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9 steps to create a Culture of Quality

A strong culture of quality is often cited as a key enabler of organisational success. Yet it remains elusive to achieve or worse we appear to be slowly drifting away from the concept all together. This is not a problem entirely of the making of the organisation alone, global technological factors have led a push towards a dramatic increase in productivity and reduction in costs while there has been no dramatic increase in the workforce that manages this transformation. This means that although the margin of error has decreased, the likelihood of the error itself has increased. This can put Quality Management professionals under a considerable pressure as they are nonetheless  expected to continue to deliver on expectations.

 

Before we lay out the plan for achieving a culture of quality let us quickly define what it actually means.

A strong culture of quality is one in which employees share a core set of values and beliefs and exhibit the desired behaviours that engage the organisation in a cycle of continuous improvement which then enables it to deliver high quality products and services to a satisfied customer base.

Here are the 9 steps that we believe can help an organisation create a culture of quality:

Creating a Quality Management Culture

1. Measure the current culture

It is important to understand the size and dimensions of a problem before we go about tackling it. It is certainly possible that your organisation already has a well defined and deep culture for quality, on the other extreme it is also possible that you are so far off the goal that immediate action becomes imperative.

An anonymous employee survey is a great tool for this purpose, it helps in two ways. First, it allows you to measure the current culture and also draws the employees attention towards what should be occurring within the organisation.

Sample questions to ask in a survey:

Question
Does the company provide real opportunities for you to improve your skills?
Is the amount of training you receive sufficient for your professional development?
Are you encouraged to come up with new ideas to do things in a better way?
Does the company encourage you to show initiative and exercise your judgement when solving problems?
Do employees that come up with new ideas for doing things in a better way recognised for their efforts?
Does the company make sufficient efforts to gather feedback from its employees?
Overall are you satisfied with the degree of your involvement in the decisions that directly affect your work?

Other complimenting tools for measuring are third party audits, shadowing, interviews and focus groups.

 

2. Leadership commitment

This step is quite obvious (hopefully) as without top management leadership and commitment almost all initiatives undertaken by an organisation face considerable headwind. In the case of changing the culture of quality the leadership has to do more than just talk, top management has to walk the talk as well.

Managers are expected to be a role model to their employees and lead by example. They can do this by being actively present where key decisions are being made and to show their co workers how to behave and act under those situations until they themselves can work independently.

Such structured personal development and focus on behaviours is a great way of strengthening the culture.

 

3. Storytelling

Who does not remember a good story? We consistently see that in our education system teachers use storytelling to explain theories and complex subjects to their students. Yet, in business we continue to ignore this powerful tool which is a proven way of strengthening culture and converting values into behaviours.

Managers with their wealth of experiences and also co-workers must be encouraged to tell stories about events in which a certain type of behaviour and values were expected and indeed displayed. Some companies refer to these as their ‘war stories’, but these do not have to be ‘make or break’ moments for an organisation. Real life examples of how to deal with an unhappy customer or how to deal with a safety concern are just some ways.

Some organisations even publicise shining examples by creating posters and displaying them in company corridors, this not only recognises and rewards the responsible employee but also encourages others to be inspired by their peers and follow in their steps.

This point is further backed by research which indicates that in order to strengthen the culture of quality employees have to see others making efforts, especially their peers.

 

4. Communication

A message, no matter how important, is lost if it is not conveyed properly to its intended audience. Why should employees care about quality? What is in it for them? Do all employees care about the same thing?

The message must be clear, unambiguous and consistent. All levels of management must be aware of what their employees motivations are and craft quality messages that are in tune with the culture of their team. For example in a medical device organisation instead of stressing on the importance of quality for regulatory compliance the quality manager emphasises on the benefits to patients who are the recipients of such devices. Thus striking a very personal and moral note amongst its employees.

The consistency of the message is also important, it can be very confusing for employees if management one day states “the quality of its products and services is paramount” and the next day “cost reduction is a top priority”.

When done properly, targeted messages can have the greatest effect in strengthening the quality culture.

 

5. Establish cross functional teams

The role of quality professionals within an organisation should not be to solve each and every quality problem. Their role should be to ensure that they get the right people together to work on the problem. Research has shown that having a cross functional team not only helps solve problems but is also a source of breakthrough innovations which helps reduce product development and process time. By working together on fixing a common problem teams break down barriers and pave the way for future cooperation and team synergy.

