Implementing a Quality Culture in Your Organization

Years ago, I was given the task to implement a Quality Program in an organizational environment that consisted of multiple flying and support units with a variety of different mission statements between them.  Some of these organizations did the same thing from different locations, some overlapped in areas of common interest, and others were unique to themselves.  The only problem was that we didn’t have a Quality Program to offer them, as it hadn’t been written yet – so I had nothing to introduce or implement.  So I decided to start from scratch and go back to the source documents in order to provide our organizations something to use until the official Quality Program arrived at our doorstep.

So I read Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, and a handful of other works by various quality experts in order to understand the nature of this world of quality that I was to implement, as I had never had formal quality training before.  The more I read the more I came to understand was that perhaps I didn’t have the jargon on the tip of my tongue – but I know quality when I see it.  We all do.

Much of what quality is all about is basic common sense – the things that parents and teachers do every day to focus their children in a positive direction: do your work properly, promptly and be proud of what you have accomplished.  Don’t cut corners, dot your i’s and cross your t’s.  Stick with it until you are finished.  Make it look presentable.  Sign your work.  Help others around you if they don’t understand the task or activity.  If you do it right the first time you don’t have to go back and do it all over again correctly.  The sayings and common wisdom go on and on.  The concept of quality has existed ever since man created the wheel, and it turned out lopsided and didn’t roll very well.

These days “Quality” is a business in and of itself.  There are Quality Consultants, Quality Experts, Quality Training Organizations, Quality Positions, and Directors of Quality – the list is endless.  Large organizations that “implement” quality often do so in ways that creates a “parallel organization” to the original mission that their organization was set up to do.  Quality Processes, Quality Positions, Quality Teams, Quality Inspections, and Quality Reviews create this “Quality Organization in parallel” that crowds out and overpowers the very mission that the original organization was set up to accomplish.  In addition, the added expense of hiring the Quality Experts, attending the Quality Training, purchasing and implementing the Quality Software, and the time, expense, reports generated and energy involved can be overwhelming.

I watched a documentary over the weekend about a great warship that was built in Scandinavia a few hundred years ago.  It was the biggest and most powerful warship of its day ever built.  On the day it was launched in all of its glory, it promptly sank minutes later in the harbor.  After resting on the harbor’s bottom for all of these years in cold, pristine conditions, it was brought to the surface and completely restored and now sits in a museum.  I think of modern companies in this same manner.  It turns out the warship was completely top heavy and unstable in the water.  It had an extra row of cannons on the top deck, and not enough ballast below – so it rolled as soon as it was launched and sank.  The extra “processes” and bureaucracy can make any company “top heavy” and the overhead cost can sink a company as fast as that warship when the margins are tight.

I believe that quality needs to be embedded in the existing organizational structure so that no position on the organization chart is recognized as a “quality position.”  Quality can operate within whatever tools and software the company already uses on a daily basis.  No extra expense needs to be made in supporting a quality culture.  Every employee or teammate can Google all the quality terms in the lexicon and study concepts and definitions on-line for free.  The point is that implementing quality doesn’t have to involve any overhead costs, any new positions, any new software or any Quality Consultants.  Much of the knowledge is common sense and everything else is available on-line for free.  Everyone can educate themselves about quality.

After graduating from college all those years ago, long before the Internet came along; I had the concept of teaching myself about whatever I was interested in.  One of my core beliefs has always been that everyone should strive to know a little bit about everything, so if you meet someone you can at least have some common ground to converse.  Once we are taught to read as a child, we have all the tools necessary to educate ourselves – and now with the Internet that ability is absolutely fantastic.  Anything you can think of you can Google and thousands of pathways are available to whatever you want.  In my day you had to go to the library – today it is at your fingertips from anywhere in the world.  Of course there is bad information out there and of course not everything is suitable for everyone – but it is there and it is available and it is free.  Who could have imagined this world of information before?  I took a college computer course back in the day when it took a thick stack of punch cards to compute what a normal calculator can do so much faster and better today.  I can’t even believe today’s technology.

