As with beauty, quality is in the eyes of the beholder. Looking at the organizational growth of the top companies, they have one thing in common - quality in their service or product and very satisfied customers. How they achieve this may differ, but their output is similar in terms of customer testimonials. As an authority figure in quality, OHS, and risk management in manufacturing and service industries, Natella Isazada talks about improving organizational performance and the implications of neglecting quality in the workplace. She shares her personal principle of “quality in, quality out” and the different applications it has in the workplace and in our daily lives.
I've got another great guest, Natella Isazada joins me. She and I met when she was on stage giving her TEDx Talk. We met after the TEDx Talk and we had a conversation. I was nothing but impressed with her. Her story is incredible and what she does is one of those things that not a lot of people think about, but it's vitally important to any type of business. She is into quality control and quality assurance. I'm going to bring Natella on board and she's going to tell the stories. Natella, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here on your show.
We started talking at the TEDx at Chilliwack. I was always impressed with what you did because most people don't think about quality assurance. They don't talk about how vital it is to any business because as you said, your motto is Quality In/Quality Out. If we don't have quality control and if we're not thinking about the quality that we put out into the marketplace, what does that do to our brand? What does that do to our company? What does that do to our pride as an organization? I want you to talk about how did you get into the quality assurance business. What does it mean to you? What is the value that you bring to the organization? How do you contribute to that? How do you tell the story about quality control?
I did start in the quality control and quality assurance maybe almost two decades ago. The concept is much wider than the quality control. To make it easier for the people out there who are not from that field of work, quality control is inspecting the quality of parts that you put out there, the product or the services. Quality assurance is a wider concept when you are being more proactive and putting out the procedures in place to make sure your systems work. What I have done over the course of the years is quality management, which covers both of them. Through the years, my role evolved into a larger role, which also includes occupational health and safety, environmental and at the end of the day, it's all about managing the risk for the organization. When you think about quality or health and safety, there are things and lines that you cannot cross.When we talk about quality or health and safety, there are lines that you cannot cross. Click To Tweet
There are laws in place at companies that you cannot violate, but then there's also pride in what you do. In many instances, the quality that you are willing to put out there and work hard for in many companies is dictated by the customer and by what the competitors are doing in their field. For me, what became my life story started at work, but it became a much wider concept because I find quality everywhere in our life. It applies all the things we learn from working in the field of quality. We apply them to the rest of our life. These days the word out there is risk-based thinking. You have to evaluate everything in terms of how much risk there is to it. What's the worst-case scenario that can happen if you do certain things or don't do certain things? What type of risk and the level of risk you're willing to live with? That concept applies to everything we're doing in our life if you think about it.
The thought process behind risk is an interesting one. You're right, it's not only the risk of the things that you do, but it's also the risk of the things that you don't do. Those were some interesting things because people go, “What are the ramifications if I do something? What are the ramifications if I don't do something?” I bring in occupational health and safety, which is part of what you do, as a perfect example. If we don't follow rules and regulations, if we're not thinking about safety, if we’re not acting safely, then some very serious things can happen.
The problem is most people that I know at occupational health and safety don't go into the why. Why are these regulations here? Why do we do this? Why are we doing these policies and procedures? They just say, “You shall do this because that's the policy and procedure.” How is looking at the why behind what you do, get people to buy into it better, get people to embrace health and safety and quality assurance? How do you go about getting people to understand the value of being safe and looking at quality as something that’s a must-have and not a nice to have?
It's not enough these days to just cover your bottom line or just do the very minimum that the regulations require you to do as an employer. That's simply not enough. Why these things are in place, first of all, our society has evolved. We have come a long way even here in Canada, which is a highly developed country. Laws and regulations have come a long way, but so does the organizational culture. People are not willing to work in a company that barely just covers their legal grounds. People have options these days. I'm for organizational excellence and I'm very strong in organizational culture. What I encourage companies to do is you need to go a bit deeper. Don't just do what you're required to do by law but think about your workforce. These days, especially with the Millennials being the larger cohort and comprising large percentage of our workforce. People are looking more from the workplace.
