Three R’s for Quality Professionals

 by Diane G. Kulisek

While recently talking with the president of a growing service company, I learned he had some very painful connections to the concept of quality professionalism. The words he associated with those who had “quality” in their job titles were overwhelmingly negative. He shot them across the table at me like bullets:

  • Unacceptable!
  • Deficient!
  • Defective!
  • Nonconforming!
  • Noncompliant!
  • Discrepant!
  • Hazardous!
  • Substandard!
  • Compromised!
  • Scrap!
  • Complaint!
  • Waste!
  • Liability!
  • Enforcement!
  • Penalty!

The disgruntled chief went on to say he had formed a negative association with just about anything in business having to do with the word quality.

I sat back, a little stunned. Running through my head were words like:

  • Improved.
  • Excellent.
  • Competitive.
  • World class.
  • Preferred.
  • Superior.
  • Efficient.
  • Capable.
  • Credible.
  • Trustworthy.
  • Respected.
  • Delighted.
  • Proven.
  • Loyal.

But how often had I used these words when talking with business leaders in my workplaces?

As a matter of survival, it is instinctive for us to remember painful experiences more than pleasant ones. If something hurts, it should be avoided. That logic is pretty primal. Some have argued that learning or change take place only when a painful but significant emotional experience can help us see1 the importance of the lesson.1

Well, the executive sitting across from me had learned a lesson. He had learned to avoid the subject of quality and quality professionals.

Some of us may even have taken pride in our past roles as corporate conscience, designated bottleneck or quality “Rottweiler jaws of death.” It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.

There were days my co-workers said they thought they could actually hear my quality armor—complete with sword and shield—clanking as I marched off to do my next battle for truth, justice and quality in the boardroom. No wonder I struck terror into the hearts of otherwise powerful top managers!

Getting Beyond Barriers

So, how does a quality professional make a worthwhile contribution when the seemingly inherent nature of what we have to offer—information about quality deficiencies—has obviously become an irritant to those who should know about them?

Can we disguise the information we provide as something else? Should we? Does it make sense to try to change the culture of those in quality careers? What will it take for quality professionals to regain acceptance and for important quality information to be welcomed by our heretofore traumatized business leaders?

Taking some lessons from the world of high technology might be helpful. No other industry has ever been so challenged by such rapid growth, change and competitiveness.

John F. Terris presented “Reuse, Repurpose, Repackage: A General Engine Products Inc. Case Study” to an XML Conference and Exposition.2 These are not the same old three R’s you may have heard of as a kid. These are new—at least for the quality profession.

The manner by which Terris addresses the subject of information management seems to offer some interesting possibilities for the delivery of quality information by quality pros. Consider these definitions of the new three R’s:

  1. Reuse: obtaining, delivering or using the same information in more than one way.
  2. Repurpose: obtaining, delivering or using the same information in more than one way to produce more than one outcome.
  3. Repackage: obtaining, delivering or using the same information in more than one way to produce more than one outcome for more than one type of user.

Applying the New Three R’s

How can we apply the new three R’s directly to quality?

Going forward, I recommend quality professionals consider some of the following approaches:

  • Watch your language.
  • Make some money.
  • Change your name.

Watch your language. Reuse quality information in a favorable light. Consider presenting quality or regulatory compliance concerns as something other than problems or issues. Instead, identify them as initiatives, opportunities or preventive actions.

Instead of reducing cost, avoiding waste or eliminating scrap, consider increasing productivity, improving timeliness and restoring profit to the bottom line.

Words carry great power. Use that power to mutual advantage for both you and your organization.

Make some money. Repurpose quality information to directly address the tangible bottom line. In a recent presentation, Ron Conlin, vice president of J.D. Power and Associ-ates, debunked the myth that the greatest economic case for quality was in resolving the issues of dissatisfied customers.3

His organization’s research demonstrated that investing in attainment of customer delight, by focusing on better understanding and fulfilling the needs of quiet customers who were not dissatisfied but merely satisfied, resulted in significantly greater company earnings.

Use quality tools and methods to help move your organization’s silent majority customers toward a state of delight, and be ready to demonstrate the direct relationship between that delight and increased profits.

Change your name. Repackage yourself. Work with your fellow team members to define your new role within the organization. Create a more favorable and more representative title.

ASQ has changed the name of the quality manager certification to “manager of quality/organizational excellence” to reflect the broader scope of the quality leader’s role.4

Perhaps it is time to repackage yourself as something more than an enforcer of specifications, standards and regulations. A few creative titles I like are internal customer advocate, continual improvement specialist, customer satisfaction facilitator, quality management system designer and—my personal favorite—strategic excellence champion.


  1. Mikel J. Harry, “Six Sigma Story,” www.mikeljharry.com/story.php?cid=8, 2004.
  2. John F. Terris, “Reuse, Repurpose, Re-package: A General Engine Products Inc.Case Study,” December 2001, Orlando, www.idealliance.org/papers/xml2001/papers/html/04-01-04.html.
  3. Ron Conlin, “ROI of CSI,” ASQ economic case for quality executive outreach event, Woodland Hills, CA, April 25, 2006.
  4. Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Certification, www.asq.org/certification/manager-of-quality/quality-manager.html.

DIANE G. KULISEK of Simi Valley, CA, is president of CAPAtrak LLC and an independent quality management consultant, writer and motivational and guest lecturer at Southern California colleges and universities. She holds a master’s degree in engineering management from California State University-Northridge and is certified as an ASQ quality engineer and manager of quality/organizational excellence. Kulisek is active with the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division, ASQ Region 7 (the Southwest) and ASQ San Fernando Valley Section 706, as well as in promoting ASQ’s economic case for quality.

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