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Over my nearly 50 years of industrial experience I’ve had the opportunity of working with many quality professionals from across a broad spectrum. The primary problem most quality professionals want to discuss is their relationship with management, or more accurately, their lack of relationship. Most want advice about how to deal with inaction and conflict with their management.
Many are surprised when I tell them that the real problem likely rests with us, the quality professional, not with management! I spent many years in various quality functions as well as operations, engineering, R&D, etc., before retiring as a senior leader in a Fortune 50 company. This experience gave me a unique perspective.
It isn’t that managers don’t care about quality. From my observations the majority really do care. Many managers, however, just don’t understand quality. Furthermore, most don’t know how to use it as a competitive advantage instead of treating it as a problem. Management’s primary job is to create a reliable organization, and quality lies at the core of that challenge.
It’s not enough to know all there is about quality. It’s our job to educate management and never permit them to make an uninformed decision. Many quality professionals, however, haven’t done an adequate job communicating the importance of quality to their management. Consider the following five issues why quality professionals are having problems:
- Quality professionals don’t understand the language of management. Managers talk about sales, profit and loss, etc. Each of these categories has code words with specific meanings and numbers that are used to measure progress toward meeting targets. Quality enhances profitability so why isn’t quality a prime category? We’ve failed to educate our managers.
- Managers don’t understand the language of quality. Managers think quality means goodness but it really means doing what you said you would. Most managers ignore those who incessantly talk in terms of goodness (such as defects per million). For example, managers will generally accept achieving ISO9000 certification as a marketing necessity. However, if we try to convince them that third party accreditation makes a difference in the conformance and output, we typically lose credibility because of the perceived baggage of excess procedures. Managers are extremely busy people, just like everyone else, so they expect their functional leaders to be able to explain what they do in a few sentences. In other words, plan your approach, know what you need to say, and get to the point. But put it in management terms. The “So what…” answers the impact to the bottom line!
- Quality professionals struggle with self-image. In many organizations the quality staff takes a lot of abuse and is under constant pressure of justification, elimination, or downsizing, even in good economic times. This ultimately takes its toll on the psyche. Quality professionals need to take charge of making their organizations reliable. They will get a lot of the credit for this and their efforts will be appreciated. This is where money, status and respectability originate.
- Quality professionals don’t learn well from the non-technical experience of others. With a non-technical degree I rose from an entry level factory position to retire in a senior management position in a large company. Along the way I also acquired several ASQ certifications, an ASQ Fellow and two Quality Professional of the Year awards from international organizations.
- Success, however, came because I was useful and reliable to my company. Remember that becoming a team player who consistently delivers value and takes business risk will be noticed and rewarded.
- Quality professionals think quality is a technical entity. Sometimes quality professionals concentrate on corrective action rather than prevention. Quality certifications are certainly valuable but only indicate you have some specific knowledge. It’s what you do with that knowledge that counts!
The solution to these problems doesn’t require a meltdown and reconfiguration of management, or a new set of procedures. The solution just might lie in our own hands. Remember we serve at the discretion of management so we must learn their language if we want to help our organizations succeed, and help ourselves along the way.
What’s the first thing you should do after reading this column? It might be to take time to assess your credibility and influence with management and develop a different approach. Take time now to seriously think about where you are going with your career, or you may not like where you will ultimately end up. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.