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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Performance: You get what you expect and accept
I will start with a fitting quote:
“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.”
author – Ralph Marston
Undoubtedly we have all seen this in action and experienced it in different areas of our lives. Parents that fail to hold their child accountable for poor grades, and bad behaviors. Bosses or managers that do not provide feedback and guidance on not achieving goals (or worse not setting goals/ objectives). The examples are widespread.
In regards to quality management and operational excellence, the same applies. If we as management do not set the bar high enough to provide challenging objectives, performance may actually decrease to the expected levels. If management “settles” and accepts product quality, personnel performance, operational performance (example – productivity, delivery, scrap, rework, etc…) and even personal performance that is low, that is precisely what we may get. If we provide objectives and goals that are challenging, yet achievable we stimulate the interest. Most people in my experience like a challenge. If we do not provide this in the work environment, people may just “get through the day” to get home to do the “mentally stimulating” things that they enjoy.
Having said this however, we as management need to make sure that we also provide the following to employees and staff:
– Clear objectives/ goals that are a stretch yet achievable
– Clear explanation/ communication and understanding of the objectives
– Resources to be able to achieve the objectives (tools, equipment, data, personnel, time, etc…)
– Competency (knowledge, training, experiences) to achieve the objectives
– Feedback. We need to make sure that employees know that there is a process to evaluate progress and to provide positive and
negative feedback on how the process is going.
– An action plan/ process and or resources if there are roadblocks or progress is stalling
One problem that I have seen in the past is that the objectives/ goals are lowered to meet the performance. An example might be increasing plant scrap levels to match that of the current performance level instead of developing a plan or project to improve this.
Another example occurs on the personal side as well. People that do not like to exercise or monitor what they eat, accept their current health levels as “that’s just the way I am”, instead of devising an action plan to change it.
Establishment of the targets
I would like to elaborate on the setting of these objectives. Many times these expectations are set from the management team. Other times they are set by department managers, or leaders. In my experience we achieve the best scenario when we involve the employees, staff, etc… in developing and understanding the process and the objectives. Not only does this help reduce resistance and obtain “buy in” from employees but it makes them part of the process and creates ownership of the objective. To reiterate: the objectives must be challenging and achievable.
Clear Communication of expectations and specific feedback
As managers we must ensure that we have clearly stated the objectives in language that the targeted employees will understand as well. Posting objectives in the plant or work areas in a terminology not used or understood is a surefire way to set them up to fail. We must also make sure that we talk about the process, objectives with the employees so that it is known that these objectives are important. For example – Hanging a trend chart on the wall with results of scrap levels is great but if there is no interaction or discussion of what the results mean and what is to be done to change then not much will happen many times. These results and actions should be discussed in meetings, even written about in company newsletters, or websites/ blogs. If we do not show that the objectives are important then the excitement of the initial discussions will wear down and everyone will go back to business as usual.
In short – if we are not getting better we are falling behind the competition. In order to get better we must understand the processes, measure the processes and hold people accountable to the results and goals. If we do not involve our employees in the planning, and setting of goals they become bystanders and do not “own” the process or objectives. It is management’s job to clearly communicate these and provide for removing of roadblocks beyond the employees control.
Here is to improvement!
Quality Leadership – Vision is crucial
I may as well start with a fitting quote:
“The fact is that all flights, short or long distance, are off course 99% of the time..”
“Complacency is the enemy”
If we do not have a crystal clear picture of what we want our quality system to be or do, there is a very high probability that we will merely coast along into complacency. This can be dangerous because when we become complacent we stop improving.
It is my belief that quality leadership begins with a “Quality Vision for the organization”. This is not to imply a placard hanging on the wall with a flashy statement that no one looks at, much less cares about.
Without a clear picture in our minds of where our quality system will be in the future, the employees (including management) will likely have no idea of what needs to be done or what improvements they should be working on. As a matter of fact, employees may actually be working on projects that are in conflict with what the organization is trying to achieve. Without this clear “vision” of where you plan (or need) to be in terms of your quality system and product/ service quality, you will end up in a place that you do not want to be. Like the plane (above in the quote) that is constantly off course and is constantly having its course adjusted to reach the desired destination (Vision), your organization needs to know what the end destination is. Without this, you may jump around on project after project, yet not be moving any closer to where you truly need to be moving towards. Some will refer to this as “busy work”. Confusing this “busy work” or movement for progress is a waste of resources and lost time.
“How do we do it?”
Here are some initial steps to what I consider crucial in becoming an effective quality organization:
1) Have a clear vision or picture in your mind as to where you want to be as an organization in “X” number of years or months. This will set the stages for the next steps thus it is important.
2) Next, develop a meaningful quality policy. Quality policies should be in terminology that all employees understand and can translate into clear direction for the daily activities. ISO 9001 requires one as well.
3) Develop and communicate actionable “Objectives”. These should be directly linked to your Quality Policy and your Vision. Each of these objectives should use the “S.M.A.R.T’ approach. (Specific, Measureable, Action Oriented, Realistic and time bound).
4) Define the critical business processes within your organization, the process owners, objectives & measures of success of each and monitor/ measure them.
