Q is for Quality


Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™

As someone who spends a lot of time on airplanes, I try not to think about quality as being anything but absolute perfection.  Someone said “Perfection is a direction, not a destination.“  I’m not buying it!

When people who mean well ask me “How was your trip?” my typical, smart aleck, aerospace answer is “It was my favorite kind.  The same number of takeoffs and landings!”

Suppose your bank told you that they had a great business record.  They were right about your account 98.5% of the time!  Would you say “That’s great.  Congratulations!”  Or would you move your account to a different account?

So, as people who care about business ethics, how should we process the very notion of “defects per million”?

How about the food we eat.  What’s a little botulism or salmonella among friends?  Most of the time the food in that restaurant’s salad bar is just fine.

In the USA and many other countries, there are government agencies that inspect food, equipment, pharmaceuticals and many other products for safety and quality.  Why do we need them if the manufacturer/merchant is responsible for the quality of what they sell us?

I think quality is an essential element of integrity.  It goes a long way to defining what kind of business we are and what we care about.  By the way, the same applies to service industries like accountants, lawyers, dry cleaners, and yes, the medical profession.  But don’t get me started on that.  You are hereby invited to share with us your examples of medical malpractice.  And while you’re at it, why is it called practicing medicine?  Aren’t they supposed to have mastered the craft before they lay a hand, stethoscope or scalpel on us?

OK, maybe that’s a little harsh but I am feeling a little hostility as I think about Q is for Quality!  As I have said in earlier articles, the best managers can be blunt about the messages they deliver.  It’s OK to say “Do it right, now!”  It’s never OK to say “Do it right now!”  What a difference a tiny comma makes.

Another way to think about this is that nobody’s perfect.  True.  And nothing is perfect.  But let’s at least make a serious commitment to doing everything we can think of to keep people safe.  That means no “normalization of deviance.”  No using old, out of date analog test equipment when the specifications call for digital equipment.  And it means delivering the message in our policies, our procedures, our training and our communications to customers, suppliers, regulators, and each other that “This quality thing is important to us.  It’s our badge of honor.  And honor is an essential element of ETHICS.”


  1. As usual a stimulating read – one aspect I think is missing is that of ‘perception’ Different people will have different views of what ‘quality’ represents. We both enjoy good food but could go to the same restaurant and have the same meal but view the quality differently.
    I believe that when this is put in the ethics / integrity / business context it is down to the company to define what their standards are i.e. what is the level of ‘quality’ you can expect and then ensure there is no compromise in delivering it.
    Working in the service industry perceptions are important and varied. What is important is that we are clear and articulate as best we can what we standard for and therefore the quality you can expect from us.

    • Thanks Robert. Very helpful insights. You got me thinking that another way to describe Quality is expressed as internal and external. Your suggestion would seem to capture the internal. Our customers generally prescribe (often with our help) the external component through specifications and standards embodied in our contracts with them. And then we have regulators looking at us under microscopes. Definitely external!

  2. If you want an interesting contemplation of Quality, I recommend the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I read it in high school, and still remember some of the author/narrator’s musings about Quality, such as the idea that it’s an intrinsic aspect of Caring about something.

    Digging up a relevant quote: “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”

    • Those “hippies” were onto something! A very interesting and thought provoking contemplation indeed. Maybe the best organizations embody that approach to quality without even knowing they’re doing it. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. Thanks for sharing Robert!

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