At a Glance
- Organisations with a well-developed culture of quality save an average of US$350 million in remediation costs compared to those without such a culture.
- Organisations with a culture of quality tend to share three common characteristics: effective and committed leadership, employee ownership, and company-wide commitment to continuous improvement.
- A culture of continuous improvement must be cultivated within the organization, with ongoing training and development for employees, regular review of processes and procedures, and a commitment to innovation and experimentation.
Creating a culture of quality not only improves a company’s competitive advantage, but it also paves the way for operational excellence by reducing errors in business processes. This translates into significant time and cost savings when it comes to correcting errors.
A study in the Harvard Business Review found that organisations with a well-developed culture of quality save an average of US$350 million in remediation costs compared to those lacking such a culture. Many organisations claim to have a culture of quality, but is this claim reflected in their business performance?
Understanding a culture of quality
Traditionally, a culture of quality focuses on four components:
- Customer focus involves active engagement with customers. It requires listening and understanding in order to deliver products or services that meet, or even exceed their specific requirements.
- Continuous improvement requires a commitment to continually improving products, services, and processes, to ensure they meet changing customer preference and industry standards. It involves the identification of errors and the implementation of proactive measures to prevent their recurrence.
- Employee empowerment means providing the necessary resources, training, and support to enable employees to make informed decisions and contribute effectively to the organisation’s goals.
- Data-driven decision-making involves making decisions based on concrete evidence and insights, rather than relying on gut feelings or anecdotal evidence.
Another study describes quality culture as one that focuses on developing people, recognising and rewarding their achievements, and fostering a dynamic learning
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How to build a culture of quality
In essence, the two studies suggest that organisations with a culture of quality tend to share three common characteristics. Here’s how your organisation can capitalise on these three characteristics:
1. Effective and committed leadership
When creating a culture of quality, senior management must demonstrate their commitment to quality by setting clear standards and communicating expectations throughout the workforce. This deliberate communication ensures that everyone understands the organisation’s goals.
Leaders must also “walk the talk”. Their actions and behaviours are closely observed by employees, so any inconsistency between words and actions can undermine trust.
Trust is crucial in organisations. Employees in high-trust environments are 76% more engaged, and 50% more productive than those in low-trust organisations, according to a Harvard Business Review study.
To demonstrate their seriousness about quality, leaders must allocate resources and hold themselves accountable for the organisation’s quality results.
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2. Employee ownership
Quality issues in organisations often stem from human behaviour, such as deviation from quality guidelines, lapses in attention, lack of accountability due to poor reporting or weak targets, and poor working practices.
A study on workplace distractions in the US found that they reduce productivity and that distractions lead to a twofold increase in error rates. Failure to adhere to quality guidelines can also damage an organisation’s reputation by releasing substandard products into the marketplace.
Enter the concept of employee ownership. Most business leaders think of employee ownership as simply employees owning shares in a company, but it is much more than that. It involves fostering an ownership mentality among employees, encouraging them to see themselves as stakeholders invested in the success of the business.
When employees feel like owners, they are more likely to be committed to quality standards. The first step in implementing employee ownership is to ensure that everyone understands the importance and benefits of quality.
Organisations should make quality a collective responsibility, not just the job of one department, and inform employees how their role directly affects the product or service quality and, in turn, the customer experience. These steps will help foster a culture where quality is not a directive, but an ingrained ethos that permeates every aspect of the organisation’s operations.
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3. Company-wide commitment to continuous improvement
Organisations that value quality are committed to continuous improvement. They implement initiatives to streamline processes, improve product quality, and increase customer and employee satisfaction.
High-quality organisations are customer focused, actively engaging with customers to better understand their needs and expectations. They see setbacks as opportunities for improvement.
For example, they foster cross-functional collaboration to identify the root causes of problems and implement corrective actions.
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A culture of continuous improvement must be cultivated within the organization, with ongoing training and development for employees, regular review of processes and procedures, and a commitment to innovation and experimentation. It requires a willingness to embrace change and a focus on long-term goals rather than short-term gains.
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