They are looking into the why or why am I here? What kind of companies is this? What do they stand for? Why do I work here? That's how the concept of Quality In/Quality Out came to me. Over the course of many years working in Corporate America and then Canada, I've worked for companies managing their systems. I've also worked as a consultant. I’ve worked with many companies. One thing that frustrates me is when companies do not look into the why of things. They just go by the minimum requirements. The outcome is I have seen many people who also sense that from the employer and they do the minimum that they’re required to do for their job.
The mentality becomes, “I'm paid by the hour here.” It doesn't matter whether you're an hourly employee, on a wage or salary, the mentality is, “I clock-in, clock-out. I do my job. I go home at the end of the day.” What stood out to me and what touched me to the bottom of my heart are not those people who hated their job to the extent that they were willing to take an action and leave that workplace and go elsewhere. What touched me was the rest of them that created this attitude of like, “I’ll do my job and I go home at the end of the day.” The helplessness and the resignation that comes with it. When people feel like, "This workplace doesn't care about me. They cared about their own bottom line. They care about covering their own legal grounds and get the product out of the door. We are here like a little cog in this big mechanism just doing our job.”
In that sense of helplessness and resignation that I was seeing from people, that stood out to me like, “Why do we have to continue leaning that way?” Because if you look at it, different statistics will give you different numbers, but at least a third of our lifetime, of our waking hours, we spend at work. Why be in the place that makes you miserable? This made me think about what can we do about it. I started looking for ways. I took it upon myself to do research, to find better methods of how we can run our workplaces, how we can create this culture when people are not there just for the paycheck, not there because they maybe have some insecurity. They don't believe they deserve something better. They don't believe they can go and get something better. They’re just there for the benefits, the paycheck and the stability but no excitement.
I started researching different methods and I applied points of my own experience from my past. I was a journalist and I was a lawyer. I was able to apply some of those techniques of asking the tough questions, getting to the bottom of things, getting to the crux of issues and started challenging the status quo. There were times when I wasn't the most popular person in management teams or out there because I would ask the tough questions and try to get to the bottom of things. I almost took it upon myself and made it my mission to change things, to try to change the organizational culture and wake up the leaders out there and even the people who see themselves as employees. What can they do? The Quality In/Quality Out concept is more about taking responsibility for what you get in life and what you put out there.Quality is everywhere in our life. Whatever we learn when it comes to quality can be applied to your daily life. Click To Tweet
That's so important because you're getting into two different things. You're getting into the pride of ownership and work, and also engagement. People are saying that the engagement levels are at an all-time low, that 70% of people nowadays are unengaged. I think that's Inc. Magazine that says that. If we take a look and combine those two and say that there are low-engagement level and a low-level of pride, what does that do to companies? First of all, at least the high turnover but the problem is not the people that leave. It's the ones that stay and go, “It's not my problem. I did my job. It's somebody else's problem.” They don't even do their job because they're going, “I'm not being paid enough so I don't have to care because the people over there aren't caring and the people above me aren't caring. Why should I care?” How do you in quality assurance and that whole world help build a culture from the top down? It's got to come from the CEO down to get people to understand the value of Quality In/Quality Out to make sure that this not only makes people more productive, more valuable and more engaged at work, but it also helps the bottom line. How do you go about doing that?
You take the concept from the field of quality management and you applied that in a wider sense to the entire organization's health and well-being. Let's look at this concept. A big part of Quality In/Quality Out, I wanted to step back to this concept to explain where it comes from. I took it originally from the concept of Garbage In/Garbage Out. I didn't discover it entirely. It came from this concept that originated from the field of information technology. That's a concept that says, “If you're giving me input that's garbage, don't expect much from me. What I’ll produce is going to be garbage as well.” This concept is that the core of that resignation and helplessness that I am getting bogged with. The concept is that, “I'm just someone who is small. My role is small. I don't have much power around here. I work with the garbage that people give me. That's why no surprise, I produce garbage.”
This comes still from the process thinking. When you refer to quality assurance, what you will learn from that and how we can apply it in a wider sense, this tool that's called process-based approach. In quality assurance and even in the international standards for quality management, you have to look at everything you do in terms of the process thinking. The process thinking tells you that anything you do in life, workplace or anything, look at it in terms of what inputs you receive, what inputs you’re required to do your job, then you do your part, which is your value-added activity and not inactivity. The keyword here is you take the input, add your value-added activity and then you produce the output.
