A Leader’s Roadmap to a Culture of Quality: Building on Forbes Insights-ASQ Leadership Research: Part 1 of 3

This is a guest post by Rob Lawton, an author, executive coach, and expert in creating rapid strategic alignment between enterprise objectives and customer priorities. He has directed strategic and operational improvement initiatives since 1985. Lawton coined the term “customer-centered culture” with his first book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and Speed (ASQ Quality Press, 1993). He has been published in Brazil, China, the U.K., and is referenced widely. Many of his articles are available at www.imtc3.com. Contact him at Robin.Lawton@icloud.com.

Survey findings in the Forbes Insights-ASQ white paper published in fall of 2014 offer tantalizing insights from leaders and quality professionals.  The report, “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise,” distills several guidelines from interviewees that can be especially useful with more detail. My purpose in this three-part blog series is to provide the missing and necessary specifics for successful action.

Three research findings rise to the top and are strongly interrelated (report page numbers are shown in parenthesis):
1.    All employees must apply the four key elements of any strategy for building a quality culture.  (Page 8: Boeing’s Ken Shead).
2.    Closely understand customer expectations so you can focus and give them what they want.  Study respondents overwhelmingly report low effectiveness by their organizations in doing so.  (Page 16: Intel’s Stan Miller and Rudy Hacker)
3.    Develop a formal quality policy, common language and leader behaviors as deployment mechanisms. (Pages 18-19, HP’s Rodney Donaville)

Part One in this blog series spells out how to successfully address point #1, above.  Each of the other blogs in the series will cover the practical steps for points 2 and 3.

Ken Shead, vice president of integrated quality, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, says a culture of quality requires and ensures that all employees know:

  • Their product or deliverable
  • Their customer
  • Their customer’s quality expectations
  • How to measure that quality

These four elements look like simple common sense and, therefore, could mistakenly be perceived as not particularly enlightening.  Readers are tempted to say to themselves, “So what?  I already know this.”  Therein lies the problem for anyone wishing to actually assure this is done.  It is absolutely not as easy as it would first appear. Let’s work to close that gap.

The real-life obstacles the change leader and practitioner will encounter when seeking to follow Mr. Shead’s strategy without the rest of the story include the following:
1.    Is the employee to focus on “their product” at the enterprise, business unit, functional group, or personal level?
2.    Is “their product” singular or are there many products an employee might have?  If there are many, how does one prioritize which are most important?
3.    How does someone who does not create widgets such as airplanes, who views their work in terms of service or knowledge (roughly 87% of the post-industrial workforce), define their product?
4.    If the product could refer to something produced at one of four levels (suggested in question #1 above), would “the customer” be the same party for each product?
5.    Once we identify a specific product, are we to focus on the end-users for that product, the brokers (who pass the product to others), or fixers (who modify or correct the product for the benefit of end-users)?  Does it matter if we don’t differentiate them?
6.    Are all end-users equally important?
7.    Are customer expectations the same as requirements and needs?  If not, is it possible to meet all the agreed upon requirements but still end up with unhappy customers?
8.    When seeking to understand customer priorities, is it important to differentiate expectations related to their subjective perception of the product, the product’s objective performance, the process for acquiring and using the product, or the outcome produced by using the product?  How would one do easily this?
9.    Quality is often defined in terms of defects and deficiencies.  If we eliminate things gone wrong, is the result a strong quality culture?
10.    How would one create quality metrics for squishy expectations customers may insist upon such as easy to use, cool, and innovative?

(It turns out Mr. Shead’s elements of strategy match the topics in the first four chapters of my book written more than twenty years ago, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and SpeedYou can see Quality Progress article providing a book synopsis here, item #4. Practical answers to the ten questions above are answered there.

Concrete and easily applied answers to questions 1-4 are provided in Chapter 1 of the referenced book.  All other questions can only be answered successfully when that chapter is understood and applied.  Chapter 2 answers questions 5 and 6, Chapter 3 answers questions 7-9,  Chapter 4 answers question 10.   You’ve now got the key to the rest of the story, thanks to Mr. Shead’s introduction.)

The second blog in this series will outline the specifics of how to take action on the second major research finding:  Closely understand customer expectations.

4 thoughts on “A Leader’s Roadmap to a Culture of Quality: Building on Forbes Insights-ASQ Leadership Research: Part 1 of 3”

  1. Very well written. Most of the times our teams do not know what they ar really providing to the customer (s). That has nothing to do with their tech. experience.
    It would be better also to provide some clues on the answers of those questions.

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