MY QUALITY STORY
Getting in tune with your emotional intelligence
by Hope Cecile
Incorporating emotional intelligence into quality departments from the top down is crucial to success. Having lived in the fast-paced world of quality for more than two decades, I have learned a few things. Quality is tough to work in, and the quality department is the key to setting the emotional atmosphere in an organization.
If the quality department constantly fights fires, lacks support from other departments or is managed by someone who lacks quality experience or professional training to lead the team, it can cause huge issues in other departments and ultimately the entire organization.
Emotional intelligence in a quality department is key in two core areas: customer relations and the quality team.
Knowing your customers and how to communicate with them will advance your organization in many ways. Are your customers high-strung? Do you have to call them immediately after an issue arises and listen to them rant about 1% suspect found on their production line? Are you expected to fly out the next day to sort parts, or does a simple email acknowledgment suffice? Are deadlines important to them when issued an 8D, or is it OK that you are working on it and will check in occasionally?
Knowing your customers, their organization and their environment is crucial to making them happy. But how do you do that? Some experience with emotional intelligence and gathering evidence in your first dealings with the organization can help you get there. For example, do they bring a list of specific dates and actions to every review meeting? Do they send out an agenda for each meeting?
This tells you they are organized, want things done quickly and efficiently, and due dates are important. When dealing with them, have your facts ready—know what is getting done and when, be upfront about any limitations, and proactive about dealing with deadlines that may be missed or need to be adjusted. If they want to have a casual meeting to chat about things and don’t require a detailed agenda, provide a high-level PowerPoint that includes bullet points or notes with additional information. You want to wow them by knowing what they want before they ask for it. That’s emotional intelligence from afar.
The quality team
The vibe of the quality team affects the greater organization. The quality department deals with a negative atmosphere and situations every day, including:
- Trying to enable people to fix things.
- Broken parts or processes.
- People who don’t follow instructions.
- Processes with major inadequacies.
- People who can’t fix a machine or haven’t diagnosed it properly, which causes recurring problems.
- Team members with a variety of experience levels.
So how do you make such a negative atmosphere productive? It requires emotional intelligence from the department, director, manager, supervisor and inspector, among others.
Is your team encouraged every day—especially those members who work directly on the shop floor? Or are people wary because they view you as a tattletale—someone who will report every little thing that isn’t up to snuff? Are frontline workers encouraged to report honestly and keep at it for the greater good? Are workers outside of the quality department educated about how a quality system is beneficial to everyone? How does your team work together? Are they too competitive with one another?
Are there enough big-profile process improvement initiatives for everyone, or are people champing at the bit to make their mark? Does everyone know what the department’s goals are, and do they meet to discuss initiatives and progress? Or do managers keep things to themselves for fear their teams may out-stage them with creative ideas? Is everyone free to speak openly about failures without fear of reprimand or gossip? Do they feel good knowing they are part of a team that works toward a better department, or do they feel deflated? In group meetings, is everyone’s opinion listened to? When brainstorming, is everyone included and heard?
How is change rolled out? To a production worker on the floor, change can be scary. Is your team trained on how to implement improvements to the shop floor? I learned to talk to everyone in the area where I was making a change, and to get them on board beforehand. The last thing you want is for a great improvement rollout to be derailed by one person because he or she was resentful about not being part of the change. It can ruin the entire improvement effort. Does your team know how to be a team, or are there some troublemakers in the group? How do you manage that?
I worked for an organization in which monthly team events were encouraged to inspire good teamwork and camaraderie. The members who made up our team spanned a wide age range. Many didn’t want to do any physical activity, so our team events consisted of going out to eat. My manager sat at one end of the table with the employee he liked the most, and everyone else sat at the other end and chatted. And then we all left.
Were we a better team because of it? I don’t think so. My manager didn’t even take the time to make the dining arrangements—he asked one of us to do it. It showed his lack of knowledge about how to motivate and inspire a team environment. But the box was checked—our team completed its monthly event.
Do these methods keep staff motivated, inspired and focused on teamwork? No. As a leader, you must learn how to inspire your team to work for you, and go to bat for you and your goals. By doing so, you will inspire other departments and the shop floor.
Make the investment
I learned some of these methods when I was a quality manager, and the proof for me was when people started asking to join my team, and staff wanted to follow me when I left the organization. I met with my team daily, I was honest about successes and failures, I listened to their opinions and they learned to trust each other and me. We enjoyed our jobs and were inspired to make improvements.
Learning emotional intelligence can go a long way in the development of the quality department. Whether focusing on a customer issue or issues in your department, make the investment.
Hope Cecile is a senior quality assurance professional in Canada with a degree in quality engineering from St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario. A member of ASQ, Cecile is an ASQ-certified quality engineer and quality auditor.