Persistence is something I’ve written about in the past and the topic recently came to surface in one of my quality management course sessions. I thought it might be valuable to continue the discussion of this fundamental, but very important, quality skill.

First, let’s define persistence. It’s the trait that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people. Therefore, persistence is definitely not taking the easy road to a decision or action. It should go without saying that quality professionals, maybe more so than any other position, must possess persistence as a key characteristic.

When it comes to making quality as good as it can be, persistence is just as important as any other quality assurance skill. It may not be part of the body of knowledge or found on a training skills matrix, but when applied to quality issues, persistence can give an organization and its quality professionals a major competitive advantage.

If struggling to understand how persistence and quality are related, we might consider a basic definition of quality. One of my early mentors often said that “quality is the gap between how good something is and how good it could be.” Simply put, if the gap is small quality is good, and when the gap is wide, quality is poor.

Persistence at all levels plays a significant role in optimizing organizational quality performance. To illustrate this point let’s consider a seemingly ordinary example: adding new employees. With every opening, hiring the right person with high-performance credentials and who possesses the appropriate interpersonal skills versus hiring an average person with minimum acceptable credentials will have a dramatic effect on many success factors.

The quality managers who thoroughly examine candidates and are very selective in determining who joins their work team will have higher efficiency and effectiveness levels in their area than a manager who hires the first acceptable person.

Certainly hiring managers who are not persistent when it comes to employee selection spend less of their day doing interviews; however, they are highly likely to suffer in the long-run when the quality of work yields less than desirable outcomes.

When in a rush to fill open positions, hiring managers almost always hire someone who could just barely perform the job and will never take the job to a higher level. The high-performing employee, though, is always striving to achieve optimum performance. Finding those high-performing employees, however, takes time, hard work and persistence.

Something I was taught long ago was to hire people that could not only perform the functions of the open position but could potentially develop into someone capable to move up two or three levels or even handle the boss’s job. This typically means more employee turnover for the manager’s workgroup but his/her team will enjoy the greater benefits of high-performers because success is contagious. In addition the entire organization will be far better off in the long-run. This is how senior leadership is developed.

Being persistent applies to other areas in an organization such as market research, design decisions, vendor selection, manufacturing process selection, etc. Like most things, though, doing the right thing by being persistent requires time and effort which are precious commodities.

A previous mentor taught me that feeling some pain now and making an extra effort to be persistent in actions and decisions pays dividends in the end. Not being persistent usually results in sub-optimal outcomes which typically results in higher stress. In essence it’s a pay me now or pay me later issue!

There are many examples, however, of people trying to save time by accepting things that are “good enough.” Some people are more interested in saving time by checking the task off their to-do list instead of meeting the intent of the task. For example, to some managers, hiring someone into an open position completes the task. Conversely, persistent managers realize that filling an open position means finding a high-quality person who will excel, not just fill, a position so everyone wins. The new employee, the manager’s work group, the organization, and shareholders will all benefit.

To maintain quality as a foundation principle it is important to stay persistent in our decisions; taking the time and effort to ensure that our decisions don’t just address the immediate issue, but that we also use decision points to optimize quality to make the organization as good as possible. This will give us a significant advantage over competitors that take a “good enough is good enough” approach.

 Colin Powell, retired US Army four-star general and former US Secretary of State, summed it up nicely when he said, “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.” We would all be better off if we followed his message.