What Quality Means to Me
Years ago, as a young and ambitious employee seeking to impress my new German manager, I worked late into the night to draft an eloquent letter to a customer. I read and re-read the letter, crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s till the last minute, and promptly presented it to him, replete with attachments, early the next morning.
He skimmed through the documents, and without as much as a word, flung the entire bunch away!
I was stunned! I had slaved over every word in the document and here he was, throwing my literary creation back at my face! I stared at him, left speechless and humiliated by the rejection!
He must’ve seen the hurt look on my face for he forced himself to be calm. “Look at the margins!” he told me, almost kindly. Still dumbstruck, I looked at the letter but couldn’t see anything wrong. I began to mumble a weak protest when he asked, “Why is your text not justified?”
And with that simple and seemingly innocuous question, I learnt my first lesson in quality.
Experts and gurus have thousands of definitions for quality and hundreds of acronyms and measures and certifications have grown around the word. To some, quality means an exam that you study for, to others it means a process to be followed meticulously, to yet others it means complex jargon in technology documents, and to a great many others, it means using great colors and audio video files in snazzy PowerPoint presentations.
But to me, quality means something far more basic. It covers everything you do, every activity that you undertake, whether personal or professional. It is something that you should demand from yourself much more – and much before – you demand it of others. It extends to every aspect of your life, your work and your home.
But quality is only a process and sometimes a result. There is something much more fundamental that drives the need for quality – pride in your work and before that, pride in yourself. As long as that feeling is not present, you will never strive for quality and will therefore never achieve it.
Successful people are driven to success by their pride in whatever they do. Therefore they do it well which in turn adds to their self-esteem.
Realize one thing, my manager told me. When you write a letter which is not neatly written, which is not correctly spelt, which does not show painstaking effort in the accuracy of its content, it silently tells the receiver of the letter that you are a ‘casual’ person, that you don’t take his work or even writing to him seriously. He will therefore treat the contents the same way and reply in the same manner.
No wonder German products are noted the world over for their perfection.
Quality extends to everything, not just appearances. It means punctuality, accuracy, speed and yes, cleanliness too. Quality is not something that should tie you down, it is something that should set you free. If it does not, there is something wrong with your definition of quality. People confuse process and procedure with quality. You can have all the processes and the procedures in the world, but if you do not want to produce quality deliverables, they are all just a waste of time.
Remember, what goes around comes around. If you are willing to ‘make do’, you will have to make do. ‘Chalta hai toh chalana padega!’
Notice what happens in work. Go to work unshaven, unkempt, badly dressed, slouch, appear slovenly, take it easy. You will be treated in the manner that befits your appearance. Go late to meetings and your colleagues will come late to the meetings you call, not because they want to insult you, but because that is the standard you have set. Bad documentation only show that you are mediocre and don’t care about being so.
Then there are those who tell you ‘not to take things too seriously’. “Come on”, they say, “It’s just a job”. These are the mediocrities of life, the last-rungers, the backbenchers, the empty vessels. Their contributions to society are minimal and they secretly resent yours. They will drag you down to their level if they can; they will laugh at your struggle, if they cannot.
When you play badly and lose a cricket match, don’t let these people tell you that it was ‘after all, just a game’, or you will lose the next one too. There is nothing wrong in losing, but there is something wrong in not playing to win. And to win a game, you have to excel in playing it. To win in life, you have to excel in living it.
The next time at work you are tempted to just do some assignment without wanting to do it well, think of how you would like your own employee doing that to you in your company. If you expect others to give their hundred percent, put in your five hundred. Give the best in yourself to get the best out of others.
Bad quality can last a long time but it never lasts forever. Eventually, it will hurt the company and you. There is no escape. You can say, “Who cares as long as my paycheck comes every fortnight?” That’s up to you. But paychecks depend on the business doing well. That too is up to you. The business cannot do well unless you do well and you will do well only if the business does well. That is like a law of nature. Your destinies are intertwined. There is no escape.
Later that day at my desk, I sat down and looked at my document again, but I was now looking at it with different eyes. I discovered not only bad margins. I found spelling mistakes, grammar that could have been better and above all, incomplete research and assumptions leading to inaccurate conclusions. That was because, though I had taken so much pain over the document, my effort had been motivated by superficial and shallow extraneous factors – my manager’s opinion of me, not my own opinion of myself.
That too is something very unique about the nature of quality.
It has to come from within yourself, for yourself. The rest will come by itself.