A strong culture of quality is driven from the very top of an organization. When upper management is clear about priorities and routinely communicates that quality is non-negotiable, it establishes an important foundation upon which that culture of excellence can be built. Good quality leadership isn’t just important in the executive boardroom, though; it needs to be present throughout the entire chain of command.
Despite your best efforts, you may still notice that other priorities seem to be taking precedence in your organization. It’s said that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have a problem in the first place. How can you do a better job of noticing potential weaknesses? What are some of the signs that you need to adjust your approach? Here are six indicators that you may be falling short of the mark:
#1: (Over)Confidence Reigns Supreme
When a company has outstanding products and a strong track record for success, it fosters a sense of pride in workmanship. That’s a good thing, of course. But past successes can also create a sense of false confidence, – even arrogance. Over time people throughout the organization can become complacent. That often results in shortcuts. Because the company has achieved outstanding results in the past, there is a presumption that they will continue to do so in the future. There is a sense that “this company can do no wrong”.
Consider the case of Apple’s iPhone 4. Like its predecessors, the device was released to much fanfare, as rabid fans scooped up the new phones as fast as Apple could get them out the door. It quickly became apparent, though, that there was a problem. The iPhone 4 was dropping calls, seemingly at random. For weeks, the company minimized the problem. Eventually, it became apparent that there was indeed a defect; touching the left side of the iPhone case in just the right spot would interrupt the cellular signal and cause a call to drop. Apple eventually set things back on course; but their reputation took a hit. It’s a great example of how false confidence can get in the way of good quality management.
#2: Inspection and Re-work are Commonplace
One of the key principles underpinning effective quality management is that variability must be minimized. Walk into a McDonald’s restaurant anywhere in the world and order a hamburger, and you’ll get a 1.6 ounce beef patty that has been cooked on the grill at 185° Fahrenheit for exactly 42 seconds. That creates a consistent customer experience, whether you’re in Boise Idaho, Toronto Ontario, or Tallahassee Florida. You know exactly what to expect, because McDonald’s has virtually eliminated variability from the process.
If a McDonald’s hamburger doesn’t meet quality standards, they throw it away. In many organizations, though, inspection and rework are the preferred solution. In organizations where quality management is lacking, rework becomes a routine activity. It becomes the rule, rather than being the exception. British automakers of the 1970’s had a reputation for shoddy workmanship. Despite producing some of the most elegant cars on the road, these companies developed a reputation for making vehicles that were “always in the shop”. If inspection and rework are consuming a substantial percentage of time and resources in your organization, then it’s time to take a closer look at your quality management programs and zero in on what might be missing.
#3: Fire-fighting Heroics are Rewarded
There is an unhealthy dynamic in many companies whereby people get rewarded for stepping in to solve urgent problems before those problems can lead to disaster. We often see this kind of situation play out in the news cycle. When a crisis happens, politicians or other leaders step in with a solution, and they are rewarded with accolades for saving the day. Rarely, if ever, do we see the same level of attention paid to the people who prevented a crisis from occurring in the first place. The policy wonk who proposed preventative measures and averted the next crisis du jour will most likely remain an unsung hero, – never to be heard about.
It is a natural human tendency, therefore, to participate in this kind of crisis/solution dynamic, even when it’s not intentional. Good quality management programs, though, should always aim to prevent problems from emerging first-place, rather than addressing them after they occur. If your organization always seems to be putting out fires, – and especially if the firefighters are routinely promoted and recognized as a result, – then it may be time to re-examine your approach to quality management.
#4: There’s a Lot of Finger-Pointing
In a strong culture of quality, there is an intensive focus on understanding how things can be done better. There is a relentless search for the truth. People are less concerned about who is to blame when something goes wrong, and are instead focused on the underlying reasons for an adverse outcome.
Dysfunctional company cultures are characterized by a strong “us/them” mentality and a powerful tendency to point the finger of blame at others within the company (or when it’s convenient, at someone outside of the organization, including customers.)
Effective collaboration can only happen when these kinds of workplace dynamics are tempered or quashed altogether. Finger-pointing is about problem avoidance. It never actually solves anything. Collaboration in a spirit of continuous improvement, on the other hand, works wonders for quality.
#5: You Aren’t Measuring the Right Things
How do you know whether or not your organization is achieving its quality standards? Do you even have measurable quality standards? If not, then it’s likely most people in the company are operating from a vague notion of what quality actually means.
Defining the right quality objectives around specific, measurable goals is a start. Next, it’s important to roll out data collection tools and processes that will help you understand whether or not you are on the right track. Finally, people throughout the organization need to understand what is being measured, why it’s important, and where they fit in the process. When measurement is missing from your quality management processes, it often results in the kind of firefighting behavior we discussed earlier in this article.
#6: Your Customers Are Telling You There’s a Problem
Above all, we should never forget who the ultimate arbiter of quality is; it is the customer. This is perhaps the most important, – and hopefully the most obvious, – of the six items on this list. We have all worked with people at one time or another who seem to insist on denying that there is a problem. They hear about customer complaints, but they always an explanation: the customer doesn’t understand how to use the product, the distributor installed it wrong, or buyers simply have inflated expectations about it. Their favorite expression is “functioning as designed”; and although that is a perfectly valid phrase, it should not be the default go-to response whenever a customer expresses dissatisfaction.
If customer reviews are telling you there’s a problem, then there is a problem. It might be with your core product, it could be a training issue, or you might need to provide better documentation. Effective quality management requires a keen ability to listen to customer feedback and take the right lessons away from it.
If you’re seeking to build a culture of excellence in which quality is a top priority, Intellect would love to speak with you. We provide powerful, highly configurable QMS tools for organizations like yours. Contact us today to discuss your needs, and to arrange for a free demo of our software.