Just Do It

Quality organizations don’t always need certifications

by Rick Townsley

Some organizations with certifications from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) do not deliver high-quality products, and yet, organizations without these certifications sometimes provide amazing levels of quality. Why is that?

The goal of any organization is to provide excellent quality products and services to its customers to earn their loyalty and repeat business. It’s traditionally understood that organizations possessing ISO certifications are the best of the best. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes even the opposite is true.

It would be a mistake to discount the importance of these certifications, but you also should consider that some organizations don’t subscribe to these standards, and their customers’ ratings show they’re superior to their certified counterparts. This is because they understand what it takes to be successful without all of the policies, procedures, work instructions and reams of documentation.

How do these organizations become so successful? They listen, respond, improve and start over again. They stay current with customers’ needs and expectations, study their competition and replicate best practices, and adapt to changing conditions. In other words: they use the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle.

Whether the PDCA cycle is known to an organization or not, it’s often intuitively implemented by smart, enterprising people who know how to succeed without all the charts, graphs and documented management reviews. Instead of getting caught up on collecting paper (known as objective evidence to quality auditors), they just do it. There are two real-world examples I frequently encounter that illustrate organizations just doing it, not overdoing it.

Consistent satisfaction

When I visit Mike’s Deli near my office, there’s usually a line of customers in front of the building before it opens. When the doors open, people flock inside.

One person takes your order and gives you a number, and another person works the cash register. You get a beverage at the drink station and sit down while your food is prepared. Within minutes, your number is called, and you’re eating.

Regardless of how busy it is, the service is consistently great, the food is fresh and prepared exactly how you requested, and you’re out the door in 20 minutes. As you leave, the owner greets you and thanks you for your business.

Service with a cookie

I’ve gone to the local eye institute for several years. When I step inside, friendly people are ready to help me at the front desk. The atmosphere is pleasant, and there are color-coordinated walls, carpeting and seating arrangements showing me where to find my doctor.

The service is fast, and everyone has a clearly defined job. Free coffee and tea are available at strategically located stations, and there’s even a staff member who walks around with a tray of warm cookies. "Have a cookie please," she says. "They’re delicious."

Another staffer engages and consoles some of the older patients. For patients who need assistance, a courtesy van waits outside to take them home.

Great customer service is just one piece of the quality puzzle, but many elements of the ISO 9001 standard are represented in these examples, such as: execution to management responsibility, customer focus, planning, provision of resources, infrastructure, consideration of work environment, product realization and data analysis.

Don’t get caught up on quality certifications alone, and look deeper into an organization as a whole. Everyone can learn from everybody whether they hold certifications—or not.

Rick Townsley is a quality management systems advisor at Resource International in Redington Shores, FL. He holds a doctorate in business administration from Kennedy-Western University in Cheyenne, WY. A senior ASQ member, Townsley is an ASQ-certified quality auditor, engineer and manager of quality/organizational excellence.

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