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December 2010

Ellen Leinfuss

Seven Signs that Your Quality Program is in Trouble

by Ellen Leinfuss
SVP, Life Science, Kaplan Eduneering

There is no substitute for a powerful "tone at the top" but recent corporate crises have shown that tone by itself is not enough to support quality. Companies widely considered to be the quality leaders in their fields have been battered by quality problems, in part because of a disconnect between the company's message to the public and to its own employees. Toyota has become an iconic example of this "message disconnect." According to industry experts, Toyota's leadership set a blistering production pace at the same time it systematically slashed operating costs. Despite the public statements of leaders reiterating the company's legendary commitment to quality, Toyota's policies sent a very different and clear message to employees and suppliers: quantity and cost trump quality. The consequences of that unspoken message were played out this year through massive recalls and investigations by national enforcement agencies across the globe.

In many companies, the contradiction between what is said externally and what is instituted internally is less obvious or intentional. David Spong, President of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), offers a telling example of one company's careless quality message to employees. As a way of reducing its operating costs, that company shuffled departments to maximize the use of space. While Finance, Operations and Strategic Planning retained their offices, the Quality Department was banished to a room originally built to house computer servers.

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