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Most companies begin their journey to superior quality with a formal quality management program of some kind or another. That typically entails hiring a quality manager, establishing formal processes, and implementing employee training programs. Somewhere along the way, though, company leaders need to turn their attention to the challenge of building a culture of quality.

That’s easier said than done; creating and nurturing a positive corporate culture is notoriously difficult. Perhaps that’s why most business leaders tend to focus on the concrete aspects of quality first. Creating a culture of quality requires a long-term commitment, patience, and a willingness to persist even when setbacks occur. In the end, that dedicated effort around creating and promoting a positive culture is well worth it. It makes good financial sense, it helps your company to attract and retain top talent, and ultimately, it results in better quality products and services. Here’s why:

Reason #1: Quality is Baked into the Product from the Start

In companies that exhibit strong culture of quality, everything begins with the same fundamental premise: We exist to serve the customer. Our products and services address an important need, and if we’re not adequately fulfilling that need, then we are somehow missing the mark. Our paychecks are ultimately dependent on keeping our customers happy, and we owe them the best products we can deliver. To put it more succinctly, – quality is non-negotiable.

Formal quality processes tend to focus on the later stages of a product’s lifecycle, – that is, much of the emphasis tends to be on production, testing, and handling instances of non-conformance. That’s not unexpected, – after all, quality generally lives or dies on a company’s ability to deliver consistent results throughout the production process.

In a company with strong culture of quality, though, the obsession with great products and services permeates the entire product lifecycle. That includes design, where customer input drives R&D teams to strive for better, faster, cheaper, and more elegant solutions to customer problems. Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs typified this obsession with design, leading his company to a unique reputation for turning computers and electronics into veritable works of art. He famously obsessed about internal details that few, if anyone, would ever see.

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it,” Jobs told an interviewer in 1985. “You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

While Steve Jobs’ philosophy might well have risen to a level that some would find impractical; the fundamental ethos behind Apple’s success is clear. Outstanding quality begins with great design.

Reason #2: Team Members are Willing to Go the Extra Mile

It’s human nature that people want to find meaning and purpose in what they do every day. In a strong culture of quality, team members intuitively understand the connection between their day-to-day work activities and positive, meaningful results for both internal and external stakeholders. They understand that they do matters, to the extent that they are more likely to “go the extra mile” in making sure things get done the right way.

Consider the opposite scenario, in which employees feel like what they do is inconsequential. They’re more likely to take shortcuts. They’re more likely to overlook potential problems, especially if they’re unlikely to be blamed for any resulting negative consequences. Hal Delgado, VP of Quality Engineering & Operations at Johnson & Johnson describes this as the slippery slope of quality “de-railers”. It sometimes manifests itself in doing the wrong thing, even when an employee knows that it’s wrong. At other times, it shows up when employees don’t feel empowered to call attention to an issue. On still other occasions, it’s simply a question of employees not being trained to identify a problem in the first place.

A commitment to quality, in contrast, often manifests itself in how well people attend to details. Benjamin Franklin famously said that “Details are but trifles, but details make for perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” In a true culture of quality, the prevailing attitude dictates that details do indeed matter, and that the collective effort of attending to those details leads the organization closer to perfection in delivering outstanding products to its customers.

Reason #3: Continuous Improvement Becomes a Way of Life

Finally, if team members are committed to quality outcomes, then they naturally align around efforts to improve the company’s product, its processes, and its culture of excellence. For high-performing teams, quality is no longer a collection of processes, – nor is it a distinct department. Instead, quality becomes infused in virtually everything the organization does.

In a true culture of quality, employees become co-owners in the outcome. They have a direct emotional attachment to the customer’s experience of their products and services. As such, they feel empowered to innovate and collaborate, within their designated teams and across various departments and functions within the organization.

Companies with a strong culture quality tend to embrace cross-functional collaboration as a natural means of incorporating input from the widest possible array of subject matter experts. Whereas stagnant organizations often reject change as a threat to the status quo, – quality-oriented cultures embrace change for the opportunity it presents for improvement. That results in better products and services, improved safety, and more profit flowing to the bottom line.

At Intellect, we provide our clients with the tools they need to empower employees, streamline quality management, and build a foundation upon which a culture of excellence can thrive. If you’re striving to create that kind of organization, we’d love to talk. Intellect’s QMS applications provide a flexible, highly configurable toolset that brings simplicity and elegance to quality management.   Our tools make it possible for anyone, – even without advanced technical skills, – to design and deploy tools and processes that conform to the way you do business. Give us a call to discuss your needs, or contact us to schedule a demo today.

Paul Dionne

Written by Paul Dionne