Quality is important for you

Of course, it’s not just up to you...

It’s a management responsibility

It’s true that the pursuit of excellence calls for genuine senior management commitment, though it’s not just the top of the office that can make or break any attempt for quality. So if you are a manager at any level, reflect on this story.

The manager’s tale

Charlotte once spent a short time working for an organisation that was nationally regarded as the top in its field. It scored highly in virtually all its industry standard measures of success and had all the awards going. The MD was often called upon to speak at conferences, to share his renowned expertise on continuous improvement. Charlotte came in when the firm felt that it had gone as far as it could. They just didn’t seem to be able to push their quality up any higher. The high reputation attracted her and she was sure that she could build on what had already been put in place.

And yet as the weeks went by she began to realise that staff turnover was high and morale was low. She noted that only senior staff felt able to propose change, while a common management complaint was that the staff would not join in on any quality improvement discussions and were not motivated.

Why? Well, the key management technique was the post mortem, where the priority was to fix the blame, and only then to fix the problem. Customer satisfaction surveys were engineered to get the desired answers. No one (and pretty soon that included Charlotte) felt confident making decisions without knowing the MD’s views on the matter. There was a general air of fear and insecurity.

It may not have been deliberate or even conscious, but the MD was driven by personal feelings of insecurity and suspicion of all around – competitors and colleagues alike. The articulated culture was all high quality, but behaviour was very much command-and-control. The words and the music did not match. In reality, the company’s approach to quality concentrated on detection and correction of errors, with some prevention. There was no real desire to learn. Once Charlotte realised that, she soon left – she could see why the firm had become stuck and she didn’t want to become demoralised herself.

So management can sow the seeds or wield the weed-killer – but they can’t do it on their own. That’s down to everyone.

Is it a quality specialist’s responsibility?

The company may have appointed people – Quality Manager, Quality Champions, Quality Teams or some such title – to specialise in quality, excellence, or whatever you choose to call it. Their role may be to explain, train, advise, support, coordinate activity, collect and collate information, undertake specific projects or tasks, but once they have done their work, it is everyone’s attitude and behaviour that counts. So it comes back to being your responsibility.

It’s also your responsibility

Whatever position you occupy in the organisation, what you do matters. You might be surprised how you can affect quality.

Bear in mind that a successful company is more likely to offer secure employment than an unsuccessful one. A company with a quality approach is more likely to be successful than one without such an approach. So you get to keep your job! What more could you want?

You will get more out of your work

Just imagine working in a way that you designed yourself, with team-mates who help out when you’re stuck, where you get the training you need, can see how your work adds to the firm’s results, and your contribution is valued. This is not merely dreaming about utopia: these things are often routine in leading quality organisations.

If your organisation has a quality management system that does not give you these things, start asking questions. (Read a bit more of this topic first though, so you know which questions to ask!)

How you as an individual can make a difference

If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.

Anita Roddick quoting the Dalai Lama

Each of us acts makes an impact on quality

We all have power over how we behave. How well you do your work at any moment, cooperate with your colleagues and resolve problems makes more difference than anything else.

You can (consciously or otherwise) derail quality initiatives by protecting old ways of working, or by overt or covert cynicism.

Apply common sense

Quality is amazingly simple in principle! The core of quality, or business excellence, is really no more than this:

  • Think about your customer (anyone who benefits from what you do – whether inside or outside the firm)
  • Make sure what you sell does what it says on the tin (bearing in mind the customer’s purpose in using your product/service)
  • Work mindfully (reduce wasted cost, time and effort, work smarter not harder)
  • Keep trying out ways of doing it better
  • Check out what effect you are having (added value, customer perception, effects of changes made).

As the granddaddy of it all (W Edwards Deming) put it...

Plan, Do, Check, Act!

Modify company procedures for the customer’s benefit

Maybe you are yourself responsible for the design of a system or procedure. In that case, take the trouble to really listen to the users. Ask how the procedure can better help them meet the needs of the eventual customer. Check out if anything in the procedure hinders them. Change the system to support business results.

This may sound simple, and it is. Maybe you can’t find the time? Think about the frustration and bad feelings that may be caused by an obstructive system. Think what effect that has on the company’s results. Think what effect that has on your reputation in the company.

Key concept

Everything you do makes a difference.

Walk the talk

Go on, make an example of yourself! How you do your work at any moment makes more difference than anything else. It doesn’t just affect you. Our personal behaviour also influences our colleagues. Positive as well as negative behaviour can be infectious. So become a champion of excellence!