Quality has become the philosophers’ stone of management practice with Business Coaches, Consultants & Management Gurus.
The concept of ‘quality management programmes’, has almost evolved into a prescriptive set of ‘correct practises’ and ‘out-of-the-box’ techniques. Conventional approaches to quality management advocate that quality programmes must be led by senior management, if possible address cross company issues and involve an external consultant or business coach.
Many quality programmes adhere to a single formula, have a limited impact, and preclude real innovation because of the narrow focus of the programme which often focuses on a single-task. Typically, quality programmes involve small and specially formed groups which shifts the focus away from the people engaged in the day-to-day delivery of the organisation’s products and services.
This approach to quality management is dated and is being challenged. The contemporary manager needs to become the ‘quality champion’. Today’s manager needs to be the instigator, driver and expert on continuously improving quality: the days of irregular, one-off large scale quality programmes are numbered. Organisations that fail to implement continuous quality improvement in favour of ‘step-change’ programmes are becoming obsolete.
So What is ‘Quality’?
‘Quality’ has come to refer to a whole range of practices, standards and models such as Six Sigma, ISO 9001, Kaizen, and Lean Manufacture. Of course, there is a place for all of these, but the real impact comes through the consistent, frequent implementation of small, incremental improvements and the development of a quality culture. This requires the humble manager, team leader and team members to be at the forefront of quality rather than solely senior management and external experts in quality and organisational change.
In essence, quality has more to do with meeting and exceeding customer expectations than it does with new initiatives and change programmes. By making the focus of every decision around the meeting and, if possible, customers needs and wishes turns quality management upside down. Managers, team leaders and team members armed with the knowledge, skills and authority to provide what the customer wants, provides organisations with a huge, new, unlimited resource: the power of the TEAM.
This approach is not philanthropy; it is today’s new model for basic survival. Whilst quality is not the sole criterion when selecting a particular supplier, it has become an important differentiator and for many enlightened organisations it has become their competitive advantage. Consistency of quality coupled with continuous improvement and minor up-grades which add value is a central strategy for retaining customers.
Quality is that something extra which will be perceived by the customer as a valid reason for either paying more or for buying again. Regarding service, quality can be described as how well the job is done and how the customer feels about the service they have received.
Quality as Reliability and People
The clearest manifestation of ‘quality’ is reliability. It is like the old adage, “When is a refrigerator not a refrigerator?” The answer is when it it is in Edinburgh but the customer requires it in Birmingham! A missed delivery deadline be it a website design, a delivery of new stock, the installation of new plant or a missed customer review meeting or product up-grade are all examples of poor quality.
It might be an old cliché, but an organisation’s most valuable asset is still people and especially the ones who are best placed to make substantial contributions to quality: this is usefully the front line team. They usually know intimately what the potential problems and pitfalls are and, if asked and given an opportunity to make suggestions, know how to solve the problems and improve quality.
Bigger Quality Problems
Obviously, there are also occasions where organisations need to resolve serious or major quality issues which are outside of the knowledge and authority limits of frontline team members. In the past, organisations would engage a consultant to analyse the problem and then to develop and implement a solution. That is the old way! Increasingly, managers are undertaking the role of the ‘internal consultant’ and the consultancy process is being internalised.
The adoption of the ‘internal consultant’ opens up huge and almost unlimited opportunities for continuous improvement and up-grading of quality. It has the added advantage of reducing the cost of external consultants, being able to tap into the knowledge and expertise within the organisations and providing managers and team leaders with personal development opportunities. Change and process improvements developed and driven by the people who are most affected by them (i.e. managers, team leaders and team members) immediately increase the likelihood of adoption and success.
Developing the Manager as an Internal Consultant is a cost effective alternative to the conventional outsourcing strategy. Courses such as our Professional Consulting Qualifications can be completed as a Distance Learning programme or as In-Company Training where there are six or more ‘would-be’ internal consultants. Such courses provide the tools, models and techniques required to plan, implement and evaluate the impact of internal consulting projects. Programmes delivered by Exponential include exactly the same tools and techniques as used by full-time professional management consultants.