Intellect | Blog Post | How to Improve a Culture of Quality

Intellect | Blog Post | How to Improve a Culture of Quality

Author Peter Hargittay

Your company is committed to building a quality culture. You’ve hired the right people, said all the right things, and established quality programs to drive better results. Even when all those things are in place, though, it can sometimes feel as if your organization has reached a plateau. You know you’re on the right path, but you want to take your quality culture to the next level. How do you move beyond the progress you’ve already made to build a deeper commitment to quality throughout the organization? That process often benefits from some introspection. 

Look for the Undeclared Trade-Offs 

Sooner or later, every organization finds itself trading off one value or benefit against another. In project management, it’s resources vs. time vs. scope. In hiring, it often a question of cost vs. experience. In design, there are often tradeoffs between form and function.  

These kinds of conflicts are rarely absolute. In other words, innovators can often discover ways to narrow the gap between two opposing forces. Teams can work smarter instead of harder. Designers can deliver form and function in a single package. Creative “out of the box” thinking can result in winning outcomes. 

Nevertheless, it can be useful to think about trade-offs in the context of building a quality culture. This is because in most companies, there are often competing forces at work, pulling the organization in opposite directions. Sometimes these competing interests are clearly visible at the surface level. The finance team wants to preserve cash and drive costs lower, for example, while the engineering department sees a need to invest in new technology. 

At other times, though, the tradeoffs are not so obvious. When this is the case, there is often a discrepancy between management’s stated priorities and their day-to-day actions. When the company’s top executives are preaching the merits of quality, but are also incentivizing rapid innovation and short product release cycles, – employees may feel that they’re getting mixed signals about what is most important. More often, workers will focus on what management is doing rather than what leaders are sayingPeople intuitively understand that the action yields consequences; whereas management’s stated priorities are often written off as “lip service”. 

Unfortunately, managers don’t necessarily even know when they are guilty of sending those kinds of mixed signals. How can you identify potential conflict areas and put them out in the open so they can be clarified and resolved? Here are two potential areas to examine: 

Speed of innovation: We live in a competitive world in which time-to-market can often mean the difference between success and failure. In the race to bring new innovations to market, managers often exert pressure on their organizations to aggressively drive innovation and bring products to market faster than their competitors can. Unfortunately, that can often result in products that are “not quite ready for prime time.” Those kinds of decisions are risky; and while they might sometimes lead to successful product innovations, they will usually backfire eventually 

To improve your quality culture, bring that conversation into the open and encourage the organization to get clear about its priorities. Rapid innovation is fully compatible with quality; provided that management is committed to setting clear standards and aligning their stated priorities with actions and incentives. 

Cost containment: Unfortunately, many people instinctively associate high-quality with high cost. After all, as consumers, that’s the way were accustomed to thinking about the products and services we buy. As quality managers, we have an opportunity to turn that assumption on its head. For a business, low quality is far more expensive. The cost of poor quality shows up in product returns, re-work, scrap, and ultimately in lost sales.  

As you strive to develop a deeper commitment to quality throughout your organization, educate your colleagues about the financial benefits of quality programs. Reinforce those messages on a regular basis and build an awareness that cost containment and quality programs are not merely compatible, – they are complementary. 

Quality is Non-Negotiable

A culture of quality begins with an understanding that good QM practices are not merely an obligation, – that is, they aren’t just about compliance, testing, or health & safety. A healthy corporate culture arises from a shared belief that quality is non-negotiable, that quality management drives profitability and customer satisfaction, and that the best innovation occurs within the parameters of well-defined processes and programs that have been proven to deliver positive outcomes over and over again. 

If your organization is seeking to build a culture of continuous improvement, the QMS professionals at Intellect would love to talk with you. We build the best, most flexible QMS software for innovative organizations. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you reach your goals.