Leadership, culture and quality

Q: What’s an effective approach for providing leadership and management for the quality function, and sustaining the quality philosophy and lean culture for the division at the plant level?

David Stuckey
Fort Worth, TX

A: Your question essentially deals with the art and science of change management. Changing and sustaining a culture—whether it is a lean culture, quality culture, safety culture, innovation culture or customer intimacy culture—is challenging. It is particularly difficult, however, at the plant level because plants are often remote from the parent company and generally focus on only a part of the value stream, such as a specific function, component or product.

Recognizing the symptoms of a deteriorating culture are just as important as determining how to create a lasting culture. Classic symptoms of decay include lack of employee engagement, uncompleted projects, excessive emphasis on cost cutting, high employee turnover and lack of respect for co-workers and customers. Extreme examples include subversive behavior, such as misrepresenting information (for example, the Veterans Administration Affairs crisis in which patient appointment wait times were falsified to meet the 14-day specification) or the failure to act even when lives are at stake (for example, General Motors’ flawed ignition switch on the Chevrolet Volt was a known safety hazard for more than 10 years before a recall was issued).

While effective change management techniques vary, I can draw from my own experience creating and sustaining a quality culture as an example. In 2013, Cbeyond Communications, a $500 million, publicly held telecommunications firm based in Atlanta, partnered with Tech Mahindra, an IT and telecom company based in India, to perform critical telephone porting, circuit provisioning and service order activities.

As director of process excellence and the program leader, I knew this was going to be challenging given the sensitive nature of the initiative, scope of the work, distance (Atlanta is 8,000 miles from Delhi), difference in hours of operation (Delhi is 9.5 hours ahead of Atlanta), as well as language and cultural differences. We could not afford to create an "us (Cbeyond employees) vs. them (Tech Mahindra employees)" environment.

Our first step was to effectively make the case for change—in other words, provide context to our internal employees and the Indian outsourced employees. They had to know the "why." The case for change could not be fragile. It had to be clear and direct with leadership out in front. And, it had to be communicated in an open and consistent manner.

For Cbeyond, the partnership was a strategic decision to free our employees to deliver newer products.

Although requirements for change vary, at a minimum they should include the following core components (Figure 1):

  • Vision: What future success looks like—not next quarter or next year, but three to five years from now. Vision should be grand in scope. A vision is a picture of where you want to be. If you can see it, you can be it.
  • Goals: Goals are the steps toward your vision. How do you achieve a vision? One step at a time. Goals are like the rungs of a ladder, the footsteps of a journey. Having goals makes accomplishment more likely. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART).
  • Planning: A means of efficiently fulfilling goals. Some goals can be achieved in a short amount of time. Others are long-term goals that might require a number of smaller steps. Organizing goals and capturing the details is part of planning.

Figure 1

You need all three components for change to be successful. If the vision is missing, chaos and confusion will ensue. Fear and anxiety will thrive in an atmosphere in which employees are not given the proper context from leaders on why they are embarking on a quality program. Without SMART goals, change will be slow or may not occur. In the absence of planning, expect false starts, frustration and aggravation.

Strong leadership is the glue that holds all three components together. Leadership embodies many characteristics, including the ability to develop people rather than just manage them; innovating instead of administering; thinking long term instead of short term; looking at the horizon, not just the bottom line; and asking "what and why" instead of "how and when." To me, leadership is as simple as raising your hand. Volunteers make great leaders because they know there is a need for change. They are willing to take a risk, and they want to have an impact on the organization.

The hardest part about any quality culture is making it sustainable. It requires relentless discipline, steady communication and regular recognition. What was our formula for sustaining the quality culture in our Indian office 8,000 miles away? The same formula we used in Atlanta. We continued conducting our daily meetings, real-time coaching and corrections, regular root cause analysis and start-stop-continue exercises. Recognition of achievements was frequent and communicated throughout Tech Mahindra and Cbeyond (see the team in the photo). There was no secret to our success. It was based on a solid foundation of leadership, vision, goals and planning.

Peter J. Sherman, CMBB, CQE, CSCP
Partner, Riverwood Associates

Truth about traceability

Q: What is the real meaning of traceability in calibration validation?

Dinesh Chandra
Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India

A: This is a simple question loaded with a lot of complexity. First, consider the definition of traceability as defined in the ISO Guide 99:2007. Metrological traceability is defined as "property of a measurement result whereby the result can be related to a reference through a documented unbroken chain of calibrations, each contributing to the measurement uncertainty."1

To validate the calibration of a unit, you have to look for the following:

  • Is the standard used suitable? Is the calibration status valid and not expired?

  • Is the standard itself traceable? That is, it has an accredited calibration with measurement uncertainty data provided, or you can trace the calibration hierarchy all the way to a National Metrology Institute of the country that is recognized under the International Committee of Weights and Measures Mutual Recognition Arrangement.

  • Is the uncertainty of the standard used at least four times less than the tolerance of the unit?
  • Is the resolution of the standard used at least 10 times better? For example, to calibrate a unit with 0.1 resolution, a standard with at least 0.01 unit resolution should be used.
  • Is the measurement uncertainty for the unit being calibrated properly calculated and reported on the calibration certificate?
  • When making a compliance decision to a specification for the unit being calibrated, is the uncertainty of the calibration process taken into account?
  • Does the calibration report meet the appropriate requirements of ISO/IEC 17025, clause 5.10?2

If the answers to all of the above are yes, the metrological traceability has been validated for the calibration.

Dilip A. Shah
E = mc3 Solutions
Medina, OH


  1. International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission, ISO/IEC Guide 99:2007—International vocabulary of metrology—Basic and general concepts and associated terms.

  2. International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission, ISO/IEC 17025—General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, Clause 5.10—Reporting the results.

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