My friend Subir Chowdhury is a noted author and the CEO of ASI Consulting Group. His clients are mainly major organizations. He's globally regarded as a top thought leader in the field of quality management. What I love most about Subir is his passion. I have met a lot of people in the "quality" business, but have never met anyone who cares as much as he does.
I also appreciate his candor and honesty. He's one of the few consultants who will "fire" his clients if they aren't really serious about implementing change. Subir's personal drive is to imbue every American with Quality DNA—to ensure quality is for "all the people, all the time." He and I recently chatted. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:
You clearly love what you do and have been a success in your field. What secrets can you share that will help our readers grow in their careers as you have in yours?
I believe we should be very passionate about whatever we choose to do. While our passion can get us started, it isn't enough to create a great career. Our passion must be coupled with discipline, focus, and execution. Just as I ask my clients to focus on continuous improvement, we need to continually improve in the skills that are related to our profession. Just as I ask my clients to "pay the price" for quality, we have to make the sacrifice needed to get to the top of our professional field.
In terms of career development, why is understanding quality so important?
Marshall, I firmly believe that quality is the most important factor for our career as well as for our organizations. An organization's success depends on both process quality and people quality. Unfortunately, most of us don't understand what quality really is and how it affects us all. Most don't know where it starts. Many people don't really believe that quality is their job. To improve process quality, we must create a culture of high-quality people. Quality should be everyone's business—all the people, all the time.
Do you mean that if I, as an individual, don't understand quality, I'm placing myself at a career disadvantage?
Absolutely! Try to look at it this way. We have all witnessed what has happened to companies that ignore quality in products and processes. They have suffered in many ways, such as damage to reputation, loss of market share, and inability to attract great people. Eventually, they're devoured by their competition.
The same can be said for each of us. If we ignore quality and how it affects our careers, we will eventually be devoured by our competition. If we just "do our jobs" without continually improving, we will fall further and further behind our peers who keep on getting better.
So improve the quality in everything you do. How do you do that?
It's funny you ask me that particular question, Marshall. But that's exactly the question that every one of your readers should be asking themselves upon waking every day. We should all begin our day with the understanding that "quality is my business." We should all ask the question, "What can I do to improve the quality of my work?" We shouldn't only look at the present. We should look to our future and challenge ourselves by asking, "What can I do to improve the quality of my career?"
What are a few points of advice you can give that will help everyone better understand what quality is and how to make improvements?
Let me give you the condensed version, which applies to your readers at all levels, from front-line employees to CEOs. If you truly embrace the principles of quality you will look at yourself as a different person—a person who can change the world around you, for the betterment of all of your stakeholders.
Here are three steps that can improve both your business and your life:
First, listen to all of your customers. By "all" I mean not just the people who buy your company's goods but your internal customers as well. At work, this could be your colleagues, co-workers, suppliers, and partners.
At home, this could be your friends and family members. We spend too much of our lives in isolation without realizing the many ways that we're impacting others. We need to listen to their requests and understand specifically what they're telling us they want and need.
Second, enrich what you do every day, both at work and at home. Enrichment means continuous improvement. We can all challenge ourselves every day by telling ourselves, "Whatever I did yesterday, I'm going to do better today!" Enrichment is all about making our work and our lives better every day. Enrichment doesn't just mean correcting our mistakes. It can mean building upon our successes. For example, if we have a wonderful achievement, we can challenge ourselves by asking, "How can I help others achieve the same level of success that I have achieved?" or "How can I apply my learnings from this success to other parts of my life?" Improvement is a wonderful thing! It builds our strength and our confidence.
Third, optimize your efforts by doing it right the first time. We Americans are often quite poor in optimizing our efforts. We get so focused on just getting it done that we may not take the time needed to do quality work. This applies to our careers as well as our occupations. For example, rather than just sending out a résumé, we need to take the time to customize our resume to fit the needs of our potential employer. We need to take the same planning and project-management skills that we apply at work and apply them to our lives!
Do you ever get feedback on the impact that your work has on families as well as organizations?
My most recent book, The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality The Key Ingredient in Everything You Do (Currency, 2005), is an engaging story that defines the three-step process we have discussed. It can help anyone understand the basics of quality improvement.
Many of my readers have let me know that understanding the principles of quality has made a positive difference in their personal lives, as well as their business lives. I'm devoted to my own family and know how important our home life can be. Knowing that my book is making a positive difference on the "home front" makes me feel great!
Why are you so passionate about improving quality in America?
Marshall, as you know, I wasn't born in America. I chose to be here. I love this country. I feel deeply saddened when I see American companies losing the quality battle. If we aren't careful we can easily lose our global competitive advantage. While we need to change our organizations, we have to begin with human quality.
Change has to first start within each one of us. We may be running out of time. We need to change—and change quickly! Quality must be understood by all of us. Quality needs to flow from our heads—an understanding of why it's so vital and how to achieve it—to our hearts—passion to improve ourselves, our companies, and ultimately our great country. I want all Americans to share this concern and lead our revitalization.
This has been very insightful. Thank you so much. How can someone learn more about your methods and strategies?
Is it O.K. for our BusinessWeek.com readers to e-mail you?
Absolutely! I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.