Building a strong organizational culture is a long-term proposition. It requires a steady stream of words and actions that are consistent with your organization’s stated values. It calls for building and maintaining relationships with people throughout your company to whom others look for leadership, – whether formally or informally. It requires a willingness to look honestly at your own strengths and weaknesses, – and to continuously strive to be better.
But what actions do business leaders need to take to start developing a positive organizational culture centered around quality? What are some concrete strategies they can use to get the ball rolling and begin to inculcate a sense of pride in workmanship and customer-centric thinking? Let’s look at five strategies that consistently rise to the top of our list for companies that are just getting started with this process.
1. Say it Often: Quality is Non-Negotiable
Quality begins with a clear commitment from top management, starting with a common understanding that quality is non-negotiable, – that the organization’s reputation hinges upon its ability to deliver on its promises to the customer. Without that, the company’s credibility will inevitably suffer when quality falls short of expectations. We live in an age in which online reviews, social media, and increased competition make it easier than ever for customers to research products before they buy, to share both good and bad experiences, and to learn about alternative products and services.
When we say that quality is non-negotiable, we mean that meeting customer expectations constitutes table stakes for doing business in the 21st century. Management needs to first be aligned on that commitment; and then they need to communicate it to the rest of the organization.
But it’s not enough to say it just once; the organization’s commitment to quality must be repeated frequently, – in employee newsletters, in companywide meetings, in marketing materials, and in other customer facing communications. By repeating that message frequently and consistently, management reinforces the quality message.
Those words must be backed up with actions, though. It’s not enough to simply say that you are committed to a culture of quality. That leads us to some additional strategies…
2. Align Incentives Around Quality
While upper management might express the need to maintain high quality standards, their actions sometimes conflict with that assertion. It’s rarely done intentionally, – but as decision-makers grapple with multiple competing priorities, it can some times be tempting to cut corners. When deadlines are looming and the pressure is on to release a new product, or when a large customer is demanding faster delivery, there is often a natural temptation to allow for trade-offs that might not otherwise be considered acceptable.
A few years ago, a friend of mine described a situation he had encountered at a software company where he was working. They developed a large, highly complex financial software product, and the pressure was on to release their new version before the end of the calendar year. The QA team kept saying it wasn’t ready. (They were doing their job!) One level up in the organization, though, product management was grappling with the go/no-go decision on release. They were getting a lot of pressure from the C-suite to get the product out the door. Concerned about the implications of waiting, they made the decision to release the software. The result, unfortunately, was a botched release, followed by a scramble to fix all the issues with the software.
That company suffered some reputational damage because of that incident, – but the root cause was a disconnect between the company’s stated commitment to quality and the incentives to release the product sooner than they should have.
3. Remove Friction Wherever Possible
One of the key challenges of running an effective quality management program is the organizational resistance it sometimes creates to structured processes. Developing procedures and documentation, performing inspections, and enforcing standards can mean additional work. That is especially problematic if those processes are tedious or time-consuming.
The key here is to make things easier for your employees. Take the friction out of the process. Give the people in your organization the tools they need to meet or beat quality expectations, without the extra time and effort. Mobile apps, for example, make it easy for employees to document issues quickly and easily, wherever they happen to be. Recording essential information, attaching a photo, and adding notes is simpler when you can perform all of those tasks on the spot; rather than collecting information and bringing it back to a laptop or workstation for data entry.
Streamlining data entry, likewise, makes it easier for employees to get the job done quickly and easily, without confusion. With Intellect’s extreme configurability, quality managers can design apps and forms that help users to get at the essential information right away, without having to sift through extraneous screens. Automated workflows, likewise, ensure that the right information is delivered to the right people at the right time, and that required actions can be performed promptly.
Removing friction from quality management processes helps to increase user adoption and improves overall productivity. When more people in the organization are able to make that shift, a culture of quality can thrive.
4. Recognize Your Quality Champions
Employee recognition programs are important. Sales executives are frequently rewarded with accolades for delivering stellar performance. Larger companies often provide highly visible rewards to top performers, acknowledging them as members of the “Winners’ Circle” or “President’s Club”. While that is usually effective in appealing to the competitive instincts of members of the sales team; it shouldn’t be the only high-profile recognition program.
If the company truly cares about quality, employee recognition should follow. If awards are given out quarterly or annually, they should include a category for quality excellence. Recognizing employees’ commitment underscores and reinforces that quality is a critically important, non-negotiable value for the company.
5. Share Your Success Stories
Finally, it’s important that good news be shared with your team. Has your latest product been consistently getting five-star reviews? Have defect rates declined significantly in recent months? Did the company get a letter of praise from one of your customers? How is your product helping to improve the lives and well-being of your customers? Share that. Tell those stories. Let your employees know that what they are doing makes a difference.
When people can see the link between what they do every day and the value that it creates for a customer, – it creates an emotional connection that feeds into a positive culture of quality excellence.
If your organization is striving to build that kind of culture, – Intellect would love to talk with you. Our QMS 4.1 applications deliver out-of-the-box value, with the flexibility to tailor them to meet your specific needs. We provide a world-class platform designed for extreme configurability, without heavy IT investments or specialized technical training. Contact us today to have a conversation about your needs.