This month’s question

How can I measure the current level of my organization’s quality culture and, based on the results, elevate it?

Our response

Not only is this an excellent question, but it’s also a vital one for quality professionals. Many promising quality implementations have foundered on the shoals of an inhospitable company culture.

In response, some definitions will be useful:

  • Company culture is the way an organization’s values are communicated, understood and lived by its members.
  • Quality culture, in this light, is the subset of an organization’s values that are relevant to maximizing the fitness for use of its products and services.
  • Dimensions are sets of behaviors necessary for the culture to transmit and reinforce its values.

Let’s begin with the end in mind—in this case, by looking at what the company is trying to do and grounding the quality culture in the larger purpose of the organization. The cultural dimension development grid in Table 1 may help guide your thinking.

Table 1

Some of these dimensions may not be quality culture dimensions, in which case set them aside for the moment and focus on those with clear quality implications (those that affect the fitness for use of a product or service).

To assess the quality culture, as distinct from evaluating the quality system (for which various International Organization for Standardization standards and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria provide unparalleled and time-honored benchmarks), these dimensions must be identified and quantified.

The tree diagram in Figure 1 establishes the minimum dimensions of interest to a quality culture. There is no doubt you might be interested in more, but the six in the bottom row will apply universally.

Figure 1

Table 2 translates these questions more clearly into dimensions of a quality culture. Scales similar to those used in failure mode and effects analysis can be employed to provide spectrums of behavior for each of these business questions, as shown in Online Tables 1-6.

Table 2

Online Table 1

Online Table 2

Online Table 3

Online Table 4

Online Table 5

Online Table 6

Sound survey design principles can be applied to develop a questionnaire,1 as shown in Online Figure 1. Comparing the statements in the questionnaire to the dimensional scales should provide clear line of sight to how to score the culture. “Strongly agree” and “strongly disagree” responses should correspond to one or five on the dimensional scales to keep the survey relevant.

Online Figure 1

While this allows you to assess the perception of the quality culture as it is actually lived by teammates, it often is useful to look for indications as to how the culture is communicated by leadership and understood by teammates as well. Slightly rewording the questions and surveying teammates, auditing communications materials, observing behavior over time or conducting focus groups may help in this assessment as well.

After you’ve got the assessment data in hand, you can produce a scorecard similar to the one shown in Online Table 7. The value in independently assessing the quality culture as it is desired, communicated, understood and lived is now clear. By comparing the desired and lived columns, it becomes clear that pace of change is the biggest gap, followed by decision makers. Where the quality culture comes up short, it tends to do so either because we resist change or to empower teammates.

Online Table 7

By looking at the differences between the desired and communicated columns, you can spot opportunities to clarify messaging, especially around pace of change. Where there are big gaps between the communicated and understood columns, you can work on communication materials and training mechanisms. That seems to be where much of the problem with empowerment creeps in. Where the understood and lived columns disagree, you may begin your battle with habitual behaviors running counter to the desired culture. In the example in Online Table 7, more respect for hierarchy in the culture is sought. The prevailing culture pulls away from this and must be addressed.

A strong start

There is so much more to say on this topic, but you cannot go wrong if you begin with understanding what your company is trying to do, define and quantify your quality culture dimensions accordingly, develop and deploy an appropriate assessment tool, and compile the results in a way that allows you to see how your quality culture is being communicated, lived and understood. You’ll be well on your way to righting the ship.


  1. “Designing and Conducting Survey Research: A Comprehensive Guide” by Louis M. Rea and Richard A. Parker is an excellent guide to this.

This response was written by Jeff Veyera, director of manufacturing projects, Lignetics, Louisville, CO.

--Carrie Ditton, 03-17-2020

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