So we all have an innate and common sense understanding of Quality.  We also know that the knowledge is free and the information is easily available, and implementing Quality shouldn’t be an economic “drag” on our organization’s budget.  However, there is a “wall” or “barrier” that we can’t overcome as an organization despite our “bootstrap” efforts to implement quality into our organization – Bureaucracy.  Governments and “official” organizations implement “standards of quality” that can’t be achieved without hiring the Quality Experts and Consultants, buying the Quality Software, implementing the Quality Forms and inviting the Quality Inspection Teams in order to get your Quality Stamp of Approval so your organization can actually produce the outputs or products that it was set up to do.  There is no “bootstrap” method to evade these requirements.  I really think that bureaucracy will be the downfall of modern society.  Once the government gets involved, the bureaucracy that follows will overwhelm any organization like a tsunami – and smother the life out of it until it no longer exists.  It started with warning labels on plastic bags and ladders.  It set standards for automobile manufacturers that are driving them out of business.  It is never ending and relentless.  Soon everything may just implode on itself from the weight of bureaucracy.

In one area I will relent and give the Quality overhead and bureaucracy its due: businesses that are so technical and specifications that are so precise that anything less means failure.  An electron microscope has some pretty tight tolerances, rockets work or they don’t, and computers are immensely complicated machines.  The expense, research, expertise, and technology required to produce these types of products requires all of the investment that a modern Quality Program entails – that I will acknowledge.  For everyone else out there, we will continue on track.

At the individual level all of the “processes” and expenses aren’t required.  An individual is a “stand alone quality program.”  You can apply quality (I use quality with a small “q” from now on) in every corner of your daily life to make improvements to it – your home, health, family and work environment.  As a small organization, you can “bootstrap” quality easily at no cost or expense.  If you are a small or mid-size organization with no government mandated regulatory requirements involved, then you too can implement quality to improve your product, save costs, increase efficiency and improve your organization’s health and vitality.  The following “10 points to quality” can be used as an initial guide to point you in the right direction.  After that, you and your organization can educate yourselves to create your own quality culture at no additional expense to what you are now doing.

1.     Whoever leads your organization is responsible for quality – whether it is you as a single “stand alone” entity or the CEO of a company.  The leader sets the organization’s direction, tone and standards.  It is the leader’s job to create an “environment” or “quality culture” that allows the concept of quality to thrive.

2.     Managers at all levels are the key to implementing quality.  They “own” the processes involved, make the decisions, and guide their teammates in all areas and at all levels of the organization.  I believe that it is “poor management” that is the real downfall of companies everywhere.  If managers would just do their jobs properly, then everything else becomes attainable.  Managers are responsible for empowering teammates, incremental work center improvements and for meeting their customer’s expectations.  If they are incompetent, then everything falls apart.

3.     Every manager and every supervisor by definition is a quality instructor.  The primary roles of mid-level leaders includes: coaching, mentoring and instructing their teammates.  The concept of quality must be applied on a daily basis in the work center and not viewed as a quarterly or yearly academic exercise.  No one outside of your team can be “responsible” for quality.

4.     Every individual in your organization must endorse quality internally with their every fiber, not in a lip sync “oath” or “quality mission statement” but actually believe in incremental quality improvements deep into the very marrow of their bones – and apply it to everything that they do.  It has to become a passion for them.  Every teammate is essential for a quality culture to grow and develop.  Teammates are at the “pointy end of the pencil,” the “keystrokes of the keyboard,” and where the “rubber meets the road.”  If teammates don’t apply quality concepts at the lowest levels of a process within your organization – it can’t succeed.

5.     Every work center is a quality working group.  Natural work centers where teammates work together in an office or in a common process must implement a quality approach as a team effort since they are all involved together in everything they do.  Internal and external customers are everywhere and must be recognized as such.  Every group of teammates at every level in your organization have to think and act as a team.  From the break room to the board room – every individual and every group for every process – from the entry level clerk to marketing to sales to design to support to IT to the delivery truck driver – has to be involved and “believe” that quality improvements over time can make the entire organization better.

6.     An emphasis on quality must be believable.  We all recognize a “half hearted” effort.  Quality is either a total comittment or it really doesn’t exist.  It isn’t an “every other Tuesday” or weekly, monthly or annual exercise.  Everyone knows if it is believable from the top on down.  To put something on paper doesn’t mean it exists if the person operating the machine doesn’t believe in it or adopt it – quality has to permeate the entire organization and everyone in it.  To create a quality culture is to have it sink into everyone’s mentality, conversation, task and process.

