The Dimensions of Quality

The concept and practice of quality has many facets and each facet has an inner and outer dimension.

Key Perspectives

Quality of the People, Product, Process and the Environment; Inner and Outer Dimension of Quality.

The concept and practice of Total Quality Management (TQM) is now well established in the corporate consciousness. However in a more holistic perspective, TQM is not sufficiently integral to call it “total” because it deals predominantly with the outer dimensions of quality and doesn’t give sufficient attention to the inner dimensions of quality. This article examines the concept of quality in an integral perspective embracing the inner as well as the outer dimensions of quality.

The Facets of Quality

In an integral perspective, the concept of quality may be viewed in terms of four aspects:

1. Quality of the People
2. Quality of the Product
3. Quality of the Process
4. Quality of the Environment

Each of these facets has an outer and an inner dimension. We may include one more to the list, the aesthetic dimension.

Quality of the People

The first facet of quality is the quality of people. The outer quality of people depends on the skill, knowledge, productivity and efficiency they bring to the job. The inner quality of the people depends on the nature of the values lived in action and internalised in their individual consciousness. In general, it is the values of the higher nature in man made of the idealistic, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual mind, which brings inner quality to people. So, for sustaining integral quality in people, the human resource development (HRD) policies and strategies should aim not only at professional development or excellence of people, but also at the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual development of individuals.

In most of the progressive organizations, professional development of the employee is pursued systematically through regular and periodical training and education programmes. And the management of the organizations insists as a policy that the employees should make use of the training and education opportunities provided by it to enhance their professional capabilities.

A similar effort has to be made in the domain of the moral, aesthetic and spiritual development of the employees in order to sustain the inner quality of people. But we must keep in mind that this inner development cannot be brought about by force and compulsion and therefore should not be imposed on people by the managerial fiat or authority. It has to be voluntarily embraced by people through the combined influence of inspired leadership and a favourable environment. The most important factor would be the living example of leaders who are living the higher values and pursuing the inner development. Such leaders can ignite a similar higher aspiration in others through their words, action and behaviour or even by their sheer presence communicating their inner condition to others in silence or by inner contagion.

The second factor is the right environment. The management of the organization should actively encourage and promote this inner development by providing those who are willing to pursue this higher growth with sufficient incentives, recognition, leave facilities and educational inputs. However, in a long-term perspective, once the management of the organization takes a firm decision to make this inner quality one of the major aims of its HRD philosophy, then it must become part of its recruitment policy. This means, other factors like professional competence, qualification or experience being equal, preference should be given to those who have the inner inclination for this higher development.

Quality of the Product

The second facet of quality is the quality of the product. The inner quality of the product depends on the technical excellence, utility and reliability of the product or the quality of outer service to the customer. The inner quality of the product and service depends on two factors: first on the quality of the emotional and aesthetic experience which the product or service gives to the customer and the inner quality of the people who make the product or provide the service. This is an important and invisible factor, which the modern scientific culture refuses to admit but the ancient wisdom always recognized. It is based on the relationship between Mind and Matter. As Sri Aurobindo states, “Mind overflowed into the inanimate. ” For, modern psychology admits that Mind, like Matter is also a form of energy, Anima, as it is called in Jungian psychology. So this mental energy can overflow the body and into the material environment.

So, a creation, product or service, which is produced from an individual or collective mind or consciousness of peace, harmony, nobility and well-being has an invisible quality, beauty or attraction, which a similar product or service created out of stress and conflict and ugliness of thought and feeling lacks.

In the future of business and management it is this invisible factor, which will determine the customer pull and attraction. For when the technological and managerial competencies are more and more generalized and the differentiation between products and services in terms of outer quality becomes more and more minimal, it is the inner moral, psychological and aesthetic quality which will determine the customer choices. Interestingly, Tom Peters, the well-known management guru, made the following significant remark on quality. “Quality is practical. But it is also moral and aesthetic” and quotes marketing expert, Philip Kotler as telling it is the “delight factor” . If the people who make the product or give the service has this delight factor within them it will flow into the product or service, suffusing it with a subtle and intangible beauty or attraction for the customer.

Quality of the Process

The third aspect of quality is the quality of the process. In modern management practice, the process quality is measured in terms of minimizing and elimination of defect, with zero-defect as the ideal to be achieved. However in a more positive perspective, process quality means maintaining a certain standard of excellence in every activity of the corporate life. As Venu Srinivasan, CEO of Sundaram Clayton, which won the prestigious Deming’s award for quality states, “In the context of total quality control what total quality means is trying to achieve excellence in everything you do.”

There is an inner dimension to process-quality, which emerges when all the activities and process of the organization, along with people, material, resources, flow in perfect rhythm, harmony and resonance. According to modern system theory when there is a complementing harmony between individuals and parts, all working together for a common purpose it leads to the emergence of something more than the sum of individual contributions, or in other words 1+1 becomes more than 2. A still better example is dance, a harmonic resonance between bodily movements, music and mood creates an aesthetic quality which transcends these physical and psychological factors. Thus, when there is a rhythmic orchestration and harmonic resonance between people and processes in an organization it creates an aesthetic inner quality to the process.

Quality of the Environment

The fourth aspect of quality is the quality of the environment. The quality of the outer material environment depends on good working condition, cleanliness and aesthetic arrangement of space and objects. But when people come together or work together and form into a community; it creates a psychological environment. Some of the early organizational theorists in management recognized this phenomenon and called it as the “Organizational Climate”. According to these theorists, just like each geographical region has its own unique climate pattern, each organization has its own “climate”, a unique psychological atmosphere, distinct from that of other organizations. In an integral approach to quality, the inner quality of this psychological environment or “organizational climate” will be an important part of total quality. This inner quality of the environment depends on two factors. The first factor is the nature of the values and ideals of the organizations; second factor is the quality of the thoughts and feelings of the people who constitute the community.

The importance of values is now very much recognized in management. When George Imlette, after he took over as the CEO of GEC from the famed Jack Welch, was asked what would be his new priorities, he replied “values”. However in modern management thought and practice the concept of values is understood in a pragmatic sense as guidelines for action and behaviour. But in the integral perspectives, values are ideals, which nurture the higher nature in man. For a collectivity like that of an organization, to achieve a higher quality of the corporate life, its values and ideals should not be narrowly centered around the self-interest of the organization or its owners or shareholder. The goals of the organization should be generous and inclusive taking into consideration the interests and well-being of all the stakeholders like employees, customers, suppliers and the community. Moreover every functional activity of the organization should have some professional, ethical, aesthetic or spiritual ideals, towards which it has to strive constantly with a constant uplifting effort.

The second factor, which determines the inner quality of the environment, is the quality of the thoughts and feelings of people. The modern corporate world tries to achieve interpersonal harmony and teamwork through externalised behavioural modification or motivational techniques. But enduring harmony and teamwork can be achieved only on the foundation of inner harmony in the minds and hearts of people. This inner harmony can be achieved only by a psychological discipline, which brings about a qualitative purification and elevation in the thoughts and feelings of people. The discipline involves rejection of all thoughts and feelings which leads to conflict, division and discord like ill-will, jealousy, harsh or derogatory judgement, sense of superiority, and conversely cultivating positive thoughts and feelings like goodwill, kindness, generosity, understanding, non-judgemental attitude, forgiveness, which leads to a sense of inner closeness and solidarity among people.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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