Six key initiatives guaranteed to get the attention of management.

Over the years I’ve been involved with implementing many quality initiatives at my company and helping others after retirement. Add to this the almost 30 years of teaching advanced quality sciences, I’ve had the opportunity to field many questions from quality professionals about “why don’t my senior managers understand the value of ISO 9001 implementation?”

More frequently, and most recently, I get questions about how to implement specific aspects of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence of elements of ISO 9001. Often the query centers on whether a proposed implementation technique would comply with the standard for a specific company’s application. This type of question is normally technical but almost always easy to answer. Actually, the person asking the question typically has a good understanding of the answer and is just seeking confirmation.

However, sometimes a simple question becomes more complex. After a series of e-mails, text messages or phone calls, we discover the real issue is not related to understanding or application of the requirements, but rather to commitment or involvement of their senior leaders.

In these cases, the technical questions conceal a deeper problem in their organization. Because the senior managers do not understand the Baldrige Criteria or the linkage of ISO 9001 implementation to improved financial results, they continually ask, “Why are we doing this?” Once this underlying situation is perceived, there are several steps to formulating a good response.

First, it is important for quality professionals to understand that senior managers have a responsibility to question anything and everything that adds activities, time, cost or transaction to their business.

As quality professionals we would do well to ask these questions first. In fact, we become more valuable to our organizations when we are the first to ask and answer such questions related to value. To do this, we need to understand what motivates senior managers and present the quality management system (QMS) in language they clearly understand. We need to follow the teachings of two quality giants, Dr. Armand Feigenbaum and Philip B. Crosby, who repeatedly told us that the language of management is quantified in monetary terms and related directly to the needs of the business.

Many organizations that successfully implemented ISO 9001 have linked their implementation process to other things that were important to their business. This often happens by accident and may involve simple, straightforward issues, such as the potential loss of business if the QMS isn’t certified/registered by a certain date.

In such cases, some organizations achieve surprising improvements due to the discipline inherent in the implementation process. In these situations the results are due to transforming a chaotic company into a disciplined, well-oiled machine.

The real linkage to business results may well have been obscured by the excuse for QMS registration. Registration might have been required to get or retain business, but the other results-an efficient business machine-was not consciously intended.

Examples that tie the implementation or renewal of QMS to other business needs may evoke a response from quality professional such as, “That was great for them; they had a ready-made connection. We don’t.” And certainly that may be true of many organizations, but there are steps that the astute quality professional can take to promote the idea that even if the QMS isn’t broken, there are still opportunities to make it better because competitors are more than willing to step forward to take advantage of our weaknesses.

As quality professionals we can do a number of things to get and maintain the attention of senior management:

Speak their language (money). Analyze and act on quality cost data.

Understand and act on what motivates managers. Target improvements in business results by linking quality programs to the strategic and near-term needs of the business.

Take their objectives seriously. Tie quality to senior management’s objectives. This is relatively easy to do because quality touches all aspects of the business.

Connect quality to business results. Maintain this linkage throughout the organization.

Encourage continual improvement. Ensure the embedding of processes that make improvement happen at all levels in the organization.

Make management reviews important to senior managers. Turn management reviews into a process senior managers believe they can’t operate without.

Certainly, timing may be important to drive quality initiatives, but in current business environments we should be more than adequately prepared to put forth an economic case for quality. As quality professionals we need to take the initiative and be the catalyst for our organization’s drive for quality improvement.