It is not uncommon to blame senior management for most of what ails an organization. However, it is past time to rethink this attitude! While management is not blameless, they are more often a scapegoat rather than a root cause to the problems facing the quality profession. It is up to quality professionals to re-ignite the quality firestorm—the flame is not eternal and must be constantly rekindled. In recent times the quality fire has been doused by far too much busy work.

Senior management buy-in and support of quality initiatives was a common theme of quality giants W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, et al, and this certainly remains true today. However, it is time to reevaluate the issue of senior management support that Deming and Juran postulated because things have changed.
In years past organizations with dedicated quality functions called on the skills of their quality professionals to drive improvements. The quality professionals led the improvement parade. In many organizations that’s no longer the case. 

The quality parade was essentially replaced by trends du jour like ISO9000, Baldrige, Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing. Don’t misunderstand; I’m a huge supporter of each of these initiatives and even helped champion them while working for a Fortune 50 company. However, they aren’t a silver bullet.

Quality professionals, in many organizations, are no longer operating at the height of the quality movement. They are operating in an environment where top management has spent lots of money on quality programs; however, in many cases these programs have not delivered the results expected. As an example, in some organizations, the main effect of ISO9000 registration has been the erosion in time available for their quality group to tackle projects that would actually deliver bottom-line results. As with many organizations the focus was on attaining or maintaining quality certificates, not on improvement. As a result everyone suffers.

Far too often senior management is just not supportive of their quality group. For many managers it’s seen as something that must be tolerated to maintain customer requirements or external certification. Where I differ from many colleagues is that it is my belief that some of that lack of support is justified!

Quality professionals must realize they serve at the behest of senior management and will do so as long as they deliver real value to the organization. When the quality group focuses on non-value-added paperwork instead of improvement, who can blame senior management for losing faith in their quality group?

I strongly agree that getting senior management support is critical to any quality initiative. The issue now, however, is not how to get that support, but how to regain the support that has waned or been lost by a lack of confidence in the value delivered. The good news for quality professionals that find themselves in this predicament is that such support can be regained, but not without significant effort.

The most effective way to regain support for fundamental quality techniques is to demonstrate the effectiveness of such tools. Make it easy for senior management to endorse basic, not trendy or expensive, quality methods again. By this I am not advocating throwing out the ISO9000’s of the world, because such initiatives are key tools, but getting back to the basics.

To start this initiative, pick a problem where the use of basic quality techniques could solve the issue. Ideally, like Juran recommended, the problem should be a high profile, chronic concern affecting profitability. It can also be effective to gain support of a key senior manager who has such a problem plaguing his/her department. Once identified, attack the problem aggressively using solid quality techniques.

The resulting successful effort should be well documented with a final report distributed to senior management. These managers will step all over each other to jump in the quality parade when they see that the improvements realized generated important bottom-line results. I guarantee that senior managers will be strong advocates and want to be part of the celebration when they see the results attained improved the bottom line. After all, who doesn’t like a success story!

The building of a quality parade and regaining management support usually requires adding to your workload. So the ultimate question is: “Are you prepared and willing to put in the time and effort to demonstrate the power of the basic quality techniques?” Are you ready to lead the parade or do you find it easier to complain?

In most cases, blaming senior management is nothing more than a self-victimizing excuse to do nothing to change. If you don’t like the current situation it’s up to you to change it!