If you look at anything you do in terms of input, my value, my activity and my output, that's process-based thinking. What I challenge organizations to do is to turn things around. If you receive the garbage input, don't just say, “I have garbage input, that's it. I'm going to work with it.” You take charge and whatever level you are. Everything starts with the leadership, but my concept goes wider. It goes to everyone. You can still take ownership and you can still take responsibility in your own life. When you receive garbage input, that's when you have to challenge the status quo. That's when you have to go through the source of that input and resolve it with them. There are many civilize ways to resolve issues and oftentimes people don't go to work thinking, “I'm going to go to work and do a lousy job today.”
They just do what they're doing. Sometimes things happen because they’ve always done it that way and nobody challenged it, nobody cared. My concept is you have to challenge it. When you add your activity, make sure it's value-added, not just because you inherited some old procedure that was sitting there from twenty years ago. Make sure there's a lot more when you think about the quality of processes before you go into the technical details. You add the activity and then you take pride in the output that you produce. Your output is quality output. This concept applies to everyone at all levels in every organization. When I talk to leadership, I start off by introducing the concept of the internal customer, internal supplier. In every organization, leadership always cares about customers.
Most of the time they cared about the customer because they’re the ones who pay the bills and they're the ones who run the show. We do what the customer wants us to do. We supply when they wanted. At least many good organizations work with the customer focus in mind. The concept I introduced to leadership, that's a very important concept. You have to see everyone within your organization in terms of the supplier-customer relationships. When we were applying the concept of an organizational structure, then you start all those relationships. I have a tool that I've developed to myself. I've tried it and we use it in different organizations. It does work well if you do it right. We challenged everyone to think about it. They’re tools and questionnaires I developed. They can be applied, used and produce results. You have to challenge every function out there and everyone in your organization to think about who relies on them for their input and who they rely on for the input they need for their process?
Once we develop a map of all those interrelated connections, people sometimes get shocking results. You asked one function, “Who do you think the internal suppliers are? What kind of job you do for them?” They do their best and when you meet the parties to put them together, sometimes people get shocking results. How people simply lack understanding of what other's expectations are, what people rely on them for or what they need or what they expect, what they need to do their job well. That's how you bring down those organizational barriers of communication and bring the walls down. That's the concept that has been with me all my life, bringing the walls down and doing other ways of communication. Focusing on what do we have in common. What kind of common goals we may be seeing in this life and how can we help each other along the way?
You take a couple of things that are near and dear to my heart. The first is lead at any level. You look at it and say, “Take ownership of your work.” I call it lead at any level because every single person within the company is a leader. Everybody has the ability to sit there and go, “This isn't right. Something is wrong.” Take ownership and say, “This isn't going any further until we fix this.” Everybody has the right to do that. The second part you talk about is as we pass things from department to department, make sure that not only are you giving good quality, you're also understanding what are the needs of the person your handing it to. Are you explaining what you need to the person that you're getting it from?The “quality in, quality out” concept is about taking responsibility for what you get in life and what you put out there. Click To Tweet
Therefore, as it goes along the chain, the process, the system, whatever, everybody within the system understands what the other people need to be able to get a superior product at the end of the line to be able to take care of the customer. That's important because that's open and effective communication. We did a webinar for the Quality Assurance Institute. What we talked about is quality assurance is a branding piece. In terms of your internal customers, I agree with you, they're not employees, they’re internal customers. If people don't understand what's the end result? What are we trying to achieve? How is this going to be used and by whom? Sooner or later, people will stop caring. You need to be able to instill the fact within the entire system that you're not just screwing a bolt right-handed until it's hand tight.
You're doing it for a reason. The reason is that there's a bigger project that you're trying to create. You may have a small little part of that, but you need to understand what's the overall objective? What are we trying to do as a company? What do our clients need from us? How do you go about helping companies build that process so they understand from the moment something comes into the company to the moment it leaves what that process is and communicate the importance of what people do along the way to the next department?
