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A business has to deliver quality – but what does this mean? Part 1

02 May

You will have heard at people say that business is all about delivering quality. But what does “delivering quality” actually mean? How can you play your part in that and where do you even begin?

Here are some tips and insights to help you understand more about delivering quality within your organisation:

Prepare

You may have some formal responsibility for quality improvement. On the other hand, it may be going on around you. Either way, especially if you have some managerial or supervisory role, you can influence the developments more effectively if you prepare yourself and others around you. In quality speak, become a Quality Champion.

The point is not only to increase your own influence, but to positively affect people’s attitudes. This is because, if techniques are the vehicle of improvement, people’s attitudes are the fuel. Only once you have fuelled the corporate atmosphere with motivation and involvement is it time to redesign the systems and perhaps the organisational structure.

Sell the idea within your work area

Whatever your role in the organisation, it will be an uphill struggle if your colleagues are pulling in opposite directions. So it makes sense to start with internal communications and meetings. Having continuing conversation with (rather than broadcasting to) employees and other interested parties is a key part of preparing the ground. The idea is to engage everyone’s creativity and commitment, without which any attempt at quality improvement is, at best, likely to turn into a box-ticking exercise.

Overcome resistance 

You may notice this in colleagues or in yourself. People may have natural anxieties. Their fears may be about having to change roles and learn new skills, or even about actually losing their jobs. For example, will it undermine your/their own position if you encourage more junior staff to take on more responsibility? Their fears will be real to them, whether or not they have any foundation. Either way, it’s important to talk about these things openly. Then you can deal with the issues, and they will not remain hidden and festering.

Talk to people about what is happening. Become informed about the things you don’t know. Share what you do know with colleagues. If you have responsibility for launching a quality initiative, be aware that grand launches can be counter-productive. Some places have tried way-out fun razzamatazz launches with great success, while others have tried the same to the horror of their employees. You can start the ball rolling with some low-key techniques.

Become a role model

Your personal behaviour and working style will influence everyone around you. Even if your company has no quality aspirations, you can improve results just by the way you act. If you have any formal responsibility for quality, you will find progress much easier if people trust you. Good ways of influencing others in this respect are to

  • Walk the talk
  • Focus on results and what enables them to be achieved
  • Minimise the bureaucracy/documentation (making it more flexible, where sensible)
  • Encourage everyone to
    • think about the procedures and how they might be improved
    • be open about things that ‘went wrong’
    • take responsibility for their actions
  • Recognise people’s contributions, whether through formal appraisal and reward, employee of the month schemes or a simple word of acknowledgement.

Whatever suits your context, do it, and keep doing it.

Encourage a customer focus

Help your colleagues to raise their awareness of the needs of whoever uses the result of their work, and to seek to meet those needs. It’s often the simple things that count in changing attitudes.

Involve customers in the process

At the very least, conduct surveys to find out what they would consider quality or excellence in doing business with you. You might also wish to consult some of them about your procedures and products. This reinforces their relationship with the company, and encourages future sales.

Talk with key suppliers 

They will feel part of the show if you take them more into your confidence. You might want to share training with them. That sort of thing can reduce the volume of defects markedly, and they are more likely to help you out in a crisis.

Consider competitors

It may seem weird to talk cooperation with competitors, and there will be areas of commercial sensitivity. Nonetheless, there will be many areas of mutual benefit, and the concept is the basis of benchmarking – a technique for learning from others by comparing notes in a structured way.

Post courtesy of People Alchemy

In Part 2 we will look at assessing your current performance, deciding where to improve and putting an action plan into place.

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