Let’s imagine that we surveyed people asking them whether they are in favor of quality. What would we likely find? There is little doubt that overwhelmingly their response would be yes. What does this mean, what does this imply? One implication of this is that providing quality in product, service and employment would be necessary for sustaining a business enterprise over the long term. When quality is everything there will always be demand for it!
Yet if we were to reflect upon our experiences, as both customers and employees, I suspect that (again overwhelmingly) most of us would say that the experience of quality is rare with very few organizations providing quality to both customers and employees.
Does this mean that these enterprises are oblivious to the facts from our imagined survey? Absolutely not! All one has to do is read the policies provided for public consumption by an overwhelming majority of corporations. Consider GM as a case in point: They explicitly state Safety and Quality First is a principle that guides them in everything they do and furthermore “safety will always be a priority at GM.” If this were actually true then the company culture would be such that a problem (such as an ignition switch) that would be fatal to customers could never go unaddressed for a moment let alone for more than 10 years! As further evidence of their’ deceptive and duplicitous nature, in the face of this problem management in authority simply scapegoated and washed their hands of the whole issue by blaming those below them. Holding others accountable for complying with and enacting the values and goals you designed into the organization’s processes is nothing short of cowardice and responsibility shirking behavior—surely not quality.
It is just astounding how business executives tell us in so many ways (e.g. we value you our customer, we are committed to your safety and satisfaction, we care about our employees, etc) that providing quality to those they serve is very if not utmost important. Yet at decision making time maximizing profit is everything. Merely portraying an image of quality is what this actually is. Image is everything!
So with so many organizations, though the contrary is the prevalent customer and employee experience, people seem to simply go along with (if not completely ignore) the contradictions and the duplicity. Why the apathy?
Influence of Worldview
It has to do with a materialist mechanistic worldview and its associated (supporting) culture that is both cause and consequence of an egoistic capitalist system. As noted by Kasser, Ryan, Couchman & Sheldon (Materialistic values: Their causes and consequences) “in order for some dimension of a culture to exist, it must be supported by individual human beings who follow the beliefs and practices of that culture; at the same time, the individual humans who support that aspect of culture are them selves shaped by the beliefs and practices that they have internalized.” In other words, the system continues to exist if and only if a large number of people not only adhere to but also internalize its beliefs and values.
What does internalize mean? It means people come to believe that the beliefs and values advanced by the system and its organizations—such as that individuals are independent, that people are material self-interest maximizing beings, and that success in life is measured by one’s accumulated material wealth—emerge from and are inherent in their very being. People subconsciously learn to believe it is the way they and others ‘naturally are’ and so there is no questioning of the premises and no consideration given to an alternative way of being.
However since people actually are social beings and have inherent recognition, relatedness and esteem needs then the satisfaction of these needs will be sought following the beliefs and normative rules of behavior advanced by the culture. In this way a society’s culture (as well as an organization’s culture) supports the dominant system by infusing the system’s beliefs and values into the collective psyche of the people. So if one doesn’t’ structure life seeking to accomplish goals consistent with the prevailing worldview then one will likely not be accepted by the culture or by others. So of course most will take the materialistic path toward seeking the recognition, esteem and relatedness they so need.
Many might argue, so what’s the difference as long as the need is satisfied! The way it is satisfied makes all the difference. Again from Kasser et. al. “when materialistic values become relatively central to a person’s system of values, personal well-being declines because the likelihood of having experiences that satisfy important psychological needs decreases…an MVO (materialistic value orientation) encourages behaviors that damage interpersonal and community relations, as well as the ecological health of the planet.” When material gain is everything, not only are others viewed and treated as objects having only instrumental value, the same is true of one’s self. In other words, when the material becomes everything in one’s life then life itself becomes objectified, an abstraction, and in time the individual becomes alienated from one’s self and others—the likely making of a deceptive (possibly even appearing charming) conniving self-serving person incapable of empathy and who cares little about morality.
Once people internalize the notion that self-worth equates to material worth, then unavoidably their sense of worth is always in doubt and they are perfectly positioned for capture and control by the system and its enterprises. It is a made-for-capitalism dissolutionary spiral involving attachment-addiction-alienation. Alienation brings on more fear leading the materially oriented person to a life of addiction to insatiable getting and spending (a.k.a. the rat race). That is to say, when people are externally referencing they are easily manipulated by leveraging their insecurity, fear and pride. Yet while thinking of themselves as free autonomous individuals, effectually within this materialistic mechanistic system they are both compliant manipulated units of labor and conforming consumers, all in service to the interests of those in authority. As noted in It’s the EconoMe, seemingly the majority of people are unwilling to give up their illusory freedom, otherwise it very likely wouldn’t continue.
Therefore people will not only excuse self-interested behavior of business enterprises they will rationalize it as a way of justifying their very own subliminally acquired material self-interested way of life—otherwise they’d have to face up to the contradiction and lie in their life. So people go along with if not accept a way of life where at minimum: (1) a person’s value is his/her instrumental value in service to another’s gain; (2) a person’s worth is determined by his/her material possessions; (3) the business of business is profit; and (4) the want for material gain trumps the sustainability of the environment and the viability of life. What makes it all possible is the numbness realized through one’s material addiction making living the lie tolerable and denying that the lie exists possible.
Even though most would like to not only be the recipient of quality but also be a part of an enterprise authentically committed to quality, quality continues to be unrealized and elusive. This is because of the prevalence and pervasiveness of the material mechanistic worldview, which is antithetical to quality.
Quality In Everything
To enact quality, quality must first be the foundational part of an organization’s core—its reason for being. Because quality is an expression of the human spirit it calls for care and concern for the unfolding and development of human potential. Accordingly quality requires a reverence for all that is alive; it requires relating to each other as subjects, not objects, and is thus incompatible with a materialistic mechanistic worldview that guides us to the control and exploit people and nature.
In other words, quality requires an entirely different worldview (recall Deming’s point #2 Adopt the new philosophy)—a living systems worldview—that can inform a fundamentally different intent of business and correspondingly care-based management approach relying on the positive energy triad: self-initiation—non-attachment—engagement.
Hence quality in product, service and life is not possible when maximizing one’s material profit or gain is the cause and defining measure of what one does and is. Therefore it is understandable why organizations don’t walk the talk of quality or why the values they espouse are not congruent with the values they put into practice. When image is everything then substance means nothing. We must thank GM for the recent example of this, though there are so many who can serve as examples for the foreseeable future, unless of course we change our worldview.
While we may not know what the future will present, what we do know is that when profit is everything then quality is not to be found anywhere.