I do lots of things. I do have seminars and training sessions I offer where we focus on the silo mentality. It’s not necessarily to vilify but understand where the silo mentality comes from. How it was developed in the first place and what kind of benefits may have been there from having that mentality in the beginning. How things turned out along the way and how it's limiting our ability to do a good job. I have training sessions I offer to work around that, which opens people's eyes in how simple the solutions could be if you think about it and look at it the right way. I want to bring this example. I like sometimes to keep things as simple as possible, but not simpler than that. I think that's attributed to Einstein probably. He said that in the first place, but I do like to keep things simple. Sometimes I like to use examples that are very relatable that anybody can understand, even if you're not a professional dedicated to quality assurance.
In one of my seminars, for example, I had brought up this simple example. Everybody knows the story of Goldilocks. It was a kid story we read or it was read to us when we were little but there’s a good moral behind it. It's a little girl, she walks into a house that belonged to three beers. She tried out papa bear's bed, mama bear’s bed, the baby bear’s bed. The same thing goes to the porridge, the chairs and everything she tried in the house. She ends up in the baby's bed. That's where she was found fast asleep. That's where the bears found her at the end of the day. How long is the way until she reaches that point? If you think about it, it’s probably a story about quality assurance and the value of quality. She tried one bed, “It's too big.” She tried another bed, “It's not soft enough or it's too soft.” She tried another and says, “This is fine. It’s the right size and the right level of softness.”
To me, what I tried to teach by this is that quality is in the eyes of a customer. Sometimes that's the internal customers and sometimes it's the external customers. You might think you producing the best quality because it's in your mind. This is what you're doing. Do you believe this is what you’re supposed to do? Most of the time you work with specifications that you inherited from before or you believe this is the right thing to do. If you start opening those communication channels, have an open mind to check your ego at the door. I still believe it's not about your ego, but what's the best for the organization. You start realizing that the same thing that could be quality to you is not the right quality for your customers. Start listening more and don’t be set on any of your old ways. Things have to be way more agile these days. The mentality of, “We've always done it this way. It’s always worked for us.” It doesn't work anymore. You have to be very in-tune with your customers and see what they see as value, not what you think is value.
That's critical. It's not about you, it's about the people you serve. As an employee of a company, you're serving your clients and you’re serving other departments and other departments are serving you, depending on what the relationship is. When you sit there and say, “That's good enough.” It may be good enough for you, but is it good enough for the person who's going to be taking this and using it at the end of the day? That's what's important. That's what everybody needs to realize as a company is who's the person that's going to be using this at the end of the day and is it good enough for them? Is it going to fulfill the job that they needed to do? If they're spending their hard-earned money and they're buying your product or service versus somebody else's, is what you're producing going to solve the problem that they have in a way where they say, “I'm giving these people money, they're giving me a product or service. It's a fair trade.”
That goes both ways. Sometimes it's about the poor quality. You have done something that's not good enough for your customer. It also goes the opposite way as well. Sometimes we get so carried away. We might be so much in love with the product that we offer, we keep adding features to it. Being fully aware of what are the features and the quality that customers are willing to pay for. What is something extra, something fancy, something that truly makes the scope of your project go wide open and it does not add value in the eyes of a customer? It's all about staying in tune with them. Are you overspending? Are you over-engineering? Are you adding too many things to it that the customer does not need?
There's a perfect example. If you look at Microsoft Word for example. 95% of the people reading this, if not 99% of the people, use Microsoft Word at some point in their time. A friend of mine who is an expert and teaches other people at a very high-level how to use Microsoft Word within companies says that the average person uses 5% to 7% of what the program is capable of. He says 99.9% of people will never use more than 50% of the features that this thing has, but they're built into the system. The things that you're going to use are going to be different from the things that I'm going to be using. Different people will use different parts of the system, but it's over-engineered for the vast majority of the people that use it.In anything you do in life or in the workplace, always include value added activity. Click To Tweet
They're saying, “We'll put another feature in there.” Sometimes that's great and sometimes it's not. I don't know if you've ever seen the show, West Wing. There's a perfect example in West Wing where they're talking to this Navy guy who was a submarine captain. They were talking about, "Why would you spend $500 on an ashtray?” He grabs a hammer and smashes this ashtray and instead of the ashtray breaking into a million pieces, it breaks into three perfect pieces. He says, “The reason we spend $500 on an ashtray is that when things break in a submarine, they can cause a lot of havoc. We don't want a million pieces flying around in a submarine. We wanted to break it into the least amount of pieces as possible.” It's a matter of sitting there going, “What is the end thing it’s going to be used for?” How do you instill that within various parts of the organization so they understand that either they've over-engineered or they haven't taken the customer's needs into consideration? How do you help tell that story or the Goldilocks story to make sure things are just right?
