In his March 2012 question to the ASQ Influential Voices, CEO Paul Borawski presents a question that he deals with regularly – and that industry has been challenged with for several decades:
“How do I convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for–pick your ending–performance excellence, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?”
In other words, how can you “sell” the value of quality to an organization and its top executives?
My response: You can’t. Quality is a core value that must be appreciated for it to be cultivated.
This point was made very clear to me in Malta. I had the opportunity to visit the country, a tiny island south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, early this year. (Isn’t that a great picture I took up above??) Speed and efficiency are not some of this country’s values… you can expect to wait for a bus forever, if you’re that patient, and there are a glut of Australian imports trying to sell you boat tours whenever you walk down the street – even when they’ve seen you every day, multiple times a day, and you’ve made it clear to them you’re not a tourist and you don’t want to hop on a sightseeing boat.
However, product quality and value in Malta – especially among the small, independent retailers – are highly esteemed. You aren’t going to get a bad cappuccino, even though you’ll only pay a Euro or two for it (even in a gas station or convenience store). You’re unlikely to get a lunch that’s made from highly overprocessed, bulk ingredients, or that tastes anything less than blissful and homemade. And no one would expect any less… because their reputations are on the line, and they are proud of their products, and proud of the personal excellence that those products represent.
So a better question is… not how do you sell quality… but how do you stimulate the appreciation of quality? Note that this is far more a question of how to impact society on a broad scale than one of how do we implement this in our companies.
(Here’s another way of saying it: How do you get the average Wal-Mart shopper to appreciate quality instead of just rolled-back prices? How do you get people to accept paying more for higher quality products and services, rather than being psychologically recalibrated to think those lower quality things are actually reasonable quality? How do you get people to purchase for longevity in a global era of planned obsolescence and rapidly changing tastes? I’m not sure. I think this may be a particularly nefarious cultural dilemma, grown in America but with the staunch support of Chinese manufacturers, with the potential to culture us all into “pink slime” politics. And we may have to distance ourselves from the notion that profit and growth are what we’re after in order to break this cycle.)
If an appreciation for quality is not ingrained into you by your culture from an early age, perhaps it can still be learned. The first idea I had here was that if art appreciation can be taught in schools, maybe we can do the same for quality. But I’m not an expert in art, nor in appreciation (beyond what I myself appreciate), nor how to teach appreciation.
How can we promote and stimulate the appreciation of higher quality throughout our society?