“Most companies have too much passion and not enough systems, or too many systems and not enough passion.”    (Tom Peters)

Emphasis on where the following six key components should be placed will no doubt differ amongst experts, so you may wish to think about which of the following is most important in your circumstances. Whatever the balance though, all deserve attention:

1. Focus

Focus means two things:

  • Market focus – meeting and predicting customer needs
  • Process focus – concentrating on improving the facets of your business that are critical to success.

It’s better to excel at the few vital things than to be average at everything. Quality initiatives sometimes falter when people try to confront everything simultaneously.

2. Commitment

Managers and supervisors at all levels need to be consistent role models. Your aim should be to behave in a way that shows you truly believe in continuous improvement. For example, a top manager may undo months of work to cultivate a culture of empowerment by taking back control in a moment of crisis. Junior staff can and should be supported to take greater responsibility for their own actions, which in practice demands establishing clear boundaries. This is the counter-balance of empowerment.

People generally feel safer when it is obvious how much freedom they have and in what areas. It will also help them use any freedoms more aptly if they understand the bigger picture (company or team objectives, policies and so on).

3. Systems

They are a means not an end. The point is to ensure that things are done, and that they are done over and over again in a consistent manner. Firms introducing an accreditation-based quality management system (QMS) sometimes omit a system for innovation or improving quality. This can lead to failure when working practices become frozen or set in stone.

4. Responsiveness

This has three aspects:

  • Rapid response to changes in the market or other situations – keep ahead of the competition
  • Immediate and positive response to any issues a customer may have with a purchase (this is not just about customer relations – it is also about feeding information back to detect any patterns and sort out any inherent problems)
  • Use of customer feedback and internal statistics as a basis for change.

5. Action

Whatever impressive models, frameworks or techniques you use, the crux of quality improvement is this:

P lan your improvement

D o whatever it takes to achieve the better result

C heck whether and how it worked

A ct on the findings

Action is the last stage without which all the rest is twaddle. For obvious reasons, this process is often called the PDCA cycle. It is also known as the Quality Cycle, Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle, after its inventor.

6. Quality

Having a good product or service is pretty fundamental. It’s easy to forget, among all the other points, that what you’re selling needs to be up to standard too. E.g. You won’t sell steel parachutes for long.

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