If you’re a quality manager, you have a demanding job. In a nutshell, you’re responsible for ensuring satisfactory and consistent quality throughout the entire product development life cycle – a responsibility 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.” (1)
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 when a company does not have an agreed upon definition of quality? Research by ASQ and Forbes Insights 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. (2)
Changing your company’s culture cannot be accomplished overnight or by you alone, but here are a few things you can do incite a companywide shift toward a culture of 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. As reported by ASQ and Forbes, 48% of overall survey respondents said customer needs are the key driver of their quality programs, and the figure rises to 71% for world-class companies. (3)
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.
Your end goal is to have a definition of quality that serves as the framework for creating a culture of quality throughout the organization. A recent article in Quality Magazine reiterates this point by explaining, “Culture of quality is defined as an environment in which employees not only follow quality guidelines, but also consistently see others taking quality-focused actions, hear others talking about quality, and feel quality around them.” (4) This approach starts with you and the company’s leadership team.
Be the quality you want to see in your employees and in your company. In collaboration with the company’s executives, you need to create the expectation that every employee must be dedicated to quality.
You can set the bar by taking 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.
As part of leading by example, make a habit of rewarding employees who embody your company’s culture of quality. According to Forbes, effective incentives, “need to be unambiguous and directly tied to a measurable action or achievement.” They further explain that raises and year-end bonuses should not be used as incentives because the steps to achieve those monetary rewards aren’t specific enough. Instead, the publication notes, “When there is a great deal of clarity on how to earn rewards, they are move valuable for the employees seeking them. A direct relationship to work outcomes always makes a substantial difference.” In addition to establishing clear ways of earning an incentive, they suggest using multiple types of rewards including public recognition, trips, training opportunities, or increased responsibility. (5)
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.
On a regular basis, meet with your team to discuss quality problems and how to improve them. Rather than look at the success stories of other companies, work on quality issues identified by your team and create your own success stories. This method is recommended by Harvard Business Review as a means for continuous improvement. (6) Continuous improvement is the aim of Six Sigma, and you or a member of your quality team might work toward becoming certified in these principles.
Earning a certification in these renowned methodologies for improving business operations allows you to 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 on your team and in your company.
To do your job well, you need the right tools, and a digital quality management system (QMS) can help with everything from routing forms to ensuring that training is completed on time. The president of Wellington Foods, a MasterControl customer, recently explained that a company’s quality system is more than a tool – it is a reflection of the company’s commitment to achieving quality within the organization and building a culture around it.
“A quality system is a mindset and a company culture, and it’s reinforced by your executive leadership, and it touches on every one of your departments,” he said.
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.
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