Deming answers the question: how to sell quality?

Posted on March 26, 2012 by


recent post over on the ASQ Influential Voices blog sees CEO Paul Borawski asking:

How do I convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for – pick your ending – performance, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?

In this post I’ll present my thoughts on the question, “should you try to sell quality?”

This simple question has provoked quiteresponse from the quality and lean community. In summary, most suggested that you either can’t or shouldn’t have to sell quality.

For me, you only have to look at the work of Deming for straightforward answers to this question and it’s really sad that here we are in 2012, still discussing this as a relevant topic.

Quality should be a core value of your business where leaders and managers allow people take pride in their work. It should be part of the company DNA and culture. Leaders should build systems to foster people’s passion, allowing workers to fully comprehend and understand the meaning of quality. As Deming said:

The aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.

As quality professionals do we need to sell or provide a business case needed for this? Do you have to calculate Return on Investment for continuous improvement projects? All improvement efforts need to focus on improving quality first and foremost, as opposed to just concentrating on costs alone. Why? Back to Deming again:

(a) When people and organizations focus primarily on quality, defined by the following ratio,

Quality = (Results of work efforts) / (Total Costs)

quality tends to increase and costs fall over time.

(b) However, when people and organizations focus primarily on costs, costs tend to rise and quality declines over time.

Also, check out my post about the Deming Chain Reaction to understand why we need to stop thinking along the lines that profit and growth are the ultimate goals (these excellent articles expand upon this idea too).

Just to clarify, of course I’m not saying that you should ignore the financial aspect, but if this is the only reason for initiating a quality improvement event then that’s indicative of something wrong at the very heart of an organisation. Sadly cost is generally how quality is sold by consultants. The pitch normally goes along the lines of how <insert latest management fad here> will increase profitability by X or save costs by Y and here’s a case study to prove it.

As you can see my ideas on this subject aren’t particularly revolutionary or new as Deming got it right years ago; it’s just that these philosophies aren’t particularly widespread, understood or well implemented. The desire to change remains weak as quality improvement is generally a long, slow slog. It’s not sexy and it’s certainly not “instant puddingas Deming would have said.

Change is difficult and uncomfortable for leaders as they tend to want to stick to what they know so long-term evolutionary changes are usually avoided. Unfortunately, what works best if you want to sell quality is promoting easy, straightforward and uncomplicated changes; the ones which don’t challenge the status quo. And regrettably it is these types of change which don’t bring a huge amount of benefit. So, for example you may adopt a few of the Lean tools and get several visible wins but truly adopting a Lean philosophy is much more challenging, which is why a lot of companies don’t even try. Remember:

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.

Ellen Glasgow

What’s your take on this? Have I got it right or am I nuts? Leave a comment below:

Posted in: Leadership