The Business Conundrum of Quantity or Quality?
About 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca was quoted as saying “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” Some 1,900 years later, Scottish author and poet George McDonald agreed saying “It is our best work that G-d wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think he must prefer quality to quantity.” Mohandas Ghandi also said that “It is the quality of our work which will please G-d and not the quantity.” These learned men agree that when it comes to work, excellence trumps volume. Less is more.
Yet, the focus of most businesses is to improve productivity, increase output and amplify profits. For businesses, the goal is quantity… more volume…. greater capacity. In the world of work, more is more. That, then, brings us to the age-old argument of which is better: quantity or quality? Is one deal that generates $1 million in revenue and takes six months to close better than 10 deals that close within a six-month period and each generate $100,000 in revenue? They sound like the same thing, but are they really? Is faster manufacturing with more mistakes better or slower production with fewer errors? Should a company do more content marketing (blog posts, articles, press releases, tweets) or fewer but better quality content marketing initiatives? It is a question that business owners, leaders, and managers alike debate. With 2015 just around the corner, it is a good time to consider whether new business goals and plans should focus on increasing quantity or improving quality.
The Management Paradox
According to a global survey by NFI Research, the majority of senior executives and managers say that most organizations value quality over quantity when creating products and services. About a fourth said their organization significantly values quality over quantity. Concerning the demands of their bosses, the majority said that quality is valued more than quantity, with more than a quarter saying their superiors significantly value quality over quantity. However, those respondents also indicated that quality tends to decrease as the volume of work expected goes up, which is continually increasing. Notwithstanding, most companies will demand the same quality as before. That becomes the management paradox: demanding more quantity and better quality. It is the do-more-with-less environment of today’s workplace. While no business owner or manager wants quality to suffer, the majority of companies today also expect business growth.
The challenge then is to grow, increasing quantity without letting quality suffer. Is that even possible?
Overcoming the Zero-Sum Game
The quest for quantity can be a positive or a negative. For example, on the one hand, having more sales could mean more revenue and greater visibility for a company which could then fund deeper investments in the people, products, or technology to support it. However, that quest for more sales could also result in escalating costs, unaffordable time investments, infrastructure issues, and problems with relative scale and the ability to deliver on time. So generating more sales could simultaneously be a good thing and a bad thing.
The same can be true in the quest for quality. On the one hand, pursuing better quality deals or better quality products could mean greater long-term revenue as customer satisfaction and loyalty increases. However, that quest for better quality deals or products could also require an untenable investment of staff time, infrastructure or technology to achieve it that is not justified by the revenue in the short term, and could create cash flow problems.
For any business, deciding on whether to focus on quantity or quality will depend in part on the stage the business is in, the breadth and sophistication of its audience, the price-point, and the complexity of the product or service being provided or sold. For example, consider the sales and marketing costs for an expensive, complex item such as a high rise office building in a major city. The volume of prospective clients generated by the sales and marketing efforts is less important than reaching the correct high-quality, high-net-worth clients with the capital and relationships to pull together the funding for such an acquisition. For commercial real estate, relatively few individuals are critical to the purchasing decision and very few are even able to make such a purchase. It's more important to reach those few than thousands of people who cannot afford such a purchase. Conversely, for relatively inexpensive properties such as a community of affordable townhomes, the volume of buyers is important. Marketing for maximum market share and end-consumer awareness creates success. But ultimately, in both scenarios, there is a need for a certain quantity and quality of buyers.
Balancing Quantity and Quality
Thus, when it comes to business, the truth is that both quantity and quality are important. But that begs the question, does quantity sacrifice quality? By having to choose between quality and quantity, it becomes a zero-sum game. What if a company could produce more and have higher quality of outcomes? In business, the solution lies somewhere in between. The goal is to achieve a balance of reach and impact in order to find the optimal zen between proven results to encourage future investment, quality of experience for the participants, value to the beneficiaries of the product/service/solution, and the realistic application of the product/service/solution to the rest of the business over time. Balancing all of this is the challenge. Rather than thinking of quality versus quantity, the better approach is to look at how to use quality to beget quantity and how to build and leverage quantity to create better quality in whatever the task or goal.
This then refocuses a manager’s attention on what is trying to be accomplished, why it matters, and how to get there rather than the measures themselves. That is because no measure of value is useful on its own. Quality is subjective and relative. Quantity can be shallow and meaningless. However, if the two are used as momentum for one another, that is how a business or department can achieve contextual breadth, depth, and impact.
As managers and owners fashion business plans for 2015, they might consider quantity and quality as the ying and yang of business goals. These seemingly opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in business, and give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. They are the two essential parts of a complex engine that makes the business function.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Value denotes a relation reciprocally existing between two objects, and the precise relation which it denotes is the quantity of the one which can be obtained in exchange for a given quantity of the other." Nassau William Senior