During my courses preparing quality professionals to successfully take certification exams offered by American Society for Quality (ASQ), one topic that constantly comes up is the challenge of getting organizational management to support quality initiatives.

In previous columns, I’ve written about selling and getting management buy-in for programs, projects, and initiatives but this issue continues to plague quality professionals.

Key management support, or lack of support, manifests itself in many ways. One way is that mid-lower level management won’t get on board so initiatives encounter all sorts of hurdles; therefore, results don’t generally live up to expectations. Ultimately, who gets blamed and suffers the consequences? 

Additionally less support for quality initiatives usually results in underfunding and cuts in resources. So how you get management to understand how important quality is to your organization? The key lies in the answers to some basic questions I learned many years ago from some wise mentors. 

Have you done a root cause analysis to determine why key managers do not give you the support and resources required in order to be successful? Have you used your tools on yourself and your problem (that your idea or project is supposed to solve)? What kind of business case was developed for your requirements? The answer, typically, to each of these questions is “No,” so is it any surprise you didn’t get support?

Quality professionals must learn the language of management which Philip B. Crosby, and other experts, said is money. After all, money needs to be spent where it provides the best return on investment (ROI). 

Does your business case provide enough information to justify your ROI projections? Managers want to see that you’ve thought the problem through and are providing them with an effective solution that will increase profitability. Managers have control of only so much money and not every good idea will get proper funding.

What value do you and your peers provide from management’s perspective? Quality professionals must understand they serve their organizations at the behest of management. If you’re not creating value you’re expendable—it’s that simple. 

Quality professionals should be the key proponents of values from the customer’s perspective, and consider that managers should also be viewed as their customer as well. What do managers value about your contributions? If the answer to that question is very little or even worse, nothing, ask yourself why.
Have you asked your boss what keeps him/her up at night? THAT is what they will be focusing on and willing to fund. As quality professionals, are you and your team providing your boss with assistance in solving that particular issue? If not, you and your team need to refocus your aim.

Most often, programs, projects, initiatives, and people are cut or underfunded because key managers do not appreciate their long-term strategic value. I learned this about three decades ago when I was trying to deal with an immediate crisis that required large amounts of capital to be reprioritized in order to solve an important issue.

Have you viewed your plans through your management’s eyes and sought to understand why they’re taking the approach that is adversely affecting program, project, or initiative? If you find yourself in a situation where the cuts make no sense, you should redouble your efforts to understand the tactical situation your management, and ultimately you, are facing.

At last is the issue of why mid-lower level management won’t get on board to comply with initiatives. Compliance in this is only skin deep, and commitment is most often completely absent. People will only go through the motions when made to do something. One of my earlier mentors called this ‘malicious compliance.’
Instead of waiting for senior managers to demand mid-lower level managers work with you, use data and the art of persuasion. Over the years I’ve come to believe that true leadership is the use of influence in the absence of authority.

What have you done to influence managers to believe that the actions you believe need to be implemented are correct and will provide the greatest value and ROI for the organization? Are you building a case for why your initiative is the best use of money? If not, don’t be surprised if you don’t gain the support your initiative so deserves. In the end, it’s actually up to you!