The answer is not even that complicated. It's simple if you keep the communication channels open. It also depends when you said are we over-engineering or not? First of all, we have to see what the application of your product is. Is it like mass production that applies to masses? Is it customized to certain extent? Is it highly customized? Do we have a niche market? The level of customization or difference will be dictated by that. On top of that, when it comes to explaining to customers and companies how to make it right, what I teach them is this. Think of it as a project and you’re managing the project. What's critical here is to talk to your customer through the length of the project or the life cycle of the project.
When I do those consulting jobs or take on a project, even within an organization I work for that I have a project, I'm always having the end-user or my internal customers in mind. I don't like to surprise them at the end when my part is done, “There you go. This is my part, I’m done.” I like to keep communication channels open to throughout the lifecycle of my project so that there would be no surprises later. Customers may change their mind here and there. If I keep talking to them and they have a channel of contacting me anytime they want, we'll always keep talking until the end of this project. We'll always know what's going on. There might be deviations at times. There might be things that we’re out of our control, but now they are adding more time to the schedule as much as we try to stick with the original schedule.
This is life. Things can happen. Sometimes everything is not controlled. Keep your communication open, keep your customer in mind, keep in mind what's the value to them. Any time something major happens, talk to them and have your channel open for them to contact you. Customer needs more involvement these days. They don't want to be involved in every tiny detail. That's why at the end of the day, they hire experts and companies to do the job for them, to get projects done for them. The communication does not hurt. Customer service should be there, managing the expectations and keeping the communication open.
Effective communication can make big problems small if we keep that communication channels open. I absolutely agree with you. I want to shift gears and talk about your TEDx Talk. Your TEDx was very powerful. I want you to walk me through the journey of why did you want to do a TEDx? What was your reason for doing it and what was the experience like?
The whole mentality behind TED is the ideas that's worth spreading. The whole thing there is about the ideas, worth spreading or not, that does have a wide application or not. I like the way the TEDx Talks all the time and when the time came for me, I thought maybe I could be on stage one day. I didn't have to think hard about the idea. It simply came up for me. I just realized that this idea I shared on the TEDx stage has been with me all my life. I look back and maybe I didn't know everything upfront. I had different life experiences going in several countries. I'm learning several languages and engaging myself in quite different careers.
When I looked back, I could perfectly connect the dots. The idea was about humanity, about communication and the things we're focused on. How we can have simpler and more effective channels of communication if we learn to focus on what we have in common as opposed to focusing on our differences. We witnessed this happen in real life between human beings, countries, families and workplaces. That's an intelligence, not simply focusing on the differences. Who is different? What's wrong with them? Focusing on how different we are does not help. To me, that's the root of many problems. I’d witnessed that when I was a child in the Soviet Union, my life as a teenager and a young independent in Azerbaijan. That's the country I came from. My experiences as I moved across the oceans. I lived in the States for several years and then finally I moved to Canada.
When I look back, the mentality of us versus them, that's what I call it. That causes lots of problems in workplaces, families, in politics, within the same country system, between countries. In my talk, it's looking back and looking at all these different stages in my life and the message itself became so pronounced that things do work. Miracles can happen if one person can do so much by simply challenging the status quo, asking the right questions. Instead of vilifying people, finding the one thing that you may have in common with them at the end of the day. It’s the story of a child who did something huge by simply asking the right question. The stories of me like working with what I call, “I've seen the best of humanity. I’ve seen the worst of humanity.”Quality is in the eyes of the customer. Click To Tweet
I've been through some ups and downs in my life and just how things work. Things are possible when you try to focus on what you can possibly have in common with another human being. That's what the whole story is about based on my life journey. The experiences of me working in the States and here in Canada in the field of corporate management. Many of those concepts were amazingly applied across the border in different areas of your life. I bring it back to workplace mentality, how we can achieve so much more and way more effective in what they do professionally. If we can only break down those barriers in communication and start focusing on what we have in common, what kind of goals we have and how we can work together.
