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A Publication of WTVP

What is Quality? That is the question with which we wrestle in this issue. From its original application on the factory floor, quality initiatives have continued to expand into a broader business context. From healthcare and government to engineering and education, quality is no longer the sole domain of manufacturing companies seeking to reduce defects. Quality is everywhere.

Quality is a concept more easily illustrated by its attributes than a simple dictionary definition. Certainly, effectiveness and efficiency are a huge part of it, but not the whole picture. As David Straker explains in an article in the journal Quality World, “We can be effective and efficient and still go out of business, as our best employees leave and the rest repay our lack of care for them with a lack of care for us.”

Certainly, the economic downturn has everyone looking for ways to wring efficiencies and cut costs from current processes. It is a delicate balancing act, though, as cost-cutting for its own sake, without an overall vision or strategy, can result in unintended long-term consequences, even with short-term gains.

For example, as quality professional Jim Smith notes, “It is easy for organizations to cut expenses by reducing or eliminating training programs which are easily identifiable and seen as expendable…but if we truly believe that people are our greatest asset, then cutting training budgets may not be in an organization’s best interest.” Studies show that employee training can deliver a 10-to-1 payback, while cutting quality staff can lead to higher, less visible non-quality costs.

An article on slate.com examines the success of the Chinese-food chain restaurant P.F. Chang’s in spite of a terrible climate for casual dining. Its secret? “It simply has worked hard at doing a better job running things.” The article concludes that continuous improvement “seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.”

On the flip side, a recent look into the liquidation of Circuit City in Inc. magazine suggests that the retailer’s failure was predicated less on the lousy economy and more on its “hapless customer service.” “In 2007, Circuit City fired the chain’s 3,400 most experienced salespeople and replaced them with generic, untrained, near-minimum-wage workers.” While it’s impossible to say with certainty, the article strongly implies that this move was a major factor in pushing the company into bankruptcy.

From the small retail shop to General Motors, no matter what industry you’re in, an organization’s customers are its lifeblood. “When it comes to quality,” notes Smith, “the customer’s vote is all that matters. Delivering what the customer is willing to pay for, time and again, is the only way organizations will really succeed.”

Quality is about so much more than metrics and methodologies. In the end, customers will vote with their wallets, and poor quality will inevitably trickle down into that equation. That’s why a commitment to total organizational excellence—even when the numbers are not easily quantified—is key to success.

Finally, as Crawford, Murphy & Tilly COO Warren Knoles notes, “quality is not a destination, but rather a journey with no end.” As such, continuous improvement should continuously be top of mind, for any organizational leader. iBi

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