Over the years, I have seen firsthand that there seems to be no shortage of opportunities for quality professionals to become an irreplaceable member of an organization if they are highly skilled in resolving issues.

Those who become successful in firefighting within organizations with chronic firefighting are often rewarded with an endless supply of problems to tackle, and issues to resolve. Sometimes jokingly referred to as “job security” by those stuck in the mire, chronic issues are often a symptom of a culture that perpetuates a reactive approach instead of a preventive one.

Organizations with this kind of culture tend to be too focused on short-term successes. In these organizations, resolving issues at the surface, just enough to get things moving takes precedence over truly resolving issues at the root cause.

In these kinds of cultures, it is difficult for quality professionals to shift to resolving issues at their origin, and work to develop proactive mitigation processes, because the emphasis in their day-to-day work is to focus on the urgent matters. They are not likely given the proper resources to address issues in a long-term sense, only allowing for quick Band-Aid approaches to resolution.

Although successful firefighters may be celebrated for their abilities to keep things moving, and can often be rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically, even the most dogged ones are at risk of burnout if they are in a constant state of reactive management. Therefore, those stuck in the perpetual cycle of firefighting would be best served by taking steps to move toward a proactive approach to manage and mitigate risks.

Making this kind of shift can be a monumental task, requiring a multifaceted approach.

However, when successful, it can be transformational for an organization and its workforce, and thus, the end results are worth the effort.

Start making your case by providing data and examples.

Start making your case by providing data and examples of the impacts and costs that poor quality has had on your organization, including both visible costs and hidden costs. When possible, focus on impacts from an urgent reoccurring issue where recurrence could have been prevented with previous proper root cause analysis and resolution at the problem’s origins.

Once you have made the case for proper resources and time for issues to be resolved properly, begin to utilize cross-functional teams, including input from frontline workers, to get to the root of your problems, identify all contributing factors and process improvement needs, while considering upstream and downstream impacts, and create an action plan accordingly. Document the current state of the processes, along with the desired future state and make sure to assign accountability to a process owner, who will be responsible for ensuring that processes are reviewed and updated in the future as additional improvement ideas are generated.

As each process improvement project is completed, quantify the positive impacts, as you will be able to gain even more momentum in shifting perception, eventually being able to adopt a more proactive mindset in preventing issues, instead of addressing them.

The organization’s culture won’t change overnight, nor will it from the fruits of one improvement project, but over time, as front line workers are engaged, workflows are evaluated, tools such as Plan-Do-Check-Act are integrated, and improvement projects are deployed, thus fixing issues at their genesis, teams will begin to see the value, and take ownership of their processes. This will allow the culture to shift from one focused on short term results to one focused on continuous improvement and long term effectiveness.

Luckily, ASQ has many resources available to quality professionals wanting to learn more about how to move left, and shift from reactive to proactive quality, how to deploy quality tools and philosophies for real results, and most importantly, how to influence leadership regarding the impacts and costs of poor quality, and the value of embracing continuous improvement.

I encourage anyone who is embarking on the journey of transforming an organization, and moving from firefighter to proactive quality leader to leverage ASQ for the many resources it has to offer, and get involved in a local chapter and the technical division that most closely matches their industry.