Quality is a term that is used by so many people and means so many things. Not wrongly so as us humans assess products and services based on our values. These values are at their core similar (if not identical), yet there are several factors that impact our assessment of ‘Quality’.
Many organisations, institutes and professional bodies work to bring clarity and unity to several aspects in life – to help people assess one thing from a particular point of view. Quality being a term that is under constant focus.
My experience with Quality has always been a focus on process mapping, enhancing a product or a service to better satisfy the customer, and creating an improvement culture that thrives on finding areas that require attention and creatively addressing them [in whatever standard, or under whatever school you want to name it].
The success stories with various businesses (and stories of failure too) were all down to one key factor: Management Buy-in. There is so much a quality professional can do to enhance, improve, standardise, and change. All the efforts can come to a stand still if the board’s vision, strategy and support start to fade away.
Here is a story of a successful board:
A bank (privately owned) has been established for several years and been reporting losses year on year. Shutting down a bank and losing people’s money would cause significant impact not only on individuals, but also on a country’s economy. That, topped by the collective vision of the bank leaders that a change must take place, flicked a switch to theopposite direction. A well renowned professional was appointed as the Chair of the bank. While their focus was on revisiting the bank’s product offering (the processes and services that are costing the operation a lot), they had one clear and articulate message to every employee: Our customers are our key focus. We must listen to them, see what they want, what they are happy with and where we have disappointed them. This will be our mandate to the get us back on track. The sales process, customer relationship management, and customer retention will be at the heart of what we do. A Total Quality Management division was formed. A guru in quality was appointed to form a team and startlistening to the voice of the customer, focusing on remapping processes that directly impact customers and bring efficiency and value to them. So what makes this a success story? Since this transformation vision was instated, the bank started to break even and report on growth from year two. Customers voted for the bank as one of their favourite banks to deal with. Ten years on, the bank is now one of the most highly profitable banks in its home country. The Total Quality Management division evolved to become the Customer Experience Management division. Why the change? Because what is needed from a quality professional in a bank losing money and trying to gain trust from customers is different from what is needed from them in a well established and trusted bank.
In short: Commitment from management that is fully embedded in the strategy, backed up with the investment in people and processes, supported by Quality Professionals evolving as the context of the business evolves.
Here is a story of a struggling board
So you may think that a story of failure is the complete opposite of a success story, and that a similar organisation has gone bust, etc… Sorry to disappoint you! It is not that simple. While no doubt, some bad management decisions could and would lead a business to collapse, failure can take various shapes and forms, espcially if growth is a key objective for a business. An organisation wants to go global and offer services on a large scale to customers. Committment from management was available and started to reflect in their strategy. The strategy and commitment did not focus on the voice of customer though. It focused on the bottom line. The sales process focused on retaining an essence of utmost fluidity. Who the ambassaders of this company were, what black books they had, and how quick could they bring in revenue was the key driver. The more the organisation added new customers to its global portfolio, the more they deemed themselves successful. The voice of customer, getting it right, and retaining relationships were overlooked by the shining new customer names that were added to the portfolio. In no time, the organisation found itself operating under a one-in-one-out model. All efforts were geared on how quickly they could get their products to market rather than how good the products are to secure customer retention. Every so often, the one-in-one-out strategy shocked their existence to the core and they had to rebuild their existence again. The company did not go bust and it is unlikely to do so anytime soon. Not having the focus that the bank’s new Chair had in the previous story means that this organisation is missing out on massive opportunities of sustainable growth.
In short: Lack of Quality does not mean immediate doom and collapse. Lack of Quality; however, has a constant chippingaway of an organisation culture and ability to sustain success for true growth.
With this in mind, what common language can we use at board levels to help facilitate the importance of Quality and improvement?
It is important to acknowledge the fact that for decades, and due to situational necessities, Quality has been perceived as a cost to an organisation. Boards that somewhat believed in quality appointed experts to police a process, department, production team or an entire business. They hired trusted people that would shed a non-biased light on how their business is operating. While today we frown upon such an approach, it is important to acknowledge at some point in time, this model worked for several organisations that are eager to re-establish consumer trust, abide by legislation, and uphold integrity. After all, quality surged formally a century ago to rebuild societies after WWI despite it being present in essence amongst peoples’ everyday lives.
The Chartered Quality Institute has played a significant role developing the profession globally and bringing it up to speed with today’s needs. You can read more about its 10 year strategy here. In this post though, I will share with you the 17 goals of sustainabile development established by the United Nations (UN) (featurd image in this post). This is the common language that boards can use to facilitate and instill the importance of Quality. It is not language used in one country, or two, but by all countires upholding the valus of the United Nations. Here are the 17 goals:
These goals are not aimed at achieving perfection, they are seeking sustainability. Business Leaders, Boards & Governance bodies should start implementing strategies that would marry the need to increase profit for shareholders while driving sustainability for their direct communities as a whole. I will take you through my favourite 3:
Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth:
The United Nations has a detailed explanation of what they mean by this. What stands out for me is ‘substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training’; and ‘Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalisation and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services’.
Did I hear a Quality Professional say ISO9004:2018 Managing for the sustained success of an organization — A quality management approach?
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production:
Some key targets for this as explained by the UN are ‘achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources’; and ‘Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle’.
Did I hear a Quality Professional say ISO9001:2018 Quality Management Systems, providing guidance and tools for companies and organisations who want to ensure that their products and services consistently meet customers’requirements, and that quality is consistently improved?
Goal 4: Quality Education:
‘By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’. This Goal 4 is my top favourite and presented in the end, because with Quality education and the necessary skills, you can help people understand the value of responsible consumption and production in establishing decent work and econominc growth.
Last year, I joined a professional body that looks after Non Executive Directors. NEDonBoard is a leading body in the UK looking after NEDs and Board Members. Their motto is Connect – Knowledge – Authority. Attending various educational events and panel discussion on boards’ hot topics in 2019 has opened my eyes to 2 key things:
- The various legislations boards operate under
- The common problems that pose the necessity to have a governance framework that helps in generating profit, and making it sustainable.