Falling down the quality abyss
Attention stops being paid, compromises are made, quality goes down.
Expectations aren't met.
Expectations are lowered.
Customers drift away.
Budgets are cut, because there are fewer customers.
Quality erodes even more, because there's less to spend, and employees care less.
The alternative is the quality ratchet:
Over-focus on quality.
Expectations go up.
Sales rise as a result of word of mouth and customer satisfaction.
More money is spent on quality.
Often, organizations don't realize that they're falling down the abyss until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it's always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow.
And here's the hard part: You don't fall down the abyss all at once. You compromise, you cut corners, you don't bring as much to your work, and nothing bad happens (at first). So the feedback loop is broken.
Working your way back out works the same way: You work harder, you raise your standards, you invest, and nothing good happens (at first).
The challenge is to have the guts to care even when you're not apparently rewarded for caring.