Identifying what your stakeholders expect
Over the years, there has been much talk over what constitutes quality. Various disciplines attempted to define quality, and many have come up with their own definition, usually one that satisfies the needs of that discipline.
In philosophy, for example, quality is defined as “innate excellence,” something that is not measurable but rather is only recognised through experience, similar to Plato’s definition of “beauty.” In economics, quality is something very objective – it is seen as an attribute or ingredient of a product that differentiates it from others – and because of this, it demands that higher “quality” products are therefore scarcer, and more expensive. In manufacturing, quality is equated with conformance to manufacturing requirements.
All these vast differences do not help when it comes to having clarity on what quality means. It is important to understand each perspective, however, since working in your organisation and dealing with your clients, these are the backgrounds of the people you may have to deal with, and thus it really helps to see how they view quality.
Bearing in mind that different people you liaise with would come, at any given issue, from a different perspective, let’s consider for a while who sets the standards in your particular case, and based on your current tasks, what would constitute high-quality work.
When we say standards here, we mean what the different stakeholders would expect as an acceptable level of quality. The trick here is to not settle for any given expectation, but to always look for ways to improve.
The organisation you work for, may already have clearly defined measures of quality in place. In some occasions, quality is something measured in performance appraisals by assessing how you’ve performed against your key objectives, job description and/or company values. If that is the case, then it is easy for you to get an idea of their expectations, and to further support this, all you have to do is ask around or simply observe how your colleagues conduct themselves, and what sort of behaviour seems to be most praised.
If, however, your organisation does not have a clear definition of quality, look at the culture there and soon enough it will become very evident. What sort of work is considered excellent, acceptable, and poor? What sort of behaviours people generally complain about? Is being late something that people tend to complain about a lot? Is handing in work on time or even before the deadline something that is highly praised? You get the idea.
If in doubt, this is a good conversation to have with your supervisor, a mentor, or any colleague, really. Ask for their opinions on what they think good quality means for the organisation, and in the case of your supervisor, ask what he or she expects from you specifically in your current role, and what would help you exceed expectations. You should be looking for specific examples, so that you can easily visualise what people really mean when they say that they are looking for “this sort of quality” work.
Your direct boss is the key person for your career development. This is the person that reviews your work regularly, and is the gatekeeper for you to gain exposure and eventually progress in the organisation. Although your supervisor would usually reflect the organisation’s quality standards, beware and look for additional standards that they themselves have.
For example, being five minutes late for a meeting may not be something the organisation frowns upon, but may be something that your direct supervisor considers unacceptable. It is therefore crucial that you acknowledge their specific requirements for quality and discuss with them on how best you can incorporate these into your overall methodology of achieving high quality in everything you do.
Proactivity is key to your career success, and part of it entails looking outside your own company as well to find out what others in the industry do. It may be that your company is already doing so, and is incorporating quality standards from the industry in its own, but a little benchmarking and studying best practices in your industry will not only be beneficial for you, but also your organisation.
Daily, clients seem to become more demanding than the day before, and part of it is due to exposure to a variety of options available to them, with any sort of information at their fingertips. It is therefore important to understand what the clients expect in terms of quality of the product and service they are purchasing. If you were a client, buying a training session from a training provider, would you be happy with a proposal full of spelling errors? Would you be convinced of the quality of the training, just by looking at the proposal?
Finally, there’s you. You will certainly have quality standards of your own, and it is important to remain true to yourself if you want to be happy with the work that you do. As a rule of thumb, abandon your own standards if you find someone else’s are higher. But stick to yours, if you feel that yours are of higher quality.
Apart from these key stakeholders, please do consider your own circumstances and identify other stakeholders you may be working with – for example, different divisions of the organisation may have their own perspectives of quality. What would the sales team, for example, picking up from the end of your work to take it to the client, see as key to your work quality? What would your marketing department insist on? And what would the people running the manufacturing plant expect to see from you?
Bringing it all together
Now, with so many stakeholders coming from a variety of perspectives, how do you align quality expectations?
It’s a good idea to come up with a list for each of your stakeholder’s expectations. This is the best place to start. By going through these lists, you will most likely find that a few key ideas on what constitutes quality resonate throughout. These should be your non-negotiables.
Other common non-negotiables you should always add to your list if they are not already there are things like punctuality, promptness, elimination of spelling errors and typos, well written e-mails, the structure of your conversations and information sharing, documentation of projects you are working on, these are basic things that really leave a good impression.
The quality of our work, whether it’s something that is expected from our key stakeholders or whether it’s something that we ourselves are insisting on, is what will talk about us, our work ethic, and our professionalism currently and in the years to come.
So whether you are looking for something to build on as a legacy or your personal branding, whether you are looking to be seen as a capable and effective professional, or whether you just want to keep up with the pressures of high-demanding employers, industries and customers, ensuring you produce high-quality work is key to positioning yourself and the brand you represent – yours and your organisation’s – as one that is worth relating with.