A quality culture is led by managers who believe their company exists to create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself, its employees and its customers

What is culture? Culture is the shared beliefs, values, attitudes and behavior patterns that characterize the members of a family, a community or an organization. In a healthy business culture, what is good for the company and its customers come together to become the driving force behind how everyone behaves.

A quality culture begins with managers and leaders who believe in the necessity of serving customers in order for their organizations to succeed. The result of that understanding is a culture where a positive internal environment and the creation of delighted customers go together.

A great strength of total quality management (TQM) is that it shows that growth, profitability, customer satisfaction and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are mutually supportive and necessary to succeed over the long haul.

Strong quality cultures begin with core cultural values. Behavior is the direct result of a person’s values and assumptions. If we know what your values are, we can better understand what you are likely to do in various situations.

What are values? Essentially, they are our basic beliefs about what is right, good, correct, desirable and moral. We can think of values as a mental toolkit we use to understand how to relate to various circumstances and decide what action to take. All of us behave in ways that are consistent with our values.

In an organization employees will behave in ways that are consistent with the core values of the culture. Who establishes these core values? Everyone has a role, but managers and leaders are the ones responsible for establishing those values.

In defining a set of desirable values for a corporate culture, we choose values not for their relative popularity, but rather for their utility in describing an organization that is worth working for. The list of core values has only three items-integrity, customer focus and people.

Integrity. The cornerstone of all that is honorable, integrity is a value that requires us, in all our relationships, to conduct ourselves in an honest, truthful and straightforward manner. An organization with integrity at its core believes in a high-trust environment, honoring commitments, an absence of noxious politics, true teamwork and an open exchange of ideas.

Customer focus. Anyone working in the business world is torn repeatedly by having to make difficult choices. We’re not talking about technical decisions. We are talking about judgment calls such as, “Do we ship the product today or work on it to get it right?”

Doing the right thing for the customer may sometimes cause internal organizational pain. If you don’t do that, however, then all you’re doing is deferring the pain to a later date and it will be more expensive. In addition, failure to do the right thing has a lasting negative effect, not only on customers, but for employees as well.

Customer focus has many cultural manifestations: a drive to release products on time, a passion for creativity and quality, and products that are genuinely fit for use. However, it all starts with having the courage to ask the question first, “What is best for the customer?”

People. No matter the size of the business, people are an organization’s number one asset. Our people play critical roles in the success of the organization. Organizations are the collective sum of their people and their output, such as products and services.

Employees should be seen as assets, not expenses. Assets are something to invest in. Organizations with a strong quality culture invest heavily in all their assets, including their people. They invest in upgrading the skills and knowledge of their number one asset. Leaders institutionalize ways in which to recognize and reward positive behaviors they want to reinforce. In turn, employees in a positive quality environment become more engaged, productive, receptive to change and motivated to succeed. Everyone wins.

Leaders must be willing to accept that a quality culture is critical to their survival. They must step forward to demonstrate their commitment to that quality. All employees must nurture that environment and share ownership of the culture of quality. We are all in this together.