It's our commonalities. We all have far more in common than we differentiate each other. I believe that if we listened to each other, if we understand each other, if we value each other, amazing things can happen. I wholeheartedly ask every person reading this, take the extra few minutes and listen to Natella’s TEDx Talk because it's absolutely amazing. I enjoyed it. Your book is almost out. Tell me the name of the book and when is it going to be available?
The name of the book is Quality In/Quality Out. It's going to be in 2020. I'll provide more information on my website. It's NatellaIsazada.com. It's not ready yet. I still have to finalize it and then it has to go through editing and all that good stuff. The chapters are there and the concept is out there.
When you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
When I'm not in the room, I don't want people to think about me. I want people to think about how it changed them, how it made them feel, the communication that we had. My hope is that people think about the breakthrough that they were able to make in their own thinking. When I'm gone, I don't want just to be remembered by all. I want them to go right to where they were before I started. Hopefully, I leave them in a better place. Just help them with some of their barriers. Help them to see their own problems in the new light. My goal is not to solve everybody's problems, but to help people define those simple solutions. I've been told this many times on different stages in my life, through the student years and my career that, “You're good at one thing. You helped us to find simple ways to look at a complicated problem.” That's what I want to leave people with. Stay where they’re at, go back to their problems and be like, “Now I see.” I told them to have any breakthrough and make progress in solving their problems. Any progress is good progress for me. I don't want anybody to be stuck.
Having simple solutions to complex problems. Natella, it has been a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you for adding value. Thank you for being you and thanks for being on the show.
Thank you so much, Ben. It has been a pleasure talking to you.
You're very welcome.
Natella Isazada is a Personal and Organizational Excellence expert, TEDx speaker, author and training facilitator who resides in Langley BC, Canada. Born and raised in Azerbaijan, Natella has her Bachelor’s degree in International Journalism from Baku State University. She started her career as an investigative journalist uncovering larger scale societal issues and helping marginalized people get their voice heard through telling their stories. To become a bigger help in protecting their legal rights, Natella became a lawyer after graduating from Russian Social State University.
In the late 1990s Natella Isazada won a prestigious Fellowship award and moved to the US to join the Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Since then she has been part of the corporate world helping US and Canadian organizations become industry leaders through the implementation of world-class quality management systems, business process improvements, and leadership development. She has over 15 years of combined work experience in Business Process Improvement, Quality and EHS Management in manufacturing, service and information industries. Her journalistic and legal background have enabled her to get to the crux of business issues through asking tough questions and to achieve top results through her unyielding ability to draw the line between the negotiable and non-negotiable in the world of business operations.
As a life-long learner during these years, Natella has obtained several professional designations, including Advanced Communications, Leadership, and Organizational Excellence certifications. Natella firmly believes that the path to improved Business performance lies through the personal growth of the team members. This has been proven through her own personal journey and through the examples of many other she has helped during her career. The principle she promotes through her brand is Quality In / Quality Out. NATELLA’S BRAND: QUALITY IN /QUALITY OUT Quality In/Quality Out is about moving organizations and individuals away from a traditional mindset of Garbage in/Garbage Out. Originating from the field of computer science GI/GO made its way to all other fields and became the way of explaining poor or mediocre performance.
By assigning the blame to our predecessors who feed us “garbage”, we admit we have no power to produce quality results. Natella turns around this victim mentality, by replacing it in our minds, our vocabulary and our actions with a more powerful model: Quality In/Quality Out. QI/QO model not only emphasizes how our inputs impact our output but puts full responsibility on each of us for the quality of what we produce and the value we bring to our customer – external or internal. Natella shows how by focusing on the needs of those who rely on our input for the success of their processes, we all share the accountability for the final product or service we sell to the end-user. She helps organizations to overcome the silo mentality, break down communication barriers and to work effectively towards common goals by applying the QI/QO principle to their own circumstances.
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