I want to talk about quality and elephants.
Someone once said, "An elephant is a horse built by a committee that did not understand the specifications."
We''ve all built a few elephants in our time, and I suspect that you''ll have the opportunity to build a few more in your careers.
Yet, we might at least agree that meeting the specification means delivering what is asked for — and, that is what quality is all about.
According to Aristotle, "Quality is not an act; it is a habit."
Dr. Edward Deming said that quality is control of variation; Joe Juran said that quality is fitness for use; and Phil Crosby said that quality is prevention.
Notwithstanding their differences, all of them say that quality means meeting the expectation of the customer.
And, quality doesn''t just have to do with the traditional idea about products.
Today, I want to share some of the things I learned from applying the concepts of quality management (QM) over the last nearly 40 years of measuring service quality.
Quality: The Difference Maker
First, I learned that managing quality really does make a difference in business success.
Companies who live the QM culture pay employees better, have higher sales revenue, accumulate more assets and create more wealth than companies that do not keep their quality commitment.
So, please understand that quality is all about keeping your word, your commitments.
It means that your honesty, your integrity, your values, the very essence of who you are is reflected in the product or service you deliver.
But, if your reputation is going to be reflected in the service you deliver, you will want to be very clear about what quality really means.
There is a riddle that asks, "How can a company make money selling their products so cheaply?"
The answer: They make their profits repairing those products.
When I first read that idea, I laughed; later, it wasn''t so funny.
That''s been the story at too many companies for too many years.
As a consumer, it hurts me to think about the broken gadgets and widgets that I''ve trashed after a few uses because to get them repaired was more trouble or expense than to buy a new one.
There''s got to be something unethical in all that — not to mention unprofitable in the long-term.
I want to raise this question: "If you don''t have time to do the job right the first time, how will you ever find time to do it over?"
Another pertinent question might be, "If you can''t afford to keep your promise the first time around, who is going to trust you the next time?"
Quality is not fixing a broken product or the broken promise or poor service; it''s doing everything possible to prevent the breakdown in the first place.
I want to define the QM idea as a relationship between several key elements.
Quality management is a four-wheel car — always.
You cannot define quality "in general."
There is no such specification — unless you are willing to accept an elephant when you need a horse.
A specification, requirement or even simple request must be detailed enough to assure that you''ve understood what is expected and delivered what you promised.
To some people, quality means "Made in America," "using common sense" or "being ethical."
These are pretty vague generalities.
Yet, while quality is easy to talk about in generalities, it''s sometimes difficult to define in specifics.
No matter how vague we may define the term "quality," our customers don''t.
They define it specifically and subjectively: To one, quality may mean, "It won''t break when I drop it on the floor."
To another, it means, "It doesn''t fade when it''s been sitting in the sun."
To someone else, it means, "It will print faster than anything else on the market."
To still another, it means, "It will impress my family and friends."
Journalist Sydney J. Harris has observed: "An idealist believes the short run doesn''t count … Even a cynic believes the long run doesn''t matter."
I''m a realist: Quality, keeping your word, your promises, in the short run determines your long-term success.
Customers will forget how much you charge to do the job, but they remember your promise and how well you kept it.
Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information, visit www.ealtd.com. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.