Philip Bayard “Phil” Crosby, one of the most influential quality gurus of the 20th century, passed away August 18, 2001, so I thought it fitting to focus on some his messages for this August column.

One of my lasting memories as a young quality manager is the time I spent with Phil while attending a quality conference at which he was a keynote speaker. It was enlightening to spend an afternoon discussing quality strategies with such a personality and the lessons learned had much to do with my professional career.

With the limited space here it is impossible to cover his life, career and accomplishments so we’ll leave that for you to discover. Crosby wrote many books including his famous 1979 “Quality is Free” so I suggest seeking them out.

I have yet to speak with quality professionals where someone didn’t comment that they had been unable to get their company’s management team motivated to adopt quality improvement initiatives. They claim they have taken the actions any well-oriented professional would expect, and yet they were disappointed by management’s inaction.

Each time I hear these comments I am dismayed. I am always surprised that they are surprised. Why should quality programs be different from all the other initiatives that management must make decisions to support? Since I’ve been in that exact place I can relate to the frustration but there is a solution that Crosby put forth.

At the time of my meeting with Crosby I was involved with preparing a quality improvement initiative with large upside potential. It should have been an easy sell but management wasn’t as interested as was expected. Crosby offered valuable insight which was instrumental in successfully implementing the program which had a profound influence on the improvement culture.

A quality improvement effort, he said, was just like any other initiative. It must be well-thought out, and implemented according to a plan, over a period of time. It requires not only significant resources but also a culture change; therefore, it must become part of the organization’s style.

People who have to put quality improvement programs in place generally think managers will not be supportive; therefore, they become tentative, even defensive. Typically people don’t really like to get out front with too much unless they are absolutely certain it will be properly received. However, it’s been my experience that, when properly explained, improvement efforts are always received correctly. It’s the proper examination that takes some effort from the people putting forth the quality improvement programs.

Generally we lay out data which only focus on things like defects, returns, DPU, DPMO, etc., and which mean little to the management team because they don’t or can’t grasp the significance to the bottom line. There is only so much money to be allocated so what’s the impact going to be?

To get managers behind a quality initiative, it is a good idea to move right into the basics of quality. Quality professionals must help managers understand what quality means by emphasizing what Crosby called the absolutes of quality using his 14-step approach to quality improvement. One of his four absolutes is that quality measurement is the price of nonconformance. A measurement of quality is needed to get management’s attention, prioritize problems and programs, and to measure progress.

Quality professionals must learn to speak the language of managers. Crosby said that when managers get together they generally talk about four things: 1) Money; 2) Making money; 3) Making more money; 4) Not losing money.

If you are having difficulty influencing the quality decisions at your company, don’t look to your senior managers but analyze your actions and those of your peers. Are you speaking a language that can be understood and results in action?

Crosby, a former senior manager and business owner, consulted, spoke and wrote about strategic quality issues throughout his professional life. His down-to-earth wisdom came from his roots working on the factory floor. He learned early to speak the language of management and used it to convey the idea that poor quality adversely affects the bottom line.

 Crosby wasn’t the first to write about the cost of quality—that distinction goes to Joseph M. Juran in the first edition of his “Quality Control Handbook” and later to a greater degree Armand Feigenbaum’s “Total Quality Control.” Crosby also wasn’t the first to identify value as a focus in business. Crosby, however, did find a way to communicate that got the attention of business leaders and caused them to consider quality as a strategy for business improvement. He spoke the language of the people and the language of management and the message is still being received!