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A lot of companies talk about quality, but they don’t all necessarily mean what they say.
Back in the 1980s, the Ford Motor Company ran a campaign aimed at communicating its firm commitment to quality. The corporate tagline was “Quality is Job 1”. Although its products were rated higher than those of the other big three automakers, this quality initiative was still important as a competitive measure, spurred on by the demonstrable superiority of Japanese workmanship that had taken the American auto makers by surprise.
W. Edwards Deming had convinced Japanese industry that the road to success following the second World War was paved with quality management. They made quality their topmost value, incorporating it into design, prototyping, testing, marketing and sales, manufacturing, and after-sales customer service. Quickly, Japanese products went from being perceived as “cheap” to being superior. American cars, in contrast, had declined in quality, as complacency led US automakers to neglect their customers’ needs.
“Churn it out, ship it, and hit the quarterly sales targets” was no longer sufficient. American automakers took a long time to realize that paying lip service to quality was not enough; actual product quality mattered to consumers. Japanese automakers were winning a larger and larger share of US market, – which meant that sales were dropping for US automakers. They were paying a severe price for merely talking about quality, but not actually delivering it.
When consumers saw that they had other options, they voted with their dollars. Suddenly, quality mattered again in the North American market.
Quality talk is important; but it needs to be followed up with action. It needs to be a habit, – an inherent cultural value in your organization. How can you tell if your company isn't walking the quality talk? Here are five signs to look for:


#1: Management Rarely Talks About Quality
If company leadership isn't talking about quality initiatives on a regular basis, calling for strong standards, effective controls, and meaningful metrics; then why should anyone further down the chain of command concern themselves with it? People need to know that quality is a priority, and that management means what they say.
When management is truly committed to making quality a non-negotiable standard, they talk about it frequently. They also reward the actions and behaviors that help the company to achieve it. “Issue importance” is driven from the top, – and unless their immediate reports are judged by their contributions to quality, there’s little chance that anyone on the front lines will get the message. Without a vocal management commitment, quality programs will lack the substantive support they deserve.


#2: Management Prioritizes Short-Term Objectives
Is management demanding that product must ship, regardless of concerns about whether or not the product is actually ready for prime time? Or do they highlight the cost of poor quality, such as the time and expenses associated with defective product, returns and rework, or broader warranty issues arising from design flaws?
Is management pushing for volume output at the expense of workmanship? Or do they acknowledge that poor quality creates a downward spiral, leading to lost customers and a declining company reputation?
To be sure, every company needs to deliver sales and bottom-line profits; but by concentrating on or activities that address short-term needs at the expense of long-term success, management may be setting the company up for declining sales, increasing costs, and reputational damage. Customers want products that deliver on their promises. They don’t want products that fail to meet their basic needs, waste their time, or lower their productivity.
Too many companies learn (eventually) that sacrificing quality up front leads to lower sales and profits later. Ford is returning to its “Quality is Job 1” mantra after the company’s quality ratings declined. Quality did not remain a primary focus. Now Ford is relearning that lesson all over again, at significant expense.


#3: Awards and Recognition Overlook Quality
Sales is the lifeblood of every for-profit organization. It’s hard to imagine a quarterly all-hands meeting that doesn’t include some kind of recognition having to do with sales achievement. There are the Presidents’ Circles, Diamond Awards, and Top Achiever clubs for the people who deliver the most top-line revenue to the company. Often, businesses reward those top performers with trips, gifts, and accolades. Those serve as a “thank you”, but also as motivation for the next quarter.
But what about quality? Are the folks in all the other departments throughout the company recognized for their efforts in making the products better, thereby making the sales team’s job easier? Are they recognized for developing and refining processes to make the company more efficient? Are they acknowledged for their contributions to both the top line and the bottom line, by making better products and avoiding wasteful processes and costly mistakes?
When a company is truly committed quality, their awards and recognition programs reflect that fact.


#4: There’s No Continuous Improvement Process in Place
Striving to be better than the competition requires continuous improvement. It requires a mindset in which people constantly ask “How can we do this better? Quality, to be effective, needs to be part of an organization’s DNA, – its corporate culture. Quality isn't just a “one and done” process to be rolled out over a few months before letting it go fallow.
When quality is truly top-of-mind throughout an organization, members of the team will look for ways to improve. Formally, that can take the form of a continuous improvement program that codifies processes, seeks input from multiple stakeholders, and provides a formal means of evaluation for new ideas.
This brings quality to the forefront. It encourages the kind of data-focused approach that results in quality improvements, increased efficiency, and higher profitability. A good CI program is pro-active, noticeable, and becomes a part of virtually every activity in throughout the organization.


#5: Management Doesn’t Invest in The Right Tools
There is an old saying that says “If you don't measure it, you can't manage it”. Generally speaking, industry is well past the point of using pencil and paper. Oddly enough, though, we see many companies still using paper-based systems, sometimes followed by data-entry to spreadsheets or other generic software or data can be stored, tracked, and analyzed.
When quality management is built around tedious manual processes, though, there’s a tendency to measure and track less information than you might want to. It takes time. There is friction in the process. It doesn’t necessarily need to be this way; with the right tools, quality management can be fluid and frictionless. Data collection can happen any time and anywhere using mobile devices, which can capture photos or recordings to provide additional useful information. Workflows can move cases from one person or team to another based on predefined rules. Follow-up becomes automatic. A good QMS system orchestrates all of that.


Here at Intellect, quality is at the heart of who we are; we live what we preach and our software shows it. Let us help you build a culture of quality within your organization – we're here to help you address these challenges. Contact us today to talk about how Intellect can help you help your customers, and drive more profit to your bottom line.

Paul Dionne

Written by Paul Dionne