5) Have clearly defined jobs for your employees with objectives and constant feedback.
6) Develop a robust hiring and employee development program.
7) Develop a rock solid contract review and product launch process. If you are not doing this correctly and effectively, you will likely fight problems during the entire product life cycle.
8) Implement a top notch internal audit process made up of all departments, units. There is no better method to engage and educate employees on the “big picture” of the business than to involve them.
9) Important one – management must walk the talk. Saying one thing and doing another is probably the worst thing for an organization. This can be as damaging as trying to implement new programs every month that go nowhere (start/ stops).
Obviously there are tasks that need to be done as well, but this is just a starting point as is intended by this post.
Here is to improvement.
Discussion 3 – Phases of Planned Change:
One approach to implementing change in an organization was developed by a psychologist named Kurt Lewin. His approach consists of three simple steps:
– This is the first phase in implementing change. It consists of creating a strong enough desire for changing the old, unwanted culture or behaviors. If the “pain” of doing the same unwanted behaviors is not strong enough, there will be no desire felt within the organization to change. In my experience, organization behavior evolves as a result of what is felt to get the perceived job done, while expending the least amount of perceived effort to do it. Many times these methods are not optimal and actually work against other goals and objectives. The change agents need to make a strongly felt reason to change. Some examples might be the threat of closure due to more efficient competitors, or better products that serve a need better.
– This second phase is where the new culture, behaviors, way to do things is put in place. It is important that any infrastructure needed to support the new change be thought out and in place. If this does not happen, the organization will resist the new change and will either fall back to the old way or even a hybrid of the old and new ways that may be worse for the organization. Many organizations do not do a good job at implementing new initiatives and the employees become resistant to any and all new initiatives. This “start/ stop” can make employees feel that the latest change will come and go as well, thus will not be supported. This phase may require training in the new methods, new equipment, resources, etc… It is important that these be met.
– The third phase in the three step approach of Lewin is the Refreezing phase. This is the phase where the new changes, behaviors, etc… are made to be the new daily norms of the organization. I have this referred to as “standardize” in the quality assurance field and this is where you make the new behaviors part of the “standard’ method of operating. Some effective methods of doing this are by linking rewards to the new behaviors. I have experienced companies that tie these types of things into regular reviews as well reinforcing it there as well.
4) Organization change:
– Organizational change can be one of the toughest tasks that leadership can face. People are resistant to change by nature unless the need to change is strong enough. At times, company management may have to create a situation (real or perceived by the workforce) to start the process.
Developing an Effective Quality Management System (QMS)
Let’s start by breaking down and defining what a Quality Management System (QMS) is in its simplest form:
– Quality (Q) – Effectively and efficiently giving the customer what they are expecting and paying you for.
– Management (M) – is the most effective and efficient use of resources (people, equipment, processes, etc…)
– System (S) – is a stable, repeatable way of meeting some goal/ objective by effectively managing the processes making up the system.
If we put this together we see that a QMS is the repeatable method of managing all of the processes that form the system by which you provide a customer (internal or external) for something that they find value in.
In the not so distant past developing a QMS meant nothing more than writing a quality manual, procedures and work instructions to meet the requirements of some standard (such as ISO 9001).
More recent approaches are looking at the entire system and the QMS (business) processes that make it up, the objectives and measures of success (goals) of these processes and then the documentation aspect of it. The “bottom line” is that you can have the most perfectly written procedures in the world that are followed to the letter of the law, but if they are not adding value by meeting the “real” goals of the processes they mean nothing.
QMS processes are meant to add value, be measured, require the use of resources and data and be managed to fulfill the stated objectives.
Developing a QMS can be difficult if it is done correctly. Now there are those that buy a pre-packaged documentation package or have a Consultant write the entire system for them.
Many companies and quality professionals find the biggest hurdle to be resistance to change. In developing a QMS, one has to try to minimize this resistance where possible. A few strategies that I personally find helpful to minimizing this resistance are to:
- Involve and empower the workforce that will be working in the processes.
- Find out which of the current practices, processes, procedures, etc… are working well and try to use them and only changing/ adding/ revising those aspects that need to be changed, initially.
- Get Senior Management buy in and support right at the outset. If this is lacking you are almost always doomed to failure. This helps in obtaining the resources for the project, and getting the process owners to take ownership of the processes that they were tasked to manage.
Here is a brief path that I find useful in developing a QMS (note – this is not claimed to be the only path as there are many).
1) Establish a steering committee/ team to guide the process and an overall champion
2) Determine the overall project required completion and work backwards on the pieces that make up the project.
3) Determine the QMS process and objectives. These may not formally exist yet, but you can sometimes determine them by talking to those involved in the processes of the QMS. These should also drive your quality policy and quality objectives.
4) Perform a baseline audit to the required QMS standard or other requirements.
5) Based on the audit, determine the “gaps” and put a priority on them based on those that impact the customer, effect the company bottom line or the order needed to build a basic quality management system if one does not exist. More on this later.
