The 3 Minds of a Quality Culture Manager
Blog: Interneer blog
In the November 2003 issue of Harvard business review, Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg wrote about the “The 5 Minds of a Manager”. In their article, the authors described the importance of integrating different mindsets or perspectives, such that they work together in complementary ways to produce positive business results. According to Gosling and Mintzberg, management operates most effectively by combining reflection, analysis, worldliness, collaboration, and an orientation toward action.
The same kind of analysis might apply to many of the specific roles in an organization. After all, for each function there are distinct attributes that contribute to outstanding performance. For quality management leaders, three characteristics stand out above the rest.
There are, of course, some prerequisites for quality managers. Technical expertise is required. Quality managers must understand QMS principles, processes, and relevant standards, and must have knowledge & expertise in the specific product or service domain in which the company operates.
In addition, though, there are three distinct “mindsets” that contribute to big-picture success, ultimately leading to a culture of quality excellence that permeates the organization. These three mindsets are process orientation (which will perhaps be obvious to many readers familiar with quality management), the ability to persuade other stakeholders, and a willingness to nurture their vision over the long term.
Perhaps it goes without saying that quality managers must understand the paramount importance of consistent, repeatable, documented processes. Nevertheless, we include it here because it serves as the foundation for everything else.
Even so, there are organizations in which this perspective is not fully understood. In a recent post, we wrote about Philip Crosby’s Quality Management Maturity Grid (QMMG). Crosby described organizations with lower levels of quality maturity as being focused on inspection and appraisal rather than on improvement. As a company matures, the emphasis shifts towards preventing defects and implementing continuous improvement programs. Quality management ceases to be about filtering out bad product at the end of the production process. Instead, it focuses on making sure that defective product simply never happens in the first place.
To achieve that, managers must step into that highly analytical mindset in which processes are broken down into their component parts, described in detail, and redesigned to make them better. Consistency and repeatability are essential elements of a strong quality culture. High-maturity organizations understand that.
To develop a meaningful culture of quality, though, business leaders must go beyond mere process mastery. They must persuasively sell the virtues of quality to everyone else in the organization.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands and appreciates structured, disciplined processes. In many companies, it’s common to see an “us vs. them” mentality take hold among departments, – for example, between engineering and quality assurance. Individuals and teams cling to their preferred ways of doing things, and attempt to deflect accountability by blaming problems on someone else.
In an organization with a healthy culture of quality, that kind of cross departmental friction is far less common, as people tend to be focused on solving problems rather than assigning blame. It’s understood that if teams can’t work together to resolve quality issues, everyone will lose out.
How does a company make that shift from a culture of finger-pointing to a collaborative team approach? Typically, it begins with a firm commitment from upper management that quality matters, – that it’s a non-negotiable attribute of everything the company does. For many, that serves as the beginning of an education process.
While upper management commitment is essential, the message must be perpetuated at all other levels throughout the business. An outstanding quality manager must serve as an evangelist for quality programs. Some degree of resistance is likely in virtually any company, – but this is especially true when quality programs necessitate changes to the old way of doing things.
An outstanding quality manager, therefore, must strive to be a compelling persuader, – to sell the vision of quality excellence to everyone else in the organization. While that might sound like a steep hill to climb, there is some good news: as people throughout the organization begin to understand the value of quality management, the evangelist’s job gets easier. Like a snowball rolling downhill, success begets success, and a culture of quality can begin to thrive.
The third leg of the stool is persistence. Creating a culture of quality requires a long-term commitment. While that process can frequently lead to high points, there are typically some pretty low points along the way as well. Most of us have been through tough periods following a product release that wasn’t quite ready for prime time, or a batch of goods that went out the door before a defect in an outsourced subassembly was discovered.
The reputational damage, financial harm, and sometimes even the legal risk that can occur following these kinds of events can be disheartening. That’s especially true if the quality department ends up getting blamed for the problem. In a company with a strong culture of quality, senior management takes full ownership of quality, especially when things go wrong. Whether or not that happens, it’s imperative that quality managers soldier on, doubling down on the message and calling for collaborative problem solving instead of finger-pointing.
This capacity to press forward through those low points is essential, – because there are almost always some low points to be found along the journey. When managers are persistent, and as a stronger culture of quality emerges, the organization will eventually develop a level of immunity. It will experience fewer and fewer of those low points, as the virtuous cycle of strong quality culture carries it forward to higher levels of success.
If your company is seeking to develop or strengthen its culture of quality, Intellect can help. We develop robust QMS software that can be easily molded to fit the way your company works. We design our products around the principle of “extreme configurability”, making it possible for virtually anyone to tailor it for specific purposes, without specialized technical expertise. Contact us today to talk about your needs, or to arrange for a free demo.