Last week Deb and I had the opportunity to present at the 59th annual ASQ North East Quality Council Conference in Mansfield, Mass. We presented on the idea of putting together a Quality Days event for staff and what the step-by-step approach would be for others to facilitate such an event. The two-day conference was full of other speakers and presentations all discussing the general idea of how to improve quality within organizations.
Coming out of the conference the message that I walked away with was simple and yet hard: how to make quality practical, holistic and people-focused. So much of the time quality can become too process-oriented, too checklist-ridden. The take-away from the conference was as one speaker put it, “Look we know quality processes, we’ve been doing them for 100 years, what we need to focus on is getting our workers engaged in it.” This was a call to move quality management from a process- and -task-focus-only approach to a relationship and social focus as well.
Presentations at the conference ran from how to build a quality team, to how to resolve conflict, agile gaming for collaboration and understanding the global impact of quality. There were still some ISO9000 presentations and lean six sigma demonstrations, but much more of the focus was on the humanity of quality.
And isn’t that where we’re going anyway? Look at the explosion of social tools like social media, or socially-responsible companies like Zappos, Starbucks or Apple where the focus is very relationship-driven.
The one caution I would provide is that we tend to swing like a pendulum; as soon as one area becomes old and dry, we swing to something new. So, as quality processes and measurements become yesterday’s news, we swing to the thing that is new, shiny or buzz-worthy. I would encourage not an either/or scenario (either we focus on process and forget the people part, or vice versa), but an “and” scenario. In my mind and based on their teachings I believe the quality gurus such as Juran, Demming, or Crosby would agree. They would champion a mindset that encourages standards, measurements, precise calculations to minimize waste, as well as getting people engaged and understanding the value of the process (hence a Kaizan event, Gemba, or calesthenics). Remember Deming’s 8th point to drive out fear and create trust. We may be at a perfect time in quality, technology and society to begin to capture the vision of what Deming was talking about.
The Quality Days event presentation seemed to fit right into that current trend to make quality more humane. This might include hearing from quality experts, addressing issues and challenges around quality, building a specific mission, vision, and values around quality, or becoming educated about the history behind quality. What’s great about the event is the practicality of it. No longer will lengthy white papers, or dry slide shows do when trying to get people energized about quality. A Quality Days event is a great way to bring quality to a practical, pragmatic and result-oriented level for the whole staff.
Quality and the need to understand its implications in our industries are more important now than ever before. As we speed up the output that our society demands on our work, we must be ever vigilant to remain quality-focused. Just last month, we were talking with a manufacturing company and they were explaining how the American industry is now winning back what it lost in the 70s because China cannot produce the quality products that the world is demanding. The consumer has switched back over to countries that make quality products even if it costs them more. China’s manufacturing sector contracted for the 11th straight month in September partially due to the soft market, but I’m willing to bet that it’s also correlated to a saturated market full of mediocre, less-than-quality products. That puts American quality made products in a good position to take back control of the market; however Brazil, Mexico and Poland are all moving up in the ranks for expected manufacturing competitiveness in the next 5 years according to a 2012 Deloitte study.
To remain a quality leader, we must focus not only on technical skill development, but like the conference pointed out, we must also look to build skill in interpersonal skills, team building and collaboration, and cultural sensitivity. As new generations mix with older generations, globalization has us working in different countries and time zones, it is no longer enough to focus on either or; we must strive to do both.
At the conference we offered our free, downloadable Quality Problem Solving Tool Kit. This is a great guide, because it gives 15 different quality measurement tools with instructions on how to implement in day. Check it out!
We would also recommend downloading our free article on Building a Process Efficiency Mindset. More than just a focus on task and process, this article goes through some of the steps to change the hearts and minds to a much more quality-centered focus. Download now!