I recently had the opportunity to speak to members of the Food Processing Suppliers Association. In doing my preparation, one thing that kept coming up was food safety. One mistake can destroy a company.

How would you like to deal with that kind of pressure? I bet if you asked most businesspeople if they could be 99.9% perfect, they’d take it. In some industries that might cut the mustard, but it certainly won’t in others.

If everyone achieved 99.9% quality, according to Insight Syncrude Canada Ltd., this is what could happen:

  • Two plane landings daily at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago would be unsafe.
  • The IRS would lose two million documents this year.
  • 22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
  • 1,314 phone calls would be misplaced every minute.
  • 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day.
  • 268,500 defective tires would be shipped this year.
  • 103,208 income tax returns would be processed incorrectly this year.
  • 2,488,200 books with the wrong cover would be shipped in the next 12 months.
  • 5,517,200 cases of soft drinks produced in the next 12 months would be flatter than a bad tire.
  • 3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal would be missing one of the three sections.
  • 18,322 pieces of mail would be mishandled in the next hour.
  • 880,000 credit cards in circulation would turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions would be written in the next 12 months.
  • 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes would be shipped this year.
  • 107 incorrect medical procedures would be performed by the end of the day today.

When I founded Mackay Envelope Company many years ago, every time we landed a new account we checked and double-checked the first order to make certain it was correct. Nothing is more destructive to a company’s bottom line and its relations with customers than defective products. We still test throughout the manufacturing process and then test again just before shipping. Then we test the testers to make sure they know what they’re doing.

Quality is a mindset. It must be an obsession. It has to be part of a company’s culture. You can’t just talk about it. You have to practice it every day for years.

As Aristotle said, “Quality is not an act. It is a habit.”

Have you ever seen a team run on the field yelling, “We want to be number two?” Everyone wants to be #1. Those who actually achieve it are those who are willing to put the blood, sweat, and tears into their effort.

The American Society for Quality Control published a booklet many years ago called “The Hare and the Tortoise Revisited: The Businessman’s Guide to Continuous Quality Improvement.” One story tells about a Japanese quality expert who stresses the need for patience and discipline. He likens the quality process to farming bamboo. Once the bamboo seed is planted, the farmer waters it every day. He does that for four years before the tree even breaks ground. But when it finally does, it grows 60 feet in the next 90 days.

It’s that kind of commitment to the long view that marks the companies which have been most successful in achieving outstanding quality.

Bottom line: Quality products and quality service begin with quality thinking, and it’s the same in any business. Everyone talks about quality, but customers can quickly figure out who is willing to make the required effort. And those businesses have a very good chance of sticking around for a very long time.
Quality comes from pride. Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. So you need to autograph your work with excellence.

If it’s almost right, it’s wrong.

Mackay’s Moral: The difference between failure and success is the difference between doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right.

[Ed. Note: As Harvey Mackay just pointed out, maintaining quality is a key factor in the success of a business. And that’s true of online businesses too. At the Early to Rise Info-Marketing Bootcamp this November, you’ll learn how to create quality products, provide quality customer service, and basically instill quality in everything you do as an Internet entrepreneur.

Harvey Mackay has written five New York Times bestselling books, two of them considered to be among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time — Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. His latest book is Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You. Harvey has been named one of the top five speakers in the world by Toastmasters International. He is also chairman of the $100 million MackayMitchell Envelope Company, a business he started in 1960.

This article was reprinted with permission from Harvey’s nationally syndicated column.]