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Joanna Leigh

Quality Insider

Creating a Culture of Quality

Five tips for bringing best practices into the culture

Published: Monday, June 25, 2012 - 11:13

To continually improve operations, satisfy customers, and successfully achieve universally recognized accreditations such as the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap), it is important to have a company culture that is focused on quality.

Too often, the quality team is seen as an expensive obstacle to efficiency. But as the saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you don’t have time to do it again.”

Establishing a companywide understanding of the importance of quality and making it a cornerstone of the company culture is a critical step forward in aligning the organization to a shared vision of the future.

But what’s the best way to go about this?

The current situation

First of all, it’s important to determine the extent to which a quality culture already exists in your organization.

Which of the following statements apply to your company?
1. There is a sense that everyone is working together toward the same goal
2. Everyone’s opinion is valid
3. Information is shared on a need-to-know basis
4. We work with our customers in a collaborative manner
5. I am never made to feel like I’ve failed, only that I’ve had an experience I can learn from
6. There is open communication among all staff levels, and information is shared with everyone
7. Everyone’s primary concern is that their own work is done right
8. I don’t feel my opinion is valued; the boss is always right
9. Failure and mistakes are not tolerated
10. The focus at work is ensuring that processes work well

If you agree with 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 10—congratulations! Your company is quality-focused and understands the value of bringing staff and customers together in a process-driven way to optimize the outcome for all parties. If you agreed with any of the other statements (3, 7, 8, and 9), there is room to improve.

The goal

Next, you must determine what the ideal quality-focused company culture entails. There are several critical success factors to creating a culture of quality:

Transparency and listening
An organization that encourages open, honest communication and clearly explains expectations is less likely to make avoidable mistakes that occur due to misunderstandings or lack of information. This is a multilayered responsibility, however. It’s not just for management to share information with staff but also vice versa, and it’s not just for the company to share information with customers but vice versa. As part of that, good listening skills are key.

Empowerment and teamwork
Where staff feel empowered to challenge the status quo and are encouraged to work together and with customers, not only does the organization end up with a bottom-up approach that strengthens their processes through expert insight, but it also has staff who have “bought in” to the strategic vision because they have been allowed to question it.

Personal identification with the company
Staff who feel that the company’s success is their success, and vice versa, tend to feel a sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare. These are not short-term attitudes but are developed in environments where loyalty, retention, continual improvement, and consistency are valued.

Focused on processes
Part of the Nadcap ethos is that the root cause of any problem is never human error. If you doubt this, consider: If the person who made the error was no longer at the company, would that eliminate the possibility of the problem recurring? The answer is almost certainly no. Consequently, blaming individuals for problems is not the way forward for a quality-focused organization; identifying process improvements to mitigate risk is a better approach.

Closing the gap

So if your organization is not quality-focused, what can you do about it? Many companies and individuals fall into a natural rhythm of “how we do things here.” That has some value but must be challenged sometimes to avoid silly oversights. Some easy ideas to promote quality in your organization are suggested below:

Clearly identify and share the organization’s goals.
This can be done through performance appraisals, which will help staff understand how their own objectives are linked with those of the company.

Ensure there are effective, consistent processes in place.
Have documented procedures available where they are being used. A central notice board may be good for flow diagrams for some key procedures such as nonconforming material or process change requests.

Encourage interdepartmental teamwork.
Short- or medium-term projects are ideal for this because they offer an opportunity for staff to work together without compromising their primary work responsibilities.

Empower staff by delegating responsibility.
The scope of delegation and frequency of report-backs must be clearly communicated.

Share information with all staff where possible.
Staff meetings are ideal for this because they provide an interactive environment for answering questions and giving additional information.


About The Author

Joanna Leigh’s picture

Joanna Leigh

Joanna Leigh is the marketing manager at the Performance Review Institute (PRI) a nonprofit organization that develops performance standards and administers quality assurance, accreditation, and certification programs, such as Nadcap, a special process and product accreditation program for the aerospace industry. Nadcap provides international, unbiased, independent manufacturing process and product assessments and certification services for the purpose of adding value, reducing total cost, and facilitating relationships between subscribers and suppliers.


Implementing a Culture of Quality

Excellent article; especially the statement that errors are caused by the system, not by humans.  One problem that managers have when trying to achieve a culture of quality is defining culture in a way that is measurable so they can manage the change. 

Do it right?

Actually, the old saying is "Why is there never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over?"