Workers are human, and that suggests they will generally slip-up and make mistakes as a matter of course, in their daily work routines! The majority of US workers, as reported by leading research organizations, are not able to complete the day without encountering situations where some level and value of mistakes will occur! The aviation and medical industry sectors are high-stake environment examples, where 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 result 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 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 the 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. David A. Garvin, former C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, developed the concept. 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 the length of a product’s life. When the product can be repaired, estimating strength is more complicated. The item is usable until it is no longer economical to operate it. This condition 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: represents a product’s primary operating characteristics. This dimension of quality involves measurable attributes; brands can usually be ranked objectively on individual performance.
  7. Reliability: likelihood that a product will not fail within a specific period. A key element for users who need the product to work without fail.
  8. Serviceability: the 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 

What is the potential outcome if 99.99% is the quality metric is a standard?

  • 119,760 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
  • 144 incorrect medical procedures occur daily.
  • 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 mishandled in the next hour.
  • 2,434,300 books sent in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions written in the next 12 months.
  • 56,700 checks deducted from the false 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) misspelled.
  • 69 malfunctioning ATM’s will 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 practical 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 based on seven Quality Management Principles (QMP) consists of:

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, are more successful in achieving a higher level of quality and productivity. Employee goals include quality expected, deadlines, and the cost to deliver. The “how” refers to 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 practical employee goals as outlined below:

  • Specific: target a particular 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: identify when the result(s) required for completion.
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
Steve Jobs