Companies that don’t factor in the need for a top-down culture of quality are likely to miss out on numerous opportunities for continuous improvement.
Here at the ETQ Blog, the knowledge that quality matters is often our North Star. In fact, ETQ’s chief marketing officer Nina McIntyre was recently featured in Inc. magazine discussing how quality defines a brand, highlighting the vital importance of investing in the consumer experience.
One strategy Nina highlighted in her article was the importance of creating a culture of quality, a common denominator for numerous successful brands that are known for both high-quality customer experiences and, ultimately, the quality of their products.
The enduring question, therefore, is what is the strategic approach and business optimization practices that support a true quality culture?
For starters, people in the organization talk openly about quality.
Quality takes priority, even when a facility is facing production pressures to ship more product. Everyone from the CEO to front-line operators participate in quality and understands their role in ensuring quality. In a high-performance culture of quality, people take ownership of problems, rather than just sweeping them under the rug.
This may not sound like rocket science, but what may be less clear is how a company can get to this level of quality awareness. With that in mind, we should take a look at several proven strategies to create a culture of quality, that will include covering practical process requirements as well as critical mindset shifts essential to implementing the required attitude change.
Begin at the Beginning
Building a culture of quality isn’t something that can be achieved with quick fixes or flavor-of-the-month quality projects. And it should come as no surprise that it’s a long-term effort that requires spending time on quality fundamentals, including:
- Documenting and implementing quality management system (QMS) processes
- Building quality into the design phase, leveraging tools like failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) and advanced product quality planning (APQP)
- Incorporating risk management principles throughout the quality process, including corrective action (fka CAPA), change management and supplier quality management
Measure, Monitor and Review
There’s a good reason why ongoing performance measurement, monitoring and review are all central to regulatory requirements and standards like ISO 9001. As the old saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed.”
More than just a quality buzzword to throw around, continuous improvement requires a solid understanding of where you are and where you intend to go. For instance, manufacturers can’t reduce or alleviate the costs of quality if they don’t measure those costs and know where they come from in the first place.
In addition to collecting quality data and compiling quantifiable metrics, leadership must be present during management reviews, making time to review performance data, identify bottlenecks and hold people accountable for their contributions to quality.
Ask for Suggestions
While it’s true that a culture of quality starts with authentic leadership commitment, it’s also fair to say that organizations can’t have a culture of quality without buy-in from front-line employees.
So how can companies encourage people to be personally invested in quality? One key strategy is to solicit feedback during performance reviews and audits—and then make it their business to actually implement that feedback.
This second part is critical, and companies that get it wrong could find it even more difficult to achieve their goals. That’s because if people take the time to share input, and nothing happens, they will quickly learn that management is either not listening or, sadly, doesn’t actually care.
Fix Problems Promptly
In fact, a culture of quality is impossible to achieve when a company doesn’t fix identified problems in a timely manner. The reason is quite simple and related to the last strategy point above. When people don’t see problems being fixed, the message they hear is that leadership isn’t actually invested in quality.
To negate this perception, organizations struggling with a backlog of corrective actions should focus on steps like:
- Identifying high-risk items that need to be addressed
- Creating an action plan complete with responsible parties and due dates—and then holding people accountable to the plan
- Discussing progress of action plans and results of corrective actions in management reviews
For instance, an automated QMS can provide critical forward momentum when it comes to resolving corrective actions faster, as well as improving visibility into where bottlenecks are slowing down the process.
Go Beyond Compliance
As long as just clearing the bar for compliance is your goal, you will never be able to create a culture of quality. That is not hyperbole, just a fact. By definition, a culture of quality must go beyond the bare minimum.
That’s not to say that compliance isn’t important. In fact, it’s a basic requirement for any organization that hopes to create a culture of quality in the near or not-so-distant future. But when, for example, a manager comes across a nonconformance handling issue during a quality audit, the question shouldn’t just be “What do we need to do for compliance?” Rather, it should be, “What more can we do to ensure quality?”
Invest in Quality
Last but not least, companies must make a visible investment in quality management systems and processes if they expect to build a true culture of quality.
If you’re just touting the same old, “Quality first” slogan without actually creating or integrating the systems designed to ensure quality from start to finish, the company isn’t truly invested in quality. And that’s something your people – and, ultimately, customers – will quickly pick up on.
Investing in quality takes several forms, including but not limited to:
- Management makes time to be present on the plant floor and during reviews
- Budget is allocated for QMS implementation and improvement
- Resources are available for continuous improvement projects, including those suggested by employees
From a technological perspective, QMS automation can help tie all of the above strategies together, enabling companies to go beyond compliance, fix problems faster and undertake new improvement projects. It also provides a mechanism for ongoing monitoring and review, as well as a platform for documenting and implementing QMS processes.
Aristotle once said that quality is not an act, it is a habit. And companies that understand how to build a culture of quality that touches everybody in the organization will have not only a competitive advantage but also be quality leaders in their chosen field. As we have said before, quality matters … the next step is to make certain that everybody is on the same page.
ETQ’s stated belief that quality creates limitless possibilities is one of the reasons that companies trust us to deliver effective software solutions. Our quality management software features built-in best practices and best-in-class flexibility, both of which allow brands to optimize the critical processes that drive excellence through quality.
To find out more about how ETQ can help your organization along its quality journey, contact us today. Alternatively, reach out to our quality professionals and ask for a demo of our Reliance 2019 SaaS solution.