Rise to the Top

Quality professionals should take advantage of the down economy

by Teresa Whitacre

We all hope 2010 brings better economic times. What has the economic bust taught organizations and quality professionals about weathering the storm? It’s shown us we have the tools to survive down times, restructuring and reorganization.

No lean thinking

Lean manufacturing involves doing the most possible with the least amount of resources, and organizations are minimizing resources. Profit and not-for-profit organizations are cutting back on overall expenses, keeping fewer employees and offering less employee assistance or rewards than they once did. Pay freezes, layoffs, cancelled holiday events, no bonuses and reduced benefits are just some examples of how organizations are cutting back. But quality professionals can’t cut back when it comes to their careers.

To survive restructures and cutbacks, more is better. The more skills we have, the more knowledge we possess and the more efficiently we carry out our responsibilities, the better our chances of surviving reorganizations.

Even if we cannot survive the reorganization, the more skills, the more knowledge and the more efficiency we bring to the table, the better our chances of securing the next opportunity.

The financial bottom line is the most important aspect of organizational survival, and quality professionals need to consider their own survival. Understand what your bottom line is. What can you do, personally and professionally, to be lean and, when appropriate, not lean to survive down times? Recent studies by the Wall Street Journal and other publications stated that many working Americans earned 20 to 40% less in 2009 than in 2008.1 These individuals are practicing lean while maintaining sustainability.

Lean principles equate to operational excellence. This often means the better or more efficiently we operate, the better the return on investment we offer.

Prove your worth

Quality training teaches us that the least expensive does not necessarily equal the lowest quality. Just the same, the highest price does not necessarily equal the highest quality.

For example, many organizations purchase materials and supplies from the lowest-price supplier only to realize the product actually costs them more in the long run. When the company has to rework material, or modify the materials to fit their needs, no savings are realized. Other times, a product that is the most expensive may not live up to its expectations. Price is not always indicative of quality.

The same is true for your career. Consider what you need to be attractively employable to an organization or a client. You need to prove your worth, while being seen as a good, affordable value. Will your budget allow you to work for a lower salary for the time being? Are you able to lower your rate to secure the work, without looking like a cheap bargain?

Think about your career sustainability as an economic stimulus package. What impact will several thousand dollars, a lesser title or a different commute have on your long-term sustainability? You can prove to the organization, as well as to yourself, that just because you lowered your price does not mean you are worthless.

Brainstorm solutions

Brainstorming teaches us to write down all possible solutions to a problem. This also works for reorganization survival. Make a list of every skill you have and every project, paid or unpaid, you did throughout your adult life. Then take the brainstorming list and write it again in three columns with these headings:

  • Good: Anything you have done, held experience in and roles you played, such as troop leader, finance chair or student mentor, that you are not sure will lead to a paying gig.
  • Better: Your secondary skills—those you have but don’t perform daily, and the projects you have done well that didn’t require niche skills.
  • Best: The skills and projects that are your passion, the premier skills and the niche you have.

Use the list to help you understand the direction to take in your career survival.

Not thinking lean, developing value for investment and brainstorming the skill list are the same methods organizations use to survive down times. Businesses—and really, all organizations—need to figure out how to survive leaner times. These organizations are striving to be viable in better economic times. Quality professionals should have the same objectives.


  1. Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "Business Briefs," Nov. 29, 2009.

Teresa Whitacre is a principal with Marketech Systems and a quality assurance manager in Pittsburgh. She holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is programs chair for ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8.

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