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Developing a positive organizational culture can be a daunting undertaking. Culture is one of those things that can be hard to get your hands around. It is ethereal; it can be difficult to define. It involves the often-puzzling domain of human psychology and group dynamics. To make matters worse, most leaders can be vulnerable to blind spots when it comes to their own organizational culture.

As difficult as it might be to define and implement a positive corporate culture, – there are some well-established steps you can take to develop and sustain a commitment to quality at your company. Note that none of these is a “one and done” proposition; they all require management’s ongoing attention and a firm commitment to continuous improvement. Below are 5 Steps to developing and sustaining a culture of quality.

1. Perform an Honest Self-Assessment

Before you can develop a clear roadmap to reach your desired goal, you must know where you are today. This can be one of the most difficult part of the process, – largely because managers are so often blind to the thoughts and attitudes of people throughout their organization. Most employees are reluctant to answer questions about organizational culture honestly, – especially if their answers might not reflect well on themselves, their peers, or the company. There is a strong tendency to tell leaders what they want to hear. That makes this process especially challenging.

It can often be useful to engage outside assistance in taking the pulse of sentiment in your workforce. When external consultants perform employee surveys and interviews with an assurance that confidentiality will be upheld, it creates an environment in which honest sharing of information is more likely to happen. When employees feel confident that their comments will not be attributed to them personally, they are far more likely to give truthful answers to questions about culture.

Other methods of assessing your culture of quality include performing exit interviews, tracking employee turnover, and collecting high-level customer satisfaction metrics such as a Net Promoter Score (NPS). “Management by walking around” (MBWA) is also a good practice for managers wishing to keep their finger on the pulse of organizational culture. It also contributes to positive morale and helps to promote a culture of quality.

2. Get Clear About your Priorities

Most organizations have a mission statement, often accompanied by a list of “shared values”. Unfortunately, those statements often end up collecting dust on an office shelf somewhere. They do not necessarily become part of the company’s day-to-day internal dialogue, – but they should.

Years ago, I worked at a small technology company whose mission was “to improve the lives and business success of our customers.” We also had a list of seven shared values that included accountability and integrity, among other things. That mission statement, and our shared values, came up frequently in conversations around the office. It seems that whenever there was a decision to be made, someone would inevitably chime in and ask something like this: “Which of these choices would fit with our shared value of integrity?” In most cases, that led us to a quick decision.

When an organization is clear about its mission and values, and when those priorities are fully alive within the company, it can have an enormous impact on culture. Which value-oriented statements might your organization make about quality and its place within the hierarchy of priorities in your company? Are you living your stated values, or is there a disconnect between management’s words and its actions? Getting answers to these questions is a critical first step in the process.

3. Align Incentives with Quality

It is also important to make sure that incentives within your organization are aligned to the company’s stated values. If bonuses are heavily impacted by on-time delivery, without also accounting for quality, then your firm might be encouraging mid-level managers to look the other way when quality is not fully up to par. This problem most often manifests itself in trade-offs between time and quality or between cost and quality. Make sure that the quality component is always part of your incentive package.

Incentives can often be unspoken as well, though. When an employee believes that management will view on-time performance more favorably than meeting quality standards, it will often impact their decisions in ways that are not fully apparent. In other words, even if financial incentives are not a factor, there will often be a perception that management favors certain behaviors over others, and that this inclination will be reflected in promotions and pay raises, for example.

4. Communicate it!

One of the hallmarks of strong company cultures is clear, consistent messaging from all levels of the organization, – but especially from management. Leaders at Hewlett-Packard expressed their commitment to quality, and even branded it as “the HP way”. There was little room for doubt among HP employees that the company cared deeply about quality in everything they did.

An emphasis on quality should be part of virtually every all-hands meeting, awards ceremony, employee newsletter, and external facing communications. Consistent messaging around quality serves to reinforce the mission and values of the organization we discussed earlier in this article.

5. Empower Your Employees

Finally, it is important to provide your employees with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. That includes proper training and the right equipment, – but it also includes the right technology to get the job done. Quality management processes sometimes gets the undeserved reputation of being overly burdensome or bureaucratic. When management can remove friction from those QMS processes, the cost/benefit ratio of following them improves considerably.

Following the onset of the COVID pandemic, many companies shifted away from paper-based systems for reporting and collecting data, opting for mobile devices instead. Here at Intellect, we have seen a number of customers who have made that transition successfully and have realized ancillary benefits in the process. Data collection becomes faster, easier, and more complete. Users can add photos or attachments that provide critical additional information.

Even better, digital tools enable automated workflows that move important information along quickly, ensuring that the right information gets the right people at the right time. Managers can view incomplete tasks and follow up using a “management by exception” approach, instead of getting bogged down in the process of making sure things get done.

Above all, it’s important to acknowledge that the culture of quality requires constant care and feeding. It takes time, and once your organization reaches that bar, you must continue to nurture and perpetuate that positive organizational culture. The results are worth it, though. We seen it work extraordinarily well at several of our clients, as they embark on their own journey of continuous improvement.

If your company is striving to build a positive culture of quality, Intellect can help. Contact us today to learn more about our QMS solutions and the Intellect Platform.

Paul Dionne

Written by Paul Dionne