Is Quality in the Eye of the Beholder?

Quality_Stamp_450x300What do you do when your standard of quality is different from those around you? Here’s a little fuel for discussion, not a prescriptive answer.

We all have personal standards of quality, whether we apply them to the work we do, the purchases we make, the friends we keep, or —  if we’re lucky — to the people we work with. People who are content tend to enjoy alignment between their personal standards and the quality of things by which they’re surrounded.

But what if that doesn’t happen? InfoComm has been rigorous in its development, instruction and certification of best-practice design and installation standards. There are thousands of people worldwide who have one or more CTS certification. This should mean there are thousands of people (or even tens thousands when you factor in non-CTS professionals who work daily with CTSes) who hold themselves to similar quality standards.

Yet I’ve found that in many of the audiovisual integration and technology management organizations I’ve consulted with, there are individuals who maintain high standards of quality and there are those who don’t. Part of this is because of the organization’s culture and values, which may actively or passively condone lower quality levels. Another reason is procedural barriers, whereby procedures written by one part of an organization sometimes hinder quality in another. Whatever the reason, what you end up with is lower morale throughout the organization and a breakdown of team cohesiveness into “those who do it right” and “those who don’t.”

So what do you do? You’re running an AV firm and you become aware that your standard of quality isn’t the same as one or more colleagues’. What now? There are many strategies, all of which have consequences.

  1. Lower your own personal standards to match the lowest common denominator, giving up pride and turning your profession into just a job.
  2. Clean up after others who are either unaware or untrained, or who don’t care enough to do their jobs to established the standards. Ultimately you may become a disgruntled martyr.
  3. Watch others do less than is required and experience the erosion of organizational value in the eyes of your customers.
  4. Encourage those around you to be aware of and trained in applicable processes and standards. Help them understand the value of these things and demonstrate the consequences (in wasted time and money, and loss of reputation) that come from not adhering to quality standards. This can be accomplished at both the personal and organizational level.

There may be other strategies you can follow. I know I’ve used each of the above at times in my career, based on expedience, friendship, time crunch, laziness, etc. (not something I’m proud of in all cases).

But maybe the best way to handle this thorny issue is to hear how other AV companies encourage a culture of quality throughout their organizations. And by all means, share your thoughts, too. If you’ll be at InfoComm 2013 this year (June 8-14 in Orlando, Fla.), please join InfoComm’s own Bill Thomas, CTS-I, at a Daybreak Session called Quality from the Bottom Up. Daybreak Sessions are scheduled early in the day so you can take in some education before the show floor opens. Bill’s session is Wed., June 12, and 7 a.m. It’s for AV employees and managers interested in “creating a workplace that recognizes and rewards quality workmanship.”

My guess is it will acknowledge #1-3, but encourage #4, as well as other peer-approved strategies. Have any you’d like to share below? How do you breed a culture of quality from top to bottom?

Brad Malone

About Brad Malone

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm University™ senior instructor, founding partner of Navigate Management Consulting, and president of Twin Star Consulting, an organizational excellence and program management consulting company serving multiple industries worldwide. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s and InfoComm’s highest-rated instructors.

3 Responses to “Is Quality in the Eye of the Beholder?”

  1. Even when your entire team is on board with providing the highest possible quality of service, the end result is affected by your end users choices, which you are obligated to adhere to.

    A former supervisor of mine once put it this way: “There are three ways to do things in our business, quality, quickly and cheaply; you can only pick two.”

    In essence, if budget and time are constraints for the customer, there’s not much you can do to produce the kind of quality end product that you would normally hold as your base standard and still meet your customers minimum requirements. The only other option would be to decline to bid on the project, which in this tough economy is a diminishing option.

  2. Good thoughts. Where quality is part of the culture, people understand and agree on what it means, and it is actually practiced–not just talked about, 3 of your 4 options above tend to go away. Yes you can train to achieve it to a degree, but it’s as much an attitude as it is a skillset. If you are an owner doing things right and doing the right things staff tends to self-select. This herd mentality can be positive or negative. Great, like-minded people attract more great people, and conversely…As they say, first rate managers hire first rate people. Second rate managers hire third rate people.

    • Joseph A. Legato IV Reply April 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      The quality of work output by the organization is where the value is. As an owner or manager, if you are accepting a lack of adherence to the standards set forth by the organization, you cannot expect your team to follow. I agree with Mr. Sharer’s comments in that attitude is equally as important as the skillset. You can teach people the skills to output quality work. However, it is increasingly difficult to educate people on the work ethic required to follow and maintain standards, as well as adhere to the processes. As an owner or manager, it starts at the top. Lead by example and the teams will have reason to follow.