Published in SME WORLD Mar 2014 Issue
“Quality means do it right when no one is looking.” These are the famous words of Henry Ford.
hen I was in school, my father would always insist that I write in a good handwriting and keep the notebooks and answer sheets clean and tidy, labeled, highlighted; fundamentally well – organized. My retort would be to focus on the contents and the answers not the cosmetic appearance. Anyway, no one has really commented on my calligraphy skills (or the lack of it) and the appearance of my notebook and journals. Father would reason that many others can write the same quality of answers or even better, what will differentiate your stuff from them? I grudgingly started adopting his advice. Today, I look back and realize how profound and life changing was the viewpoint.
Years later I was working under a German boss; the Late Mr. Norbert Wilms. He would go around the plant every day, take photos of dirt, breakages, loose wires hanging, unclean premises, broken drains – the list was endless. One day he wrote a letter to the plant owners saying that a drain cover in the bathroom was rusted and should be changed. Everyone was flabbergasted. Is this even an issue in a multi-crore power generation plant? He said that everything matters however small or big. Today you consider a drain cover as trivial, tomorrow you will say a small raw material issue as minor and allow under deviation; one day an alarm will be ignored and when a turbine crashes then everyone will wake up. Who decides what is trivial and what is not? And why should we settle for mediocre when we can always do better.
Indians are often ticked for their “Chalta Hai” attitude. It is embedded in us as a supplier, buyer and end-user. Poor workmanship, late deliveries, inaccurate dimensions or alignment, incorrect quantities, ineffective communication are all part and parcel of this “Chalta Hai” approach. If we ask an electrician to visit our house/ business premises for some work, we know that he won’t visit without repeated reminders. The job that is done will probably require rework too.
We look at quality as some extraneous factor, as an element for compliance to get the material or service approved and bills passed through quality control. It often represents some paper work to complete an audit and get a certificate for a particular process/ product. This is how many enterprises and individuals view quality.
Mindset for Quality
Quality is an opportunity; it is a plinth on which businesses can achieve stellar success. It is Quality that creates Brands for which people pay a premium. But for that “Quality” has to be embedded in the basic fabric of the business and individual mind-set. Everyone has to perform routine tasks with quality and competence while aiming for improvement at each stage without an explicit demand or need.
SME players often feel that they are small, resource-crunched and hence just being able to meet orders and deliveries is an achievement. Wrong! The tea stall vendor at the street corner in all likelihood will go out of business if another vendor offers quality tea in the vicinity. And the quality tea stall has larger concrete prospects of turning into a restaurant due to repeat customers and word of mouth appreciation plying a mundane item as a cup of tea.
Quality is not an act, it is a habit. ~ Aristotle