6 Ways Quality Managers Can Build a Culture of Quality

Agreeing on a definition of quality
is just one way to foster a culture of
quality in your company.

If you’re a quality manager, you have a demanding job. In a nutshell, you’re responsible for ensuring satisfactory and consistent quality throughout every successive step of the development of your products and services, a duty which requires you to wield a massive skill set and wear many different hats. Your daily existence revolves around quality; you dissect it and measure it and evaluate it and analyze it; you sleep, eat and breathe quality. And yet, how often do you really contemplate the concept of quality, and what it means to your company beyond the daily rigors of meeting customer requirements and upholding mandatory regulations and standards?

First, let’s take a look at the meaning of quality. There are many definitions of quality, but the American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines it as:

A subjective term for which each person or sector has its own definition. In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1. The characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2. A product or service free of deficiencies. According to Joseph Juran, quality means “fitness for use;” according to Philip Crosby, it means “conformance to requirements.”

It takes an orchestrated effort throughout the entire organization to deliver high-quality products and services that are free of deficiencies. But how can a company hope to achieve consistent quality if “each person or sector has its own definition” of it? Research by ASQ and Forbes Insights [1] points to the need for a culture of quality, where companies develop a shared understanding of quality, a common language to describe it, and an environment where quality is practiced by all employees at all levels of the organization.
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Changing your company’s culture cannot be accomplished overnight or by you alone, but here are a few things you can do incite a company-wide shift toward a culture of quality.

1. Define Quality

There are many definitions of quality, including the one above. What matters most is how your company defines quality – or better yet, how your customers define quality. Along with other leaders in your company, discuss the meaning of quality and come up with a definition. If possible, engage your customers in a dialogue about their needs and what quality means to them. If that’s not possible, review customer data and put yourself in their shoes. If your company already has a definition of quality, make sure your employees are familiar with it, and talk with them about what it means for their role.
Once you have a definition of quality, perhaps create a short, easily-remembered mantra summarizing your company’s universal quality goals and values. Repeat this mantra often and live by it, and encourage your employees to do the same. For example, your mantra could be “At our company, quality is a priority and it’s everyone’s responsibility,” or “Quality means delivering safe and effective products, and it drives everything we do.” It’s important that your definition and mantra are seen as credible and not just as slogans.

2. Lead by Example

Be the quality you want to see in your employees and in your company. Take pride in your work and your team. If you expect a certain level of quality from others, uphold yourself to the same high standards. It may sound obvious, but leading by example can be one of the most effective forms of leadership and inspiring change. Managers can be just as resistant to change (including changes to quality initiatives) as other employees. Try to embrace quality initiatives and take care not to deride these changes to your team. Rather, be honest about the changes and what they mean to each individual’s job responsibilities and engage each employee in an open dialogue.
Instead of policing quality, make it a way of life. Be genuine about your belief in what your team is doing for the greater good of the company, and it will engender trust and buy-in among your team for the company’s definition of quality and its quality goals. Your leadership, not just your management, will inspire them to do the right things the right way. It’s like the old familiar adage: don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.

3. Incentivize or “Gamify” Quality

Inspire a little friendly competition by collecting ideas for quality-improvement initiatives, evaluating them and rewarding the employee or department with the most viable ideas, or those with the greatest potential business impact. Make the ideas and evaluation results available. This allows you to publicly celebrate a quality mentality while motivating others to do better. Said in a different way, this is asking everyone in every role to consider how their work and the quality of their performance contributes to the company’s quality goals. This is a great way to engage employees and increase ownership of quality, as opposed to forcing them follow a set of quality rules.  
Other methods of “incentivizing” quality include internal awards or recognition tied to quality metrics, ability for employees to nominate colleagues or direct reports for awards/recognition for outstanding work, personal compensation tied to quality metrics, cash bonuses tied to quality metrics and promotions tied to quality metrics.

4. Hire for Quality

Among the many duties of a quality manager, hiring is one of the most important. You have the power at this critical stage to select candidates who already have the quality values that you seek to cultivate in your company. Include one or two interview questions that illuminate this area in terms that the candidate understands (for recent college grads), or ask for specific examples from previous employment (for seasoned quality pros).
During the onboarding process, introduce all new hires to the company’s quality vision, values and goals. Emphasize the importance of quality, what it means and how to talk about it at your company. If possible, invite a member of senior management to present this training session – doing so will convey the importance of quality at all levels of your company.

5. Hold “Quality Share” Meetings

Once a day, week or month (or whenever suits your schedule), meet with your team and take turns reporting on quality incidents or experiences that would benefit the team to know about. The examples can be work-related or non-work-related, it is more an exercise of identifying quality events and getting into a quality mindset. Work-related quality shares, for example, can help employees avoid repeating costly mistakes that others have made. This is not only a chance for your individual team members to be heard, but it is an opportunity for them to learn from each other and find common ground as a team, or recognize differences and work to align them. It allows you to open up a healthy discussion that can lead to other important discussions, even if just for a few minutes every once in a while.

6. Get Certified in Lean Six Sigma

By becoming certified in these renowned methodologies for improving business operations, you can bring some legitimate tools to the quality table. Lean teaches the operational, cultural and leadership philosophies needed to increase customer value while reducing waste. Six Sigma focuses on operations management and quality improvement. Becoming certified in one or both will not only give you credibility, but it will help you more efficiently implement quality in your team and your company.
As a quality manager, you deal with quality – or lack thereof – on a daily basis. You are acutely aware of the importance of quality. And while your company may be diligently executing quality processes and fulfilling quality regulations and standards, there are real business benefits to be had by transforming obligation into culture. Consider what you can do to make quality a way of life at your company, and witness how even small changes can help shift the quality management paradigm from quality managers having to police quality, to actively cultivating it.
This post was inspired by and based on the ASQ/Forbes Insight research conducted in 2014. For more detailed information and to review the research in its entirety, visit http://asq.org/culture-of-quality/.
Does your company have a culture of quality? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Beth Pedersen is a marketing communications specialist at the MasterControl headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her technical and marketing writing experience in the enterprise software space includes work for Microsoft, Novell, NetIQ, SUSE and Attachmate. She has a bachelor’s degree in life sciences communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in digital design and communication from the IT University of Copenhagen.

Other Resources
[1] ASQ and Forbes Insights. “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise.” http://asq.org/culture-of-quality/. Accessed December 31, 2015.

CEB. “Building a Culture of Quality.” https://www.cebglobal.com/exbd/innovation-strategy/culture-of-quality/research/index.page?cid=701800000018xou
HBR. “Creating a Culture of Quality.” https://hbr.org/2014/04/creating-a-culture-of-quality
LNS Research. “The Do’s and Don’ts of Changing a Quality Culture.” http://blog.lnsresearch.com/bid/176663/The-Do-s-and-Don-ts-of-Changing-a-Quality-Culture-Executive-Q-A
LNS Research. “Quality Management Strategy: Building a Better Culture.” http://blog.lnsresearch.com/bid/151674/Quality-Management-Strategy-Building-a-Better-Culture