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Arron Angle

Management

For Real Improvement, Quality Must Be Baked Into Corporate Culture

Companies with a culture of behavior-based quality can more easily transition from change

Published: Wednesday, December 15, 2021 - 13:03

I just received and read the “2021 ASQE Insights on Excellence Executive Brief.” The brief examines how quality initiatives are progressing in the digital era, based on the views and experiences of 542 executives and quality professionals from global enterprises. Here we go again, I thought.

Yes, technology drives change, change drives new quality issues, and new quality issues drive quality professionals to come up with new quality performance metrics and enhancements. I’ve read these same platitudes for years. We believe that systemic issues of quality can be solved with new programs, new spreadsheets, or new ways to calculate quality performance. Obviously, some of the solutions hit the root cause of a specific issue. But the systemic factor, which has always been present and is at the heart of all matters of quality as technology drives change, is management.

Management in most companies is the root cause of not keeping up with technology or the market, or the generational changes needed as younger employees are hired. It’s all about culture and behaviors. As an example, let’s compare and contrast safety and quality.

Safety has become a cultural necessity in most industrial companies. The reason is simple: cost. Poor safety has the potential to have a much higher cost to a company—lost work hours, OSHA restrictions on business, loss of life, lawsuits over negligent safety protocols, and so forth. The solution is to develop a culture of safety. How do you get a culture of safety? The simple answer is through behaviors driven by management. Changing the behavior of workers so they will work in safe ways when no one is looking is the basis of a culture of behavior-based safety. In order to be effective and systemic throughout a company, it must be led, supported, and made a business imperative by executive management.

The same is true of quality. So why haven’t more companies adopted a culture of behavior-based quality? The answer is not that simple and thus the reason that we continue on the road of perpetual retrospective, always questioning where quality fits in a changing world. Although quality is spoken of as important, job No. 1, or some other marketing catchphrase, it often is not treated as a business imperative across company departments in the same way as safety. If quality is not a business imperative, how do we respond or adapt to the advent of new technologies that are driving change? As with safety, the answer typically lies in examing the cost of poor quality.

While cost-of-quality issues may not have the same life-threatening impact as safety, the financial costs related to scrapped product or labor costs to rework or replace is often lost in the noise of gross margin or manufacturing overhead. It’s just part of the cost of doing business, I have heard some executives say. Nevertheless, the cost can be significantly higher than imagined. Perhaps even more alarming is that the cost of quality is almost always associated only with manufacturing or service. But engineering, sales, human resources, marketing, sales, and the rest, also have accountability to quality within their departments. Unfortunately, it seldom gets measured, and thus the cost of poor quality performance may not even be considered when measuring the overall company bottom-line profit and loss statement.

In one company where I helped nontraditional departments establish quality performance metrics, the resulting savings after only six months of measurement totaled a surprising $58 million in annualized savings. That money went straight to the company’s  bottom line. All it took to accomplish this was to establish a culture of quality where every department made a contribution to improving poor quality by measuring, correcting, and improving their quality performance.

Companies with a culture of behavior-based quality can more easily transition through changes in business, technology, or other market forces. The reason is that they have made it a point to unleash quality as a tool to support a culture of quality. This is exactly where the aforementioned executive brief has disappointed me. It made no mention of how a culture of behavior-based quality could help any company or industry transition through, and rapidly adapt to, changes within their industry.

Discuss

About The Author

Arron Angle’s picture

Arron Angle

Arron Angle has built a broad spectrum of experience in mid-level to executive roles ranging from operations, supply chain, quality, engineering and project management, coming from a background in industries ranging from high-tech commercial and consumer electronics, network communications equipment, to light and heavy manufacturing in the energy sector. This has allowed him to develop his critical thinking skills to understand an organization’s strengths and weaknesses; identify external threats and opportunities; define and adopt strategies to changing conditions while developing initiatives to achieve organizational goals and objectives. His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technologies with a Master’s degree in Systems Management. The combination provides a unique perspective of the integration of supporting system processes that bring about profitable results. He is the author of the book “Unleash Quality, Build a Winning Strategy for a Culture of Quality that Will Unleash Your Growth and Profit,” published by the American Society for Quality.