When Outcomes Matter – Quality vs Quantity vs Behaviour

My thoughts on the “quality” industry, after 20 years inside the system, have changed. What affected this change was working for industries that fall outside of the non-traditional use and how they approach the need to demonstrate outcomes.

For the majority of my working life I have been behind the counter of the quality movement, selling, training, consulting, auditing, coaching it. I would have been easily convinced to buy the quality t-shirt and wear it out, to have the elevator pitch at hand discussing how quality changes the world, and would seek out the places other qualophiles go. This was my world until very recently when I made a break and jumped the counter, now working within and for some organisations that have a focus on outcomes but not expressed as a quality metric.

Jumping the counter has provided a clearer perspective to me on what organisations value as outcomes and it isn’t necessarily linked to performance at audit. In fact, the language of compliance seldom makes an appearance and yet these organisations still produce millions of tons of raw material, create hundreds of kilometres of roadways, care for at risk people and families, and deliver well-being of animals. The outcomes for these organisations couldn’t be more different to each other and yet they are tied together through a need to demonstrate consistency and achievement of vision. Some of you out there reading this may be saying that I am still talking quality without using the word and in some respects, it is true, however it’s not commonly used in their daily diet.

To elaborate on my argument, I will give you a few examples of my clients and their missions. I work at mine site with an incredibly clear mission and KPI; its tonnes produced at a per tonne cost that keeps them sustainable and profitable. All activities on site flow down from this overarching KPI and the site can link safety, efficiency, accountability and individuals performances back to this. They can capture data from almost any angle and compile it back to the mission statement. In this case the site is driven by quantity, including data, and the metrics are collected through various means. Here is where it gets interesting; the important data points, KPIs, are discussed each morning with work crews in every corner of the site. This could be on the bus heading into the pit, in the maintenance shed, around the table in the mine planning centre, or in the break room of the production plant, The conversation focuses on the achievement of the target and how each individual plays into this. The discussion is around behaviours, not systems, these behaviours will produce a safe work site, no rework, good communications and achievement of the daily plan. Here we have people leading people to quanity-focussed outcomes and use the systems as a prop to do so.

Let’s look at another of my clients who are focussed on delivering animal well-being in captivity. In this realm, the mission is clear and that is to strive to keep animals in an environment that replicates their natural habitat, or as close as possible. Where this cannot be achieved the animals are provided “enrichment” (stimulation) in various ways to maintain well-being. Traditionally this activity was owned by the keepers of the animals, the ones who spend their lives feeding, cleaning and caring. They would all have their own approaches on what worked best for the animal, given the environment, enclosure, and audience interaction. It is common to move between countries, states and cities where animals are housed and see the same animal species being treated differently to the last. The concern was what science or regime stands behind the keeping of the animal to the prescribed condition. Hence now the mission is to bring consistent practice to animal care and well-being founded on science and assessment of practice. They are introducing quality of practice to a non-traditional role. What we are finding is that quality is not a clean, easy fit. That concepts such as mental health cannot be easily written into a requirement where you cannot communicate with the subject.

A final example is a charitable, social services provider that I am assisting. Within this entity the sole mission is to give hope, provide support, assist people to find their own solutions to their current fate, and provide care when in need. The driver for this entity is behaviour, understanding that the mission is about being a caring, empathetic, charitable and community-focussed person. To be selfless and give to those in need is the quality of practice, to have this applied consistently across all sites, all communities, all audience is the crux. They have dipped their toe into the waters of quality systems and find the waters troubling There is an absence of practitioners who can train, consult and implement quality systems into social services. The focus is not on numbers of outcomes, it’s about reading the situation, feeding back into one’s own experiences and values, and applying a tailored solution from the service offering menu of the entity. How do you write a procedure for a practice that is bespoke for virtually all clients? The art is in documenting and developing leadership, decision-making and problem-solving.

Where I am heading this discussion is that quality often happens in spite of itself, that outcomes can be produced by using the construct of quality as a guiding tool and not as the rigid application of a standard or procedure. Quality is a sufficiently-broad definition of practice imitating best-behaviours and that a concise definition cannot be provided let alone measured for all work environs.

What is important is the desired outcome, the clarity of mission and how to best achieve the mission with the tools at hand and the behaviours expressed. I would be bold enough to say that quality if practice is first solved by delivering behaviours at work, that achieve the outcome before, before any systems are applied.

About the author

Peter is the founder and Director of Holtmann Professional Services, a global provider of executive coaching, business excellence consulting and career path development. Peter has 20 years of experience in executive roles and has been the President and CEO of a global Non-profit. Peter has written for many journals and blogs, is a keynote speaker and is a champion of prosperity through excellence of leadership.

If you are interested in working with Peter, please reach out to enquiries@holtmann.com.au.