Workers are human and that suggests they will generally slip-up and make mistakes as a matter of course in their daily work routines! In fact, the majority of US workers, as reported by leading research organizations, are not able to successfully complete the day without encountering situations where some level and value of mistakes will be made! The aviation and medical industry sectors are high-stake environment examples, where it is generally understood  that it is not possible to depend on a do-over to rectify worker mistakes or faults.

So, is 99.9% quality good enough in the workplace?

When employees’ lives and livelihoods, business success and, error-free customer interactions are at risk, being .01 percent wrong is not good enough! The corollary of allowing work standards to degrade in response to business pressures and employee behavior provides the background for potential business failure. Successful managers understand and appreciate how easy it is to fall into the ‘Cycle of Mediocrity’, and how arduous it is to retrain workers and reset their sights higher to totally embrace quality standards in their total individual and group work activities.

Chuck Swindoll, in his book, The Finishing Touch, said:

“If goals are not set high, ‘’excellent’ is soon reduced to ‘acceptable’, which then slips to ‘adequate’, which, before long, settles at ‘mediocre”

The act of setting organizational “acceptable” level of faults, mistakes, errors, spoilage, waste, and, accordingly, an equivalent level of disgruntled customers is a ruse that can lure an otherwise well-managed business into the kind of business quagmire where customer reputation and loyalty can quickly erode with severe financial consequences.

Cycle of Mediocrity

The Cycle of Mediocrity, within the business environment, involves the “dummying” down of the organization through inadequate training and knowledge-building and absence of operational standards and measures. Envisage the Cycle of Mediocrity as a circle, with low job satisfaction and high turnover leading to decreased customer satisfaction, lower revenue, profitability and productivity. As a result, decreased financials lead to lower wages, training and employee morale.

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”

Quality Management Product Dimensions

There are eight product quality management dimensions that are characteristically used, at a strategic level, to analyze quality characteristics. The concept was developed by David A. Garvin, former C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Some of the dimensions are mutually reinforcing as improvement in one may be at the expense of others.

  1. Aesthetics: subjective dimension indicating the kind of response a user has to a product. It represents the individual’s personal preference.
  2. Conformance: precision with which the product or service meets the specified standards.
  3. Durability: measures length of a product’s life. When the product can be repaired, estimating durability is more complicated. The item will be used until it is no longer economical to operate it. This happens when the repair rate and the associated costs increase significantly.
  4. Features: represents additional characteristics that enhance the appeal of the product or service to the user.
  5. Perceived Quality: quality attributed to a good or service based on indirect measures.
  6. Performance: refers to a product’s primary operating characteristics. This dimension of quality involves measurable attributes; brands can usually be ranked objectively on individual aspects of performance.
  7. Reliability: likelihood that a product will not fail within a specific time period. This is a key element for users who need the product to work without fail.
  8. Serviceability: speed with which the product can be put into service when it breaks down, as well as the competence and the behavior of the service person.

Possible Outcomes of 99.99% Quality 

If the 99.99% quality metric was used as a standard in the workplace the below outcomes are possible.

  • 119,760 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
  • 144 incorrect medical procedures will be performed today.
  • 110,600 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
  • 18 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
  • 23,666 defective computers will be shipped this year.
  • 22,792 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
  • 2,434,300 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
  • 56,700 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next hour.
  • 567 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
  • 315 entries in the most recent Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged) will turn out to be misspelled.
  • 69 malfunctioning ATM’s will be installed in the next 12 months.
  • 810 commercial airline flights would crash every month.
  • 880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
  • Two million documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
  • Two plane landings daily at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe.
“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.”
Tom Peters

ISO 9000 – Quality Management Systems

ISO 9001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system (QMS). This ISO standard specifies requirements for a quality management system when an organization:

  1. Needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
  2. Aims to enhance customer satisfaction through the effective application of the system, including processes for improvement of the system and the assurance of conformity to customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

The ISO 9000 series are based on seven Quality Management Principles (QMP):

QMP 1 – Customer Focus

QMP 2 – Leadership

QMP 3 – Engagement of People

QMP 4 – Process Approach

QMP 5 – Improvement

QMP 6 – Evidence-Based Decision-Making

QMP 7 – Relationship Management

Quality and Employee Goals and Performance

Organizations that formally develop work quality goals, collaboratively with employees, generally are more successful in achieving a higher level of quality and productivity. Employee goals should be set that not only support what is expected, but also how it will be achieved. For example, the “what” covers quality or quantity expected, deadlines to be met, cost to deliver, etc. The “how” refers to the employee behavior demonstrated to achieve outcomes. Many executives include competencies within performance expectations, to reinforce the link to business strategy, vision and mission.

The SMART Method in creating effective employee goals as outlined below:

  • Specific: target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable: quantify an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable: specify who will do it.
  • Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-Bound: specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
Steve Jobs