Ask any expert, and you’ll get varying answers on what makes a quality culture. Definitions often center on a set of shared values, a drive to delight customers or everyone pulling together towards continuous improvement.
But according to research by Forbes and the American Society for Quality (ASQ), there’s a big disconnect between where organizations think they are and reality in terms of quality culture. In fact, while 3 in 4 executives say their organization has a culture of quality, less than half of quality professionals agree.
Today, we’re looking at 7 signs of a strong quality culture, helping you see whether you’re keeping up or at risk of being left behind.
1. Quality Starts at Design
Quality must be a key consideration during design if you want to create a culture of quality. Quality culture is about proactively preventing problems, and the place to do that is before products are manufactured.
What does including quality in design look like? One element is ongoing use of Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). This tool looks at potential risks in product and process design, analyzing likelihood and impact of various paths to failure to prioritize controls.
While many companies use FMEAs, they tend to get filed away and forgotten about quickly. Companies with a strong quality culture instead use them on an iterative basis, constantly updating them based on results.
2. Monitoring and Measurement are Priorities
In a culture of quality, reporting is an active pursuit. This focus should include:
- Ongoing review of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and making data easily accessible.
- Tracking leading indicators of potential problems and taking action to prevent them.
- Equipment and asset monitoring to avoid machine breakdowns and defects.
- Timely follow-up on Complaint Handling, Corrective Actions and other issues.
3. Risk is Part of Decision-Making Criteria
To consistently produce high-quality products, you have to incorporate risk into decisions. Risk is an unambiguous benchmark that gives everyone a common goal, so you’re not just throwing ideas at the wall or basing strategy on the loudest voice in the room.
Risk management needs to be a closed-loop process that requires:
- Hazard identification.
- Risk assessment.
- Adding new controls.
- Measuring residual risk.
- Taking further action based on risk assessments.
4. The Goal Is Not Compliance
Far too often, companies focus on doing the bare minimum to achieve compliance with customer, standard and regulatory requirements. It’s not surprising given the huge number of requirements faced by manufacturers, but it’s not a strategy for excellence.
Instead, companies need to treat compliance as a minimum expectation, asking what the intent is behind the requirements. The ASQ research shows that world-class organizations consciously compete on quality and use it to maintain their edge on competitors. Those organizations are also investing big dollars in quality to pull ahead of the pack even more.
5. Accountability is Built-In
For a culture of quality to work, there has to be accountability from top to bottom. Quality isn’t solely the responsibility of quality managers; it’s something built into everybody’s job description, including:
- Management: Leadership needs to be answerable for quality metrics, not just production quotas.
- Employees: Your audit, nonconformance and corrective action processes should be robust enough that people can’t sweep issues under the rug.
- Suppliers: Supplier quality agreements should clearly define quality expectations.
It’s not only about holding people accountable for bad results. It’s also about providing incentives, with leading organizations more likely to tie quality achievements to financial bonuses or promotion opportunities.
6. Leadership is Clearly Supportive
A culture of quality will never take root unless the company’s leaders are 100% committed to it. And we’re not talking fuzzy, feel-good slogans. We’re talking concrete actions like:
- Being a regular presence both on the plant floor and during planning meetings
- Providing resources for things like Quality Management System (QMS) tools and training.
- Supporting new ideas with actual dollars rather than constantly defending the status quo or creating roadblocks to improvement.
7. People Take Ownership of Problems
Last but not least, you’ll know you’ve achieved a culture of quality when people actively participate in identifying and resolving quality issues they personally observe.
In short, they’re doing it because they believe in it, not because they think the boss is looking over their shoulder. What does that look like in practical terms?
- Employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas or pointing out observations (even critical ones).
- Production quotas and quality aren’t pitted against each other.
- Quality is part of everyday conversations.
- People do what’s necessary to actually resolve problems, rather than delaying corrective actions or closing them as quickly as possible.
It’s important to remember that quality culture doesn’t happen overnight. If this post has revealed gaps in your approach, take it step by step, recognizing that small actions and bold turnaround campaigns are both essential to cultural change.