6) Develop your Quality Policy Manual/ Documentation. (Sometimes called Level 1 documentation)
7) Develop your QMS procedures (Who is responsible for what) in the determined format (process maps, text based, pictures, etc…). (Sometimes called Level 2 documentation)
8) Where deemed necessary develop any needed work instructions (The How To) documentation of your system. (Sometimes called Level 3 documentation)
9) Train your entire team on the required new or revised QMS documentation and verify the effectiveness. This is a chance to give the changes a “dry run”.
10) Gather and analyze data on the QMS process metrics/ measures/ etc…
11) Make sure that the QMS process measures have been given careful planning. Mainly what is being measured, who will produce the data, who will gather it, how, how often, who will analyze it and who will take action on it?
12) Perform another QMS system audit and address any “gaps” with your corrective action process.
Developing a QMS can be intimidating but if you keep a cool head and focus on the important things first as discussed above you will be fine with some simple project management. Keep in mind that you still have a business to run and you need to keep the customer serviced and satisfied.
Deming’s Point No. 9 – Break Down Barriers Between Staff Areas
W. Edwards Deming’s 9th point is what organization leadership is all about.
To quote Deming himself – “Management Creates the System” which simply means that the culture, focus and goals of the company start at the top.
I want to begin this blog topic with a few quotes that are very relevant:
a) “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, even if that vision becomes extremely blurry” (author unknown).
b) “Talent wins a game, but teamwork wins championships” (Michael Jordan).
This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I truly believe that we achieve more as an organization working in teams than individuals. Teamwork has a strange effect called “synergy” in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of the individuals. I do not believe that any initiative can be effectively and permanently implemented if it is not supported by the other staff or departments. In many instances organizations develop goals that are not supported by all staff areas and can actually result in conflicting departmental goals. This can be devastating to the organization and can lead to moral issues, departmental rifts and outright battles that can tear apart the very fabric of an organization.
Having worked in quality for over 20 years I have been part of different initiatives from developing procedures, processes, systems, etc… and in my experience when this can be done in a non-adversarial way the result is much more effective.
At times and in many companies there is an antagonistic relationship between quality and production. This can be a result of a perceived difference in objectives or goals. Quality may feel that production is trying to ship product that is not to standards and production may feel that quality is only a roadblock that creates problems of rigid standards that are not needed. This “gap” between the staff areas can be made worse when a clear goal or stance by Upper Management is not communicated and adhered to. If organizational goals are not made clear, then each may feel that they are right and the other wrong which is usually not the case in reality. Sometimes personalities can come into the equation. If the personality issues are not dealt with, these types of problems will persist.
An example related to quality is the development of a new process or even a quality system. If the process or quality system involves inter-departmental linkages (which most do) there needs to be involvement and “buy-in” by all involved areas. To create these processes in a vacuum will not result in an optimal implementation usually.
Bottom line is that as Deming stated – “Management Creates the System” and thus the organizational goals as well. Fuzzy goals equal an ineffective organization.
Here is to improvement.
I recently agreed to coach our 5th & 6th grade boys basketball team at school. Interestingly enough I have found many similarities between coaching the team to implementing a “quality mindset” in an organization.
Below is a brief mental note on the relationship:
1) Involvement by the leadership (crucial in establishing the “Vision” of how you want the team to function and establishing the “Need”.
2) The “Why” – The reasons why the team or organization needs to strive to learn and become better. A “united front” works well and also provides the WIIFM (What’s in it for me)
3) Measure the “before and after” state – very important in both an organization as well as a youth basketball team. Both need to be able to see what degree of progress is being made in simple yet functional areas (example – operating costs or ability to ability to shoot a foul shot)
4) Train everyone – I love the “TRAIN-DO-TRAIN-DO” approach. This simply means show a small digestible amount of new crucial tasks or skills, then follow it up with some hands on application so the value can be seen and experience gained. Also keep in mind that different team members learn differently. Some are able to hear something once and do it while others need to be able to see it or try it first. This applies to a new basketball drill or use of a new statistical tool. In basketball terms, the training portions are the “practice sessions”.
5) A solid implementation plan – Also very important and is the actual “Game” where the learned skills are applied in the real world under real conditions. A solid implementation plan requires the following:
a) Overall strategy (how to use the skills and tools learned in a structured manner)
b) Clear Goals – What are the individual and team goals? Set some measures (% of foul shots as a team for a game, QMS business process metrics, etc…
c) Constant Reinforcement – different team members react differently to different types of reinforcement and feedback. A once size fits all approach will not lead to optimal results. You need to find out the type of reinforcement (positive and negative) that works for your entire team.
d) Walk the Talk – also known as “do what you say”. If you promote a desired behavior make sure that you as the leader live by that rule as well. To do otherwise will result in no one doing the behavior either. If you talk about “good sportsmanship” you must exhibit that behavior yourself. If you promote a thorough well planned product planning process – do not deviate because it is not convenient. You will only pay the price later.
6) Continually improve in all areas – This applies both on the court and in your business. All important activities must be made better, faster and on the business side of things – cheaper. You have to measure performance however to know where you are currently so you can decide what improvements need to be done and what activities need to be done to improve it in which areas. Some business units may need to reduce non-value added activities and some players may need to work on ball handling where others need to work on foul shooting.
Needless to say the experience has been very enlightening and rewarding.