If you are reading this blog, then you probably already understand why a culture of quality matters so much. Quality programs are better for the bottom line and result in higher levels of customer satisfaction. Even more importantly, quality management practices help to safeguard the health and well-being of workers, customers, and the general public.
Developing a culture of quality, though, is no easy task. It requires a constant, unrelenting effort to move the organization forward in the right direction. The good news is that these efforts tend to get easier over the course of time.
In his classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes what he calls the “flywheel effect”. Briefly stated, Collins’ concept describes the early stages of an initiative, when it can be extraordinarily difficult to make progress. It’s like putting a heavy flywheel motion; at first, it takes a huge effort just to move it an inch or two. With small successes, though, momentum builds, and pushing the flywheel becomes easier. It takes on a life of its own. Breakthroughs occur.
Building a culture of quality works in very much the same way. Don’t expect big payoffs early in the process. It requires the slow, steady application of intentional effort to make it happen. A culture of quality develops as a result of lots and lots of small but meaningful actions that propel the organization in right direction. Here is a process that we have seen work well for companies that are striving to develop a culture of quality.
1. Define your “Why”
In 2009, Simon Sinek delivered a Ted Talk about how leaders inspire action. That talk became the basis for Sinek’s bestselling book Start with Why. The concept is simple; people are far more motivated when they understand why they should be doing something, instead of just knowing what they should be doing.
Before anything else, quality must have its “why”; people must clearly understand the end goal and be able to draw a clear connection between quality processes and the benefits they produce. Too many quality initiatives fall short of expectations because employees fail to understand the big picture. The first step should be to refine the “why” of your quality programs so that you can clearly articulate them to everyone in the organization.
2. Align the Leadership Team
Quality cannot be achieved in isolation; it requires a team effort, with unwavering commitment from leadership. In the early stages of developing a quality management program, that leadership circle might be defined at the departmental or divisional level. In fact, it can often be easier to establish momentum on a smaller scale at first, and subsequently build upon the successes that emerge from there. Start by defining your scope of influence and working with leaders within that domain to establish clear consensus that quality must be a priority for the organization.
3. Define your First Steps
Many organizations make the mistake of trying to get from zero to sixty far too quickly. Very often, the better approach is to think in terms of a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP concept posits that if you deliver a product that has just enough features to be usable, you can gather feedback from early adopters and drive further improvements in subsequent versions of the product. It’s an iterative approach that has been widely applied with great success in the technology industry and elsewhere.
What specific steps can your organization take to implement quality programs, limited in scope but still able to produce a meaningful outcome? Success begets success. Start small and build from there.
We will give this topic short shrift here; not because it isn’t important, but because it is so variable and multifaceted. Define your standards and processes. Align incentives. Implement your standards and processes, and document results. That can take many different forms, depending on the situation.
The key is to roll out processes that drive quality, while always keeping with the first three themes on this list. A culture of quality requires that everyone remember the “why” behind what they are doing. It requires a well aligned and supportive leadership team. And it requires a relentless focus on the task at hand.
5. Talk about your Successes and Failures
The MVP concept mentioned earlier assumes that a reliable feedback loop is in place, and that the right people are paying attention to it. It’s important to celebrate victories. When quality programs yield the expected benefits, make sure that people throughout the organization hear about it. At the same time, though, it’s important to ask the tough questions. What went wrong? How can we do better? Apply the principles of continuous improvement to your quality initiatives themselves.
6. Rinse & Repeat
When the time comes to level up, go through this process again. Iterate. Innovate.
Building a culture of quality is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep talking about it. Walk the walk by checking that your actions align with your stated priorities. Recognize employee commitment to quality on a regular basis. It takes time and persistence.
Are you working on building a culture of quality in your organization? We’d love to talk. Contact us today to discuss your situation and learn how Intellect QMS can help.