QUALITY IN THE FIRST PERSON
Living by the Values
by Linda Graf
My first exposure to quality was when I was 27. I was working in R&D at Polaroid Corp. While I liked working at Polaroid, I was unhappy with my particular job, so I started looking for other openings in the company. After a couple months of searching and interviewing, I accepted a quality control engineer position.
At the time, I was too young to fully comprehend how big a role quality played in my life. I had a job to do, and I was brought up to do my best. This job was no exception. I worked hard and did well because it satisfied my own internal reward system.
I soon began to realize, however, that the reason I tried to do my job well was that I cared about the customer and the quality of the product we were shipping. I wanted people to say Polaroid makes great products. I started to look outside myself, forgetting about my own self-satisfaction and internal reward system.
What I found amazing was that by putting all my energy into making a quality product, I also was rewarding myself for a job well done. I started to empathize with our customers, feeling how frustrated they would be if the picture they just took was ruined because of defective film. I found my-self really caring about my customers.
After leaving Polaroid, I spent 20 years in different positions outside quality, including time as a corrosion consultant, chemical engineer, product manager, application engineer and validation engineer. In each position, I remained driven by the effect the quality of my work had on my customers.
One of my employers would always call on me to “go do your magic” with customers. I would laugh because I was only doing my job—there was no magic involved. Yet the customers trusted me and knew I would give them exactly what they wanted. They were confident I knew what I was doing and had high quality standards, so they had nothing to worry about. They would receive a quality product.
Again, I would imagine how it felt to get a product that was not up to their standards. That’s how I performed my jobs during that time. I worked hard, gave each employer my best and always put myself in the customer’s shoes.
In 2001, I was contracting as a validation consultant at Wyeth BioPharma, where Temple University was conducting quality assurance courses via video conference. I enrolled in the quality audit course to learn how audits were conducted in a regulated industry. I worked hard in the course and did well. My instructor suggested I pursue ASQ’s quality auditor certification.
I finished the Temple course in late April and immediately started studying for the certified quality auditor exam. During this time, I accepted a position as quality assurance validation specialist at Wyeth. As I did at Polaroid, I accepted the position because I wanted to work for the company, not specifically because the job was in quality. It was the products the company made and the values it promoted that attracted me.
Where I’m Meant to Be
Little did I realize at the time that a quality role is where I’m meant to be. My quality position encompasses all the values I hold high and that form the backbone of my professional and personal life: integrity, quality, collaboration, respect for people and leadership.
Working in a pharmaceutical company requires not only technical expertise but also living by these values. We don’t make film for the leisure market. We make drugs that give people a quality of life they would not have without them. This is why I go to work every day and do my best. My customers actually trust me with their lives.
I also have an effect on my co-workers and direct reports. My quality position allows me to create an atmosphere in which they too can make these values their highest priority. This is critical in a quality role, because these values are the primary drivers that make people produce quality products.
I also work with them so they understand not only how to do their jobs according to our SOPs, but why the SOPs are in place. It’s difficult for people to take pride in their jobs and produce quality products if they don’t fully understand what they are doing.
By leading, collaborating with and respecting people, and having integrity, I can have a tremendous effect on the quality of our products. This is why I’m in a quality position and why I’m going to stay in quality, where I feel very much at home.
Viving by Values
My personal life is no different. These values didn’t just appear when I decided to work in quality. I can sleep soundly, “doing my magic” in my everyday life. All quality people should naturally have these values.
For me, quality comes from the heart—empathizing with my customers and knowing I can make a difference in the quality of their lives. The attitude is something anyone can adopt with the proper leadership and training. It can be a part of everyone’s job—whether they are in quality or not.
LINDA GRAF is the quality assurance verification manager, manufacturing systems, for Wyeth BioPharma in Andover, MA. She has master’s degree in chemical engineering from Tufts University in Medford, MA, and an MBA from Bentley College in Waltham, MA. Graf, a member of ASQ, is a certified quality auditor, engineer and manager.