When did quality die? It seems like everyone is always in such a rush to get things done faster these days. This insatiable need for speed and faster time to market pressures have come directly at the expense of quality. I hate to sound like an anachronistic, old dinosaur…but when I started in the business world, quality mattered. In fact, quality mattered a lot.
In the 1980’s, Ford Motor company has a slogan “Quality is Job One”. This was in direct response to the Japanese auto manufacturers kicking their butts with fuel efficient cars while the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) American auto manufacturers fell asleep at the wheel (bad pun intended:-) and kept stubbornly manufacturing gas guzzlers. The 1980’s and 1990’s also brought about an era of enterprise focus quality control and improvement initiatives. Total Quality Management (TQM), Six Sigma, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award all emerged during this era with great fanfare and corporate participation.
I vividly recall my first software sales job back in 1989. We used to print out all sales correspondence (sales letters, brochures, data sheets, presentations, proposals, contracts, etc.) and mail them to our prospects and customers. If it was an important collateral piece like a proposal or contract, then we would FedEx it overnight with signature required to the decision maker. Our small sales team had a sales proposal manager and he was responsible for drafting all sales proposals in the word processing software package WordStar. Mac had a Masters degree in English and was blessed with an incredible vocabulary, perfect grammar and both a wicked sense of humor and temper. He personally had to review, proof and approve all sales correspondence before we could send it out to the prospect or customer. Mac was a perfectionist when it came to writing and grammar.
One time I was under pressure to turn around a fairly complex and big sales proposal quickly. Mac had a back log of proposals in his queue and I was trying to rush him to get mine reviewed and approved so I could FedEx it out to my hot prospect. My draft had some grammatical errors and typos in it and every time he gave it back to me to correct, I would rush even more on the editing process and the next version would have new typos or errors. We went back and forth and I grew agitated and said something to the effect of “this doesn’t have to be perfect Mac, you’re obsessing over the wrong things as we need to get this out or risk losing this deal”. His response was something to the effect of “yes this does have to be perfect because it is a representation of this company (small software start up at the time) and all the people that work here including me. And we risk losing the deal more by rushing and sending out a mistake filled proposal that reflects poorly on us”.
It was an incredibly important business lesson that I learned that day because Mac was absolutely correct. We were a small software start up selling our HR software application to large, F1000 companies and everything we produced and sent to the prospect created an impression in terms of what type of company we would be like to partner with. Mac and I worked together for 7.5 years. I was given an opportunity to open the west coast office after closing our first enterprise deal with Intel. Ironically, Intel was the proposal that Mac and I argued over. As the SF Bay Area office that I opened for the company started to grow fast, I made a request to our CEO. Could Mac relocate from Boston and manage the SF Bay Area office with me? I had already discussed this with Mac and he had family in the SF Bay Area and loved the area so he was all for it. He moved and was invaluable in supporting the growth and success of our west coast office which culminated in the company going through a successful IPO in the mid 1990’s.
So every time I receive an email or any form of sales correspondence that are chock full of typos or grammatical errors, I fondly remember the lesson that Mac taught me that yes, quality does matter!