BACK TO BASICS
Building a Quality Team
Simple steps to get the rest of your company involved
by Terry E. Logan
Everyone has encountered this problem at one time or another: The boss, department head or top manager is seemingly focused on all issues but quality.
Sure, they might talk the talk, but when it comes to addressing quality, they don’t feel it’s as important as “making money.” H. Thomas Johnson described cost performance limitations when he wrote, “Accounting based measures of performance drive employees to achieve targets of sales, revenue and costs, by manipulation of processes and by flattery.”1
How can you advance the cause of quality when you’re the lone quality initiator? A series of simple yet effective actions can help you, the quality leader, direct change and build momentum by tying company objectives to operating profit.
Take control of the environment
First, focus on what you can control within your function or job assignment. Begin with selecting a project that has solid monetary results. Examples include:
- Decreasing rework or scrap.
- Increasing productivity metrics.
- Improving process flow.
- Reducing nonvalue added steps.
Such projects can be highly visible and go beyond the mundane, revealing savings. This is what managers relate to. Pick a project that is quick and doesn’t require excessive resources. Cost savings need to be the first focus.
To pick a project within your control, communicate with people who see discrepancies day in and day out, and listen to them. It is likely these people will become your first disciples and part of your trusted network.
Show management evidence of quality-committed companies that spend money for continuous improvement and still see increased efficiency margins on the bottom line. Measurable improvements are seen in return on assets, return on sales, operating margin and even stock price.2
If you don’t have access to immediate financial feedback, try to stabilize or standardize a process. You might be the only one in your organization who sees the process for what it is. Use tools like flowcharts to demonstrate improvements in direct labor or raw materials usage.
Be diligent. Don’t give up if you’re not recognized after achieving success. Commonly, leaders who don’t appreciate quality initiatives require several wins before they acknowledge success. As you continue to succeed, you can look for the reward of freedom to further your initiatives or, better yet, an extended budgetary line item for future projects or tools.
No project? No problem
If you have little or no control over an area or process, take another direction. Be prepared for opportunities to express the benefits of focusing on quality. Have reference books to explain why quality is important, and make sure the books are short and to the point.
Additionally, have case studies to prove your point on quality. Nothing better supports your point than a published success story. If possible, find a case study that reflects your product, process or service.
Be patient—extremely patient. Continuous improvement and a quality culture can take several years to implement. This is key while dealing with situations that might arise when only you can envision the final result. It’s easy to be patient with yourself, but don’t expect everyone to convert just because you’ve made some improvements. There will be those who insist your initial success was luck or coincidence.
Finally, set a quality leadership example, and be excited about quality. Visible enthusiasm and commitment to the company is critical to build functional teams. Be ready to provide answers with tangible company examples or case studies, and you’ll be on the way to convincing management. The goal is to get managers to see you as a competent resource and someone who is looking out for the company. Should you succeed, your actions and message will spread, and other quality believers will surely be on board.
- H. Thomas Johnson, Relevance Regained, The Free Press, 1992.
- Kevin B. Hendricks and Vinod R. Singhal, “The Impact of Total Quality Management (TQM) on Financial Performance: Evidence from Quality Award Winners,” www.efqm.org/uploads/excellence/vinod%20full%20report.pdf.
Terry E. Logan is principal of Atema Inc., Chicago. He has a degree in quality assurance and nearly three decades of leadership in quality, manufacturing, training, auditing, program management and technical services. Logan is a senior member of ASQ and is a certified quality engineer and auditor, and a quality systems auditor. He also holds a manufacturing engineer certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.