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Company Culture and Quality Culture

Quality Culture = Company Culture

We hear and see many articles, blog posts, articles and announcements about “company culture”. Having worked in manufacturing quality assurance for over 3 decades in a number of different roles, commodities and organizations, I have developed some personal insights, perspectives, and opinions (whatever you prefer to call them) on the topic.

I want to start with some definitions:

Company Culture: Company culture, in my view is the totality of the beliefs, attitudes and daily actions (AKA behaviors) of an organization.

Quality Culture: Quality culture is similar in that it is the beliefs, attitudes, daily actions and company-wide goal of ensuring that your products and services are of high quality and meet the customer’s requirements.

 One of my favorite quality gurus (Juran) describes five characteristics of a quality culture:

  • Leadership commitment
  • Awareness of quality
  • Empowerment of the employees
  • Participation as a means of inspiring action
  • Recognition and rewards to employees who participate

   There are many different definitions and opinions of exactly what “quality” is. It can be subjective and may differ based on a person’s role in an organization. My opinion is that it comes down to providing the customer or users of your product and services exactly what they are looking for and expect. There is also the need to do this while making a profit so your business stays in business. The two are not opposites though it is sometimes seen to be that way. Many times, quality takes a backseat to making a profit. Examples are deviations, reworks, the allowance of procedural violations, “Ship it” decisions by management, customer service hotlines (800 numbers) to apologize, soothe and try to correct it after the customer has complained and   other examples of “accepting lower performance”. Personally, I think you can achieve both simultaneously but it does require commitment, deep thought, and holding yourself and the organization to the required standards. I am a firm believer that you get what you accept as your standard. If I am OK being overweight, then I will likely be overweight because I do not have the incentive to change my habits and actions.    

   Having said all of the above, all is not lost. A company can still be profitable, follow procedures, meet deadlines and produce products and services that meet and exceed the customers expectations all while following your procedures. Sometimes there is a need to revise or change an outdated procedure that is no longer the best way of doing a task or performing a process. It may also require you to find ways to reduce costs through improvements, or go to your customer for price increases. Costs of operation do go up as we all know. (supply-chain costs, wages, business expenses, utilities, transportation and others).

   So, what does this all mean you ask? It means that we need to do more of the following:

  • Clearly do our due diligence to understand ALL customer expectations. (not just the ones we want to follow)
  • Determine the best way to meet these requirements. If it is not feasible, sometimes we must walk away from a project.
  • Examine your policies and procedures to make sure they still reflect “best practices” and current requirements. Many times we do things because “we have always done it that way” when it is time to change and evolve.    
  • Commit to following your procedures and your customer’s requirements. (Note: refer to the 2nd bullet above)
  • Involve your employees in the planning process and decision making.
  • Audit your process, procedures and go out to where the activities are happening vs sitting in an office or meeting room all day. This is referred to as “going to the Gemba” in some circles. Many times, management has no idea as to what is going out in the areas where work is happening.
  • Do not short-cut your practices just to meet a deadline or shipment due date. When we hurry and skip steps or activities we make errors, make bad decisions and it has a negative impact on employee morale, and how they in turn follow procedures. If they see management violating requirements, that becomes the norm.  
  • Be involved and LEAD BY EXAMPLE.   

Company Culture and Quality Culture are really the same thing and leadership is where it starts.

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Company Culture Is Management Controlled

Some of the most commonly cited mechanisms for changing company culture are as follows:

1) Formal statments of mission, vision, quality policy, values, etc (These are set by Management).

2) The physical design and organization of work spaces (desk layout, cubicles, no walls, departmental segregation, etc..) (These are set by Management)

3) Slogans, sayings, language used, etc… (Driven by or accepted by Management)

4) Deliberate new employee orientation, socialization or training programs (Set by Management) 

5) Reward systems (promotions, awards, status symbols, etc..) that are reinforced by the organization (Set by Management)

6) Company stories, legends, tales, etc.. that are talked about and cherished by key people at key events. This is used to reinforce what is thought to be important to an organization. (These are also Management reinforced)

7) Organizational structure or systems (org charts, etc…) (Designated by  Management)

8) Organizational Goals – leading to departmental and personal goals (Established by Management)

In analyzing these it becomes apparent that the culture that exists within an organization is determined mainly by Management either directly by policies or by what is reinforced on an ongoing basis.

Keeping this in mind, it reinforces the fact that company cultures can be changed if Management is willing to commit to doing what it requires to instill these new beliefs, attitudes and actions and has the right Managemt personnel in place that support these values.

Even with the right personnel in place company culture change can still sometimes take a period of time to have the desired results.

As is the case with many company initiatives culture definitely starts at the top.