What is wrong with striving for quality? 

The word quality has a prominent place in many organisations as a change objective: 

“We want to improve the quality of care” 

“We invest in the quality of education” 

“This change is a quality impulse”  

I am sure that no word of this is a lie. But it says nothing. 

Why is that? 

The Van Dale dictionary describes the word quality as: ‘the degree to which something is good’. If quality is your goal, you say you want to achieve something good.  But you do not say what you think is good. 

The word quality is an empty shell. 

The price you pay is a lack of focus. Everyone can give their own interpretation of the change. You think you are on a journey together, but everyone is moving with their own goals. 

How can we fill the empty shell? 

The fleshing out we require are the values you add as an organisation. In other words, the performance you deliver to your customers: 

“By quality of care, we mean that we want patients to get better faster”

“Educational quality is about offering greater freedom of choice for students”

“The quality impulse is aimed at increasing hospitality for our customers”

Filling the shell with values, such as speed, freedom of choice or hospitality, already creates some sense of direction. 

But you don’t have a focus yet. 

Why is that? 

The empty quality shell is as elastic as a pelican’s beak: there is always room for another fish. In complex organisations, every value is important and everything is connected to everything else. With every value you add to your list of goals, the change grows until it collapses under its own weight and comes to a halt. 

So what then? 

Focus is not created by listing the values you as an organisation strive for, but by pointing out the values you feel the biggest deficit in: 

“Is our biggest problem that patients get better too slowly? Or do we find the long waiting lists worse?” 

“Do our students suffer most from a lack of choice? Or a lack of attention?” 

“Do our customers find our hospitality a problem? Or do they suffer more from our long lead times?”  

Then it can become clear which values do require investment to bring them to a higher level, and which do not. 

Then you have focus. 

Annemarie Mars, March 2022

Photocredits: “Clontarf Pelican eating his food_03&” by Sheba Also 18 Million Views is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

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