Our Work Future

As seen by Phil Crosby

by Greg Hutchins

Think of the quality giants: W. Edwards Deming, J.M. Juran, Philip B. Crosby. Deming is gone and Juran less active, but Crosby remains, standing head and shoulders above most in the quality profession. He is one of the great evangelists of modern quality.

Most of us are still in the box in terms of our quality careers, but Crosby, who's already "been there and done that" in the quality world, has been offering some different perspectives recently--out-of-the-box perspectives and tips about where quality is going and what path quality practitioners should follow. I caught up with him recently. These are his thoughts:

QP: I hear you've got a new book. What's it all about?

Crosby: Quality and Me: Lessons from an Evolving Life [San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 1999] is my autobiography. It tells the story of how my work and personal life evolved over these years and covers how I hacked a career out of the business forest, developing original concepts as we moved along.

QP: Quality as a profession seems to be at a crossroads. Where is the quality profession going?

Crosby: Not very far if it stays locked on its present course of using packaged systems (like ISO) to promise improvement for management. Quality management [QM] is hard work, not something that comes in a box. ISO 9000 is quality assurance [QA] and as such is passive. QM is active; it is steering the quality vehicle. QA is the owner's manual in the glove box.

QP: Nice analogies. I agree QM is active, while QA is largely passive. How does a quality professional become more valuable to his or her organization?

Crosby: Good question. I'd say that this person must satisfy the following needs:

  • Understand more about the science of management so he or she can help leadership create a reliable organization.

  • Get rid of the idea that the quality department is responsible for quality. (The comptroller is not responsible for profit.)

  • Get rid of the idea that variation means there should be errors in everything.

  • Develop the understanding of prevention rather than detection in all areas of the organization.

  • Learn to present ideas and comments in a clear, understandable way.

  • Work harder at helping others to be successful.

QP: OK, it seems that a lot of your needs deal with a person's character, not quality skills or technical aptitudes.

Crosby: You are right. One thing I have noticed about successful people is that they have a few things in common. First, they speak and write their native language clearly and correctly. They have a pragmatic vocabulary and are easy to understand.

Second, they are unfailingly courteous and polite. They show respect for others; they say "please" and "thank you"; they have compassion and empathy. They present themselves well in dress, manner, and actions.

Third, they are useful. They perform their tasks properly and add value to everything they do. They see things through to the end; they have original thoughts; they produce.

Fourth, they are reliable. They can be counted on to be where they are supposed to be; they have successful relationships.

QP: Interesting. What you're talking about is quality people in the larger sense--quality people have integrity, respect, and are professional.

Crosby: Exactly. When people develop these characteristics they position themselves to be respected and helped by others. They eliminate the problems that come from antagonism in the business and personal world. People will listen to them, and follow their lead. This has been a recurring theme in all my books.

In Quality and Me: Lessons from an Evolving Life, I tried to show how working this way can open the lines of progressive travel and attract mentors who can really help understand the world. In The Absolutes of Leadership, I laid out the leader's concerns of agenda, personal philosophy, building enduring relationships, and being worldly.

Creating a career without limits is not so much a matter of technical knowledge as it is of relationships, relationships, and relationships.

QP: Where are you going? You've packed several work lives into your lifetime.

Crosby: I've started PCA II [Philip Crosby Associates II, Inc.]. We teach organizations worldwide to become more reliable by:

  • Having a quality policy saying that all transactions are to be completed correctly and all relationships are to be successful

  • Giving them an education based on the absolutes of quality management so everyone has a common philosophy of quality

  • Showing them how to define requirements clearly so everyone understands what to do

  • Coaching a client's management so all this can be done through example and leadership

QP: After a 40-year career, when most of us would be thinking about retirement, Philip Crosby demonstrates why he's still one of our top management thinkers. Quality and Me is certainly not the end of his story.

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