The question of quality runs far deeper than business. When quality fails at the societal level, we fail each other. Then the real danger is that we fail to govern efficiently and fairly.
When I talk about “honesty” in the context of quality, people often mistake my intent. I am not implying that people are dishonest. I am not saying that people do not know right from wrong. The kind of honesty I’m referring to is the kind that helps you avoid mistakes in your business—the type of honesty that pushes good data, good actions, and a positive future.
When there are disasters, people often make irrational claims that a company is being deliberately dishonest. There’s a general misunderstanding about how large organizations make decisions.
Large corporations and especially government and government agencies rely heavily on management consensus for their big decisions. The nature of the consensus could be based on several criteria like risk assessments, mitigation, cost factors, profitability, and so on. No single factor is the driving force in any decision, especially when there are political elements involved. Moreover, that’s how disasters can happen.
In the cases I mentioned above, it is very likely that few people thought that the risk levels were high enough to change their minds or offer alternative solutions. More than likely, they never heard the warnings because, by that time, the warnings had been filtered out or diluted to the point that they didn’t stand out. Ultimately, the decision makers did what many people do: they just went with the flow.
To me, “going with the flow” means that you are not listening to the data, you are not enriching your actions, and you are not optimizing your future. When you make decisions as they did at BP or Fukushima, you’re taking an average of possible answers and hoping nobody notices that you took a shortcut. The problem is, these days, even the most innocuous shortcuts can set off terrible global disasters.
When you have true honesty in management, information flows freely. You have real data, effective action, and a positive future. If you do not have honesty from everyone in your organization, how can you make the right decisions? How can you trust the quality of your processes if your people can’t be honest with you?
Expanding the outreach of Subir Chowdhury's global call for quality throughout society - at all levels - a Fellowship on Quality and Economics has been established at Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The goal: to explore the impact of quality and economics in the United States.
The Subir Chowdhury Fellowship on Quality and Economics allows for any post-doctoral scholar in-residence to participate in the program, regardless of ethnicity or national origin and spend time at LSE engaging in research examining the impact of “people quality” and behavior on the economies of Asian nations prioritizing, but not restricted to, India and Bangladesh.
Two natural disasters reveal the difference of cultural and national expressions of quality in very profound ways.
Quality processes affect more than business. When it involves a country’s ability to maintain and regulate safety, poor quality management can damage the entire economic infrastructure of an industry, even a nation.
A lesson in economics and quality: How a powerhouse of global economic might defeated itself by cutting corners and ignoring old lessons.