The APQC Blog

Culture of Quality Is an Enterprise Concern

When we talk about quality, the conversation often focuses on production and manufacturing. We discuss commonalities in what it means and how to assess it. Things like rework, scrap, and defects are common quality measures, but they are limited. The focus is only on reducing expenditures caused by not meeting expectations (e.g., contractual, customer perceptions, regulations). These measures are the compass that guides many organizations. But quality is much more complicated. Creating a culture that focuses on quality is even more challenging.

In a recent blog post, ASQ’s Paul Borawski shared insights into people’s feelings about quality, a topic that is “squishy” for some of us right-brainers. But he makes a good point: Culture is about behavior, and behavior is driven by feelings.  Recognizing this link and acting on it is a key to Lycoming’s 2010 Shingo Prize. Quality is something these employees feel throughout their workday. Quality data are gathered, analyzed, and shared in near real-time to keep staff informed as they work. Almost every employee, regardless of position, is trained on core quality principles.  At Lycoming, quality is a feeling that impacts the way people think, and, thus, how they behave. 

There are other great examples of organizations extending the culture of quality throughout the enterprise. As part of a daily meeting, Caterpillar reviews a bulletin board of customers’ quality issues. These concerns stay on the board until they are resolved. This focus ensures better output and demonstrates the connection between work and the customer experience. It shows how employees who are tightening bolts impact the user, and teaches marketing staff how to talk about customer concerns. All employees have a common language for quality, and everyone works towards the same goals.

So how does a culture change to focus on quality? Not just in the manufacturing side of the house, but where every person, every job, every conversation is about high output in every aspect? This is a huge challenge that many organizations are just beginning to tackle. The goal is to impact behavior in manufacturing, supply chain, product design, sales, HR, and finance. Some suggest it is a matter of giving everyone access to quality tools. Others suggest requiring organizational functions to track quality measures, such as rework.  Over the last two years in my experience of talking and working with quality leaders, I’m positive this isn’t enough.

I hate writing a blog post that ends up like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where there is no clear path. Yet, we don’t have the answers. A culture of quality is more than just people talking, it is feeling and doing quality.  Like I tell my son almost every other day, “I know you SAID you were going to clean your room, but you didn’t actually do it.” That applies here. Organizations talk about quality, but how do they do it?  

How has your organization created a quality culture? We’d love to hear success stories that can be replicated in our own organizations. How do you extend quality into different areas of your organization?