Quality management creates a competitive advantage. Quality distinguishes a company’s products and services from that of the competition, it saves money and drives greater profitability to the bottom line, and it ensures that the organization remains in the good graces of government regulators and other compliance oversight organizations.
The word “compliance”, in particular, carries different connotations for different people. In the quality management space, and in the domain of business generally, compliance denotes conformity to external standards. In many cases, – arguably in the vast majority of cases, – that can be a very good thing. After all, safety and security standards are maintained to protect consumers, workers, and other members of the public who may be affected by a company’s product in one way or another.
For others, “compliance” suggests an intrusive, top-down mandate that dictates how people and companies must behave. This perspective is usually rooted in a lack of understanding. When people fail to see the underlying reasons for compliance mandates, they are naturally resistant to what they see as unnecessary and stifling constraints.
Quality management in general, likewise, carries different connotations for different people. The determining factor, again, is education. When people understand the reasons why they are being asked to perform certain processes or to execute tasks in a certain way, they are far more likely to embrace quality management and compliance.
Making that shift, – that is, helping employees to see the value in what they are being asked to do, – comprises an important first step toward establishing a culture of quality and compliance for your organization. Here are four key strategies for fostering that kind of culture in your organization.
#1: Lead from the top
Top-down executive management commitment is the single most important contributing factor necessary to a healthy culture of compliance and quality. When members of the C-suite routinely talk about the importance of quality for cost savings and competitive advantage, and when they articulate the value of maintaining high standards for compliance, – they are sending a message to everyone in the organization about what matters most.
These messages must be clear and unequivocal. Quality is non-negotiable. A business survives because of its ability to deliver products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. Compliance, likewise, simply cannot be overlooked. Failures in this respect can lead to costly financial penalties. Perhaps even more importantly, they can lead to severe reputational damage, resulting in lost revenue over the long term. There is also a positive way to express the value of compliance, though. Compliance, in the vast majority of cases, is about safety, security, and well-being.
In order to create a healthy culture of quality and compliance, it is an absolute requirement that management articulates these messages and repeats them frequently.
#2: Establish the right habits and mindset
When stakeholders throughout the organization have a clear understanding of why quality and compliance matter, it creates a foundation for building positive habits and mindsets. Habits begin with formal procedures, which may be refined and improved over the course of time. In any case, those should be clearly documented, and structures should be created to support their implementation. Employee training (including recertification) plays an important role in this process and comprises a procedure (or set of procedures) unto itself.
With the formal aspects of the process in place, companies can turn to the “soft skills” facets of organizational culture, including social standards and expectations surrounding work habits. No doubt we have all worked with a colleague at some point in our past who was lackadaisical or even dismissive of established procedures. A negative attitude, unfortunately, can be contagious. Others in the organization often view such a person’s statements as giving them permission to think and act likewise. In a strong culture of quality, supervisors strive to detect this kind of behavior early and nip it in the bud.
Fortunately, though, positive attitudes can also be contagious. When workers are sincerely committed to excellence in everything they do, the people around them will often follow suit. Once again, management should strive to detect this kind of behavior early, and whenever they see it. In this case, of course, it should be publicly acknowledged and rewarded.
#3: Talk to your customers
If your company is not communicating with customers on a regular basis, then it’s highly likely you are missing some important information. Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks and other software products, has had a longstanding policy that required everyone within the company to visit a customer annually. That means everyone, regardless of their role at Intuit. Janitors, receptionists, accountants, marketing managers, and the CEO.
Unfortunately, many organizations view communication as a one-way street. After all, it’s impossible for many companies to reach out and talk to all of their customers. That constraint should not prevent companies from creating a culture in which two-way communication happens between staff and customers on a very routine basis. If your company has not implemented a customer visit program similar to the one at Intuit, consider giving it a try (even if it starts as a one-time experiment). You may be surprised at the insights that emerge. When people in your organization return from talking face-to-face with an actual customer, they will virtually always have interesting stories and new insights to share.
#4: Let the data be your guide
We love that famous quote from quality guru W. Edward Deming: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” Products and processes improve when their current results are examined and analyzed, and someone asks the question “How could we do this better?” Continuous improvement rests upon having a clear, accurate, scientific understanding of the current state of things. That means collecting data, organizing it, analyzing it, and producing actionable insights.
Unfortunately, data collection takes time and effort, – and anything that requires time and effort is likely to encounter at least some level of resistance from people in the organization. The key to success, in this respect, is to remove as much friction as possible from the process. With the right data collection tools, employees are likely to embrace a data-centric approach because of the benefits it provides.
Here at Intellect, we provide a suite of quality management tools built around a platform designed for extreme configurability. Whereas many QMS tools dictate rigid processes and frameworks, we put complete control into the hands of quality management leaders. We enable them to design and deploy technology that conforms to the way they want to do things. Just as importantly, Intellect’s products are designed for non-technical users. Designing an input form for a mobile device should not require an advanced degree in computer science. With Intellect, anyone can do it. No IT skills are required.
If your company is seeking to remove friction from quality management and compliance processes, Intellect can help. Contact us today to talk about your goals and objectives, learn more about how we can help you, and arrange a demo of our software.