Do You Have a Culture of Quality?

Are your Quality requirements understood across your organization? Almost every manager would answer this question, “Yes.” But, there are lots of organizations whose employees aren’t clear or aren’t “sold” on their company’s commitment to quality. And, this can happen anywhere when there are disconnects about quality.

In our experience, one or more indicators typically exist that can help managers identify the sources of such disconnects. Investigating these indicators is management’s first step toward resolution, and toward building a culture of quality. Following are several examples:

  •  Field Service people have been reporting product quality issues back to Corporate and hearing nothing back. Some people are convinced that management doesn’t care enough about quality, and they discuss it among themselves in frustration.
  • Sales Representatives are frequently at odds with Production and Scheduling because delivery commitments Sales people made to customers aren’t consistently met by Production. Some customers are losing confidence in the Sales people and/or the organization.
  •  Manufacturing workers believe they have higher standards for product quality than management has. They were observe higher standards for some customers but not for all and they think all products should meet the highest quality standards. They interpret this management cutting corners for some customers.
  •  Customer Service staff members receive the same complaints from customers time and time again, with no relief in sight. Some were beginning to dread picking up calls.

In addition to disconnects between management and employees about service and/or product quality, there are sometimes unknown disconnects between management and customers. In a book written decades ago, “Customer Visits,” by Edward F. McQuarrie, one example demonstrates this clearly: 

“A major chemical firm analyzed its output of a chemical product and found several contaminants that current production procedures failed to remove. Committed to a goal of eliminating defects, the firm vowed to drastically reduce the level of these trace contaminants. By means of a substantial redesign of the production processes, it was able to achieve this goal. Whereupon, the firm promptly lost two of its largest customers. It turned out that these customers expected to find those contaminants in the product, and, in fact, relied on their presence to calibrate their own production processes.”

While most managers tend to believe they have communicated quality specifications clearly, at the heart of the matter, their communication is often incomplete, leaving gaps in understanding that employees are left to fill on their own. Following are some typical examples:

  • When management develops or talks about quality standards, they often discuss them as being rooted in ISO or FDA and other regulations. Further, in an environment where cost is constantly a topic of discussion and focus (and where isn’t it?) employees sometimes conclude that the company cares more about money than quality.

  • While most managers tend to believe they have communicated quality specifications clearly, at the heart of the matter, their communication is often incomplete, leaving gaps in understanding that employees are left to fill on their own. Following are some typical examples:
  • Companies often develop business strategies that, when cascaded down throughout the organization, result in Functional goals. Functional goals can undermine shared goals. For instance, Sales is charged with getting orders and finding new customers. They need to be able to meet customer expectations while Manufacturing may be focused on functional targets in efficiency and throughput. Functional or departmental goals often cause conflict between Manufacturing and Sales, with that situation made worse as they judge one another and point fingers.
  • Quality requirements may actually differ among customers. But, in a machine shop environment, for example, how many employees are provided with enough information to understand that some customers want metal parts to be polished, while others don’t, and why?
  •  Despite the good intentions many organizations have to meet customer requirements, many decisions are made without the decision-makers knowing about specific customer use of the product and expectations, including the example above from McQuarrie’s book.

One significant impact of these disconnects is that your best internal ambassadors of your brand – your employees – become disillusioned and distracted. Disillusionment can be contagious and multiply its adverse impact on organization performance. This is because employee attitudes, beliefs and confidence in the company brand impact the way they do their jobs and deal with both one-another and the customers. Have you heard a respected Sales Rep. complain about Manufacturing, and vice versa? Don’t their frustrations sometimes leak out to customers? We need to enable our people to find their enthusiasm, pride in association, and, yes, even passion — all emotions that drive people to give their best effort at work.

When people feel excited about what they do and have confidence in management, this impacts their performance as strongly as negative feelings do. And, who’s on the front lines, dealing with customers, making decisions about production, talking about the company with colleagues, family and friends? Employees. And this makes employees a critical asset in building any company’s brand.

There are three steps to providing an effective context for quality organization-wide:

  1. Leaders develop and communicate their strategies and goals with the customer at the center
  2. They express goals in terms of customer expectations
  3. Communication with employees and with customers is comprehensive, including in-depth discussions with customers to fully understand their quality requirements and the reasons for those requirements. Subsequently, employees are educated about the specific customer needs that drive design, manufacturing and quality specifications,

Truly effective communication enables everyone to get on the same page, and feel good about it. We all know that when everyone across functions has a common goal, a goal that results in delivering on the company’s competitive differentiation, the natural bond the common goal creates between people will foster collaboration to prevent and find solutions to problems.

We thank you for taking the time to read our article — and we wish you all great success in 2019 – with a culture of quality.

 

 

 

 

 

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