 

6. Employee ownership

Ownership does not mean a financial reward here, in fact it has been proven that financial incentives do little to improve culture, if anything it has a negative impact. We are talking about empowerment of employees, trusting them to do their jobs and including them in key decision making process that directly affects their work.

For this to work employees must feel comfortable in making quality decisions and raise any concerns and questions even if it goes against any directives.

Employees that report quality issues and come up with solutions must be publicly recognised for their efforts which helps build a strong culture of trust with management and helps create a dialogue in which everyone can participate.   

With that being said, it is also important that employees must be made accountable for quality issues that occur in their area of control. By being in control with the questions and the answers to a particular problem employees are more likely to take greater interest in quality issues and with time develop a network of peers for guidance and talk about quality and their experiences directly.

 

7. Quality Champions

Employees generally look up to champions at work, these may or may not be their managers, these may be individuals who command respect from their peers because of their work ethic, experience and many other positive attributes. These business champions must be the first line of defence for any organisation which is willing to take on developing a culture of quality amongst its employees. It is not necessary to publicize the role of a  Quality Champion, the important thing is that Quality Champions encourage their peers to follow their lead and start a dialogue around quality. Some companies even choose to keep this role a secret so that  the authenticity of the champion is not undermined by being associated too closely with management. Quality Champions can speak in a language that their peers are more likely to understand and relate to, thus bridging any gaps left behind by organisational messages.

 

8. Training

“Training is everything.” – Mark Twain.

The message of a culture of quality must be enforced and reinforced with a structured training program. However, it is not sufficient to just relay a message, employees must be trained on how to identify problems and get to the root cause of the problem using well defined techniques and processes.

Training should also be used to develop the soft skills required for enabling a strong culture. This is often referred to as socialisation and can involve training, workshops, team building boot camps etc. An example of such a training could be:

  • How to respond to an employee when he/she brings a significant quality or safety issue to you?
  • What are the appropriate and inappropriate responses to such a situation?

The end result should be that the employees understand and agree with the core values, beliefs and behaviours that help drive a culture of quality within the organisation.

 

9. Institutionalizing new approaches/tools/techniques

Institutionalizing management tools and techniques is a straightforward way to provide some structure around employee behaviour and actions. Software is a great tool that can be used to codify existing business processes and any new learnings that can be incorporated back into the software so that your “organisational knowledge” does not walk out of the door when a particular employee decides to pursue other opportunities. By codifying existing practices new employees will also find it easier to get up to speed with the rest of the team.

A new breed of Quality Management Software products is beginning to enter the market which allows the organisation to implement industry best practices, promote collaboration and retain organisational knowledge. Moreover, these products are flexible, easy to use and cost effective.
In conclusion, organisations can extract a significant competitive advantage if their employees are engaged and immersed in the ideas and value of quality. However, changing culture takes time and patience, with persistence and good leadership it is a goal certainly worth pursuing.

Sources:

  • The Role of Organizational Learning in Understanding Relationship between Total Quality Management and Organizational Performance – Shahid Mahmood , Faisal Qadeer , Aftab Ahmad (2015)
  • TQM- the role of leadership and culture – Kim Burch, Drew Rivers (2001)
  • ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE AND QUALITY IMPROVEMENT: A STUDY – Rober Paul Brown (1997)
  • Organizational culture for total quality management – Juan Antonio Gimenez-Espin∗, Daniel Jime ´nez-Jime ´nez and Micaela Martı´nez-Costa (2013)
  • Organizational Culture and Total Quality Management (TQM) – Faisal A. Al-Bourini1, Ghaith M. Al-Abdallah1 & Azzam A. Abou-Moghli1 (2013)
  • Creating a Quality Management Culture – Pernilla Ingelsson (2013)
  • Quality Culture and TQM – Steen Hildebrandt (1991)
  • TQM AND ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AS SIGNIFICANT FACTORS IN ENSURING COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE – Alexandra Jancikova ,Karel Brychta (2009)
  • QUALITY CULTURE: ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF TQM – I. ILIEȘ, H.C. SĂLĂGEAN, B. BÂLC
  • IMPACT OF ORGANIZATION CULTURE ON TQM IMPLEMENTATION BARRIERS – Rashed S. Al-Jalahma (2012)
  • Why you need a culture of quality – CEB Innovation & Strategy (2014)
  • Creating a Culture of Quality – Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan Kurey (2014)

 

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