7.  Individuals must be empowered at every level to do the right thing and make the right decisions at every opportunity that they can.  Empowerment allows an organization to be more than the mere sum of its individuals.  A quality culture and emphasis is required to ensure the long term health and survival of your organization.  Individuals develop a sense of ownership in a process once they are empowered.  If they really believe that their work signature reflects the very best they have to offer – there’s no limit to what they can do.

8.     Individuals must believe that they can make a difference.  They must be mentored and nurtured to rise to their potential.  Leaders, managers and supervisors at all levels need to “grow” their teammates to be more than even they believe they can become.  Every teammate is the most precious part of your organization – spend the time to invest in them to ensure the organization’s success.  If teammates believe in themselves, in continuous improvement, in the organization’s mission and in your customers – they bring an intangible element into the equation that can’t be purchased – which is more valuable than gold.

9.     Personal initiative must be recognized.  Teammate recognition is essential for a healthy organization to thrive and prosper.  Not everyone sees recognition the same – some like public recognition, some private praise, some look to a flexible schedule, some desire certain benefits, bonus pay, merit pay or simply a raise.  However recognition is perceived, it has to be tailored to the circumstances and to the teammate’s desires – otherwise it won’t be a motivation to them.  Proper recognition for all teammates’ efforts will allow quality to prosper and grow into a true quality culture throughout the organization and at all levels.

10.    An emphasis on quality has to respect an organization’s history and achievements.  You can not erase an organization’s history with a clean sweep or force quality into an organization and expect your efforts to thrive.  People are proud of their past, where they came from and how they did things – despite the results or success of those efforts.  Take the building blocks that are there, turn them into a solid foundation, and build upon those efforts.  If an organization has a proud history – acknowledge and celebrate it – use it as a launching point into the future as a source of pride and heritage.

The bottom line is that teammates at all levels are the key to quality; quality is not an academic exercise but a daily application; a quality emphasis and involvement belongs at every natural work center at every level of the organization; you can’t impose quality on an organization but instead it has to be adopted by every teammate or it won’t be believable or work; and the ultimate goal is to create a quality environment or culture that permeates everyone’s thinking and process at every level of your organization.

So what was the result of my Quality Program initiative all those years ago?  I wrote and implemented my own plan, centered on the 10 points listed above, and it was a success.  Roughly five months later an Inspection Team arrived to inspect us on a program that hadn’t been delivered to us yet.  All in all, we passed with flying colors, and I was officially recognized for my efforts.  There was one defining point in the whole experience that was more important to me than any other – including the public recognition from the Inspection Team.  I was visiting the office of the individual that had originally assigned me the task one day, when his Executive Secretary asked me out of the blue to sign her personal copy of the quality program that I had written.  It literally stopped me in my tracks from the depth of response I had from her very sincere request – and of course I signed it for her.  I will never forget that moment in time – it is captured forever in my memory.

Six months later another individual took over the quality position – and shortly afterwards the official Quality Program finally arrived at our doorstep.  The only thing that is important to take away from this entire experience is that we were able to implement quality on our own and still pass an official inspection visit – all from a dead start.  We spent little money on it – for reproduction costs only – and laid a solid foundation for the new program to build upon.  In life you can achieve whatever you set out to accomplish – and quality will go a long way to getting you there!

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2 thoughts on “Implementing a Quality Culture in Your Organization

  1. Although this was a really long post to get through, I just had to read through and post a note. I have lived this philosophy for years and blog about it myself.
    Unfortunately, the bottom line is that Q needs to be driven down from the top (as you mention) and this is often not done. It also relies on everyone jumping on the bandwagon – take it from one of those Quality Directors – there will always be people who just don’t want to do things right the first time – or any time!
    So, like it or not, we will probably always need some type of organization to oversee and drive Q initiatives. At least we can try to keep it as small as possible. All we can do is keep trying – right?

  2. Editor’s Note: Thanks for taking the time to comment. In an ideal world every individual assumes the responsibility to produce the very best effort and product or service possible, and is their own self-contained Quality Program. The next responsibility for Quality falls on the individual’s Direct Supervisor, and always defaults up the supervisory chain in terms of responsibility for producing a quality product or service. So if there is an organizational fault or failure concerning Quality – it is always a failure of Management to do their jobs correctly. If Manager’s would just do their jobs, most organizational problems would be solved.

    Cheers and thanks again,

    Mark

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