got his new assignment and needed a definition for quality to present the next day to a group of corporate executives. I know what you’re thinking, but he was serious! He’d spent his entire career in manufacturing-related functions and was given the highest level quality position at his company. Regardless of this individual’s values, what the heck was behind the thinking of the senior managers who selected this person to head up their quality group? People in these positions should at least know how to spell Q-U-A-L-I-T-Y!
  3. Management just doesn’t understand.There are very few members of management that have actually done the work they supervise. Motivation of the workers is the most popular theme for quality improvement programs. However, it is management that needs to realize they are the cause of the problems by the way they manage. This not only hinders quality improvement but it just might be the reason, at least partially, that so much work is outsourced.

Quality happens when an organization realizes that quality comes about by delivering better quality and customer service. Effort is put into the right place. Not much else matters but quality. If we take care of quality, everything else falls into place. Organizations must remember that quality is defined by the customer and the customer’s vote is the only one that counts!

 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]