The Importance Of Quality
by Michael Kun
A small number of years ago, back when I practiced law on the east coast, I represented a printing company that was being sued by its former quality assurance manager. The name of the company, like the name of the quality assurance manager, is unimportant. The story, though, is one that has remained with me and which I expect to tell until my dying days.
Among other things, the printing company printed huge numbers of inserts for Sunday newspapers using massive cylinders the size of tractor-trailers. Unfortunately, they had repeated issues with typos, incorrect prices and blurry photographs on their print runs. The errors would not have been particularly costly if they were only printing a few copies of each insert. Instead, each time there was an error, the company had to reprint several hundred thousand multi-page documents -- at its own expense. The expense was tremendous. The quality issues were costing the company large sums of money for paper and ink and labor. And, just as importantly, they were costing the company clients. Even though it was paying for the new print runs, clients lost confidence every time they had to point out to the company that it had the wrong price for a product or had misspelled a name.
Eventually, the company terminated its quality assurance manager and hired a new one. Under the new manager’s supervision, the problems ceased. But the former quality assurance manager filed suit, alleging he had been improperly terminated.
Now, this is where the story becomes particularly interesting. In the process of handling the lawsuit, we took the former quality assurance manager’s deposition. Sadly, he did he not take any responsibility for the company’s quality problems; I will save my thoughts about the effect failing to take responsibility has upon our society for another day. For today, it is more important to know that the former quality assurance manager also complained that he had been unable to find another job for almost a year. He had sent his resume to dozens of printers, he told us, but not one of them even called him for an interview.
That, he thought, was odd.
Why wouldn’t another printing company want someone with his experience?
Why wouldn’t they even interview him?
The only conclusion he could come up with was that his former employer, our client, was defaming him. They were telling other printing companies that he was a problem employee, or that he had sued the company. There was a conspiracy.
He had no evidence that any of this had occurred – and there was no evidence that it had occurred – but it was the only conclusion he could reach.
“Is this the resume you sent them?” we asked him, very gently, and we handed him a copy of his resume.
“Yes,” he said.
“Would you do us a favor?” we asked. “Right there, at the top of the resume, do you see where it says you worked for the company for 10 years?”
“Would you tell me what it says your job title was?”
He looked at the resume, but didn’t answer the question.
Because, you see, at the top of his resume that he was sending to potential employers in an attempt to find work as a quality assurance manager, he had written that he had worked for 10 years as a “QUILTY ASSURANCE MANAGER.”
Not “QUALITY ASSURANCE MANAGER.”
“QUILTY ASSURANCE MANAGER.”
There was no need for us to say anything more.
In the time since those events occurred, I have not been able to think of a better example of irony than the quality assurance manager who misspells the word “quality.” Perhaps you can think of one. Moreover, it has become the story that I tell, over and over, whenever I want to stress the importance of quality.
In dealing with employees, whatever we do affect our reputations, not just individually, but as a company. Everything we say or write has the ability to bolster our reputation or, in a moment, ruin them. In fact, there is an old saying that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and one second to destroy it. That is as true in human resources as it is in any other profession.
An excellent memorandum becomes an insult if you misspell an employee’s name.
A client change form becomes a nightmare if it provides for an $85 per hour raise, instead of $0.85.
A misplaced file, or a misplaced document, can cripple a company’s ability to defend a lawsuit.
You may have a great idea, but if you mischaracterize or misunderstand a new statute, you will lose the confidence of the people you work with in the time it takes to snap your fingers.
You may stay up all night working on a new evaluation form, or completing an investigation report, but everyone is more likely to remember all of the typographical errors than your commitment.
Can we be perfect? No. There really is no such thing as perfection. But we can be excellent. In fact, we must be if we expect to succeed as individuals and as companies.
What does it take to be excellent? The answer is simple: time. It takes a few more moments of your time to give a document one last review before you finalize it. It means planning ahead so you will have enough time to check the law before you finalize a memorandum. It means coming in to work a few minutes early on the days a project is due so you won’t be rushed. In short, quality is just a matter of time.
If you take the time to be excellent, you will be excellent.
If you focus on quality, you will produce quality work.
If you don’t, you may only produce quilty work.
And no one – no one – wants quilty work.
Michael Kun is partner with the law firm of Jackson Lewis LLP in Los Angeles. www.jacksonlewis.com. He is also a novelist whose most recent novel, You Poor Monster, has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. You can reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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