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Quality: realising your competitive potential

John Mills, our Head of QHSE, discusses the impact of quality management, focusing on the theme of World Quality Week 2023, realising your competitive potential. He explores the importance of quality improvement in ensuring sustained success throughout a business, both for the individual and the teams they work in.

What does quality mean to us?

Quality management involves optimising an organisation’s performance to meet the needs of its stakeholders, including enhancements in products, services, systems, and processes, as well as ensuring the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the entire organisation. It means something different to everyone, from business leaders and managers to those on a shop floor or production environment.

Everyone’s standard of quality is often shaped by a culmination of early experiences, including their diligence in completing homework, punctuality, and the guidance and upbringing provided by their parents or caregivers. These formative experiences contribute significantly to foundational quality milestones and behaviours, setting a foundation even before higher education or business. As we migrate from education into working in a business environment, there will be differences in understanding the importance of quality, and how much this can impact success.

Line managers and supervisors have a vital role in setting the tone for quality. They should create and set standards to develop and educate their team, measuring targets to drive quality improvement and ensuring their teams strive for excellence.

Quality is everywhere.

Quality feeds into all aspects of our lives; the quality of the car you buy, the roads you drive on, the places you visit, it is endless. Transferring this perspective to the workplace is no exception. In the professional context, every task and activity is associated with a specific level of quality. This could be composing emails, participating in meetings, or creating reports. The primary goal should be to empower all individuals in your team to engage in self-assessment, recognising their potential to initiate and drive quality improvements.

Is certification enough?

Many companies have ISO 9001 or other quality certifications, depending on the industry they are in. These may ‘tick the box’ for their customers and collaborators when conducting prequalifying assessments, but don’t guarantee success.

While the ISO criteria and the central theme of this year’s World Quality Week emphasise the importance of improvement, it is essential to acknowledge that unless there is an internal dedication to harnessing the potential and realising the benefits of these additional enhancements, their true potential will never be revealed.

A company’s most significant potential resides in its capacity to foster innovative ideas and engage its workforce to identify areas for improvement or address issues that may not be functioning optimally. ISO standards and customer requirements, while important, may not bring this out. Standards serve as a foundation, but they should not dictate the improvement process of an organisation. Instead, the organisation should proactively lead the way in pursuing improvements, and the standards should subsequently align to validate these actions.

What else can we do?

Quality can vary significantly across a business, as each department possesses unique objectives, processes, operations, requirements and individual talents and perspectives within those teams. Every organisation contains silos of different quality departments, each operating at different levels of maturity and potential. Some departments are well-developed, advanced, and firmly established in their quality practices, while others lack a comprehensive understanding or ongoing development of what quality truly means in their area.

Breaching the quality canopy in your organisation's rainforest

A great and simple aid for sub-departments in an organisation is to ask what are our quality goals or objectives and how can we get better and document them?

Many companies have standardised high-level objectives, targets and KPIs set in place each year to achieve and measure (the canopy of measurements). However, much greater value lies within the lower ‘forest floor’ foundations, from departments adjusting and making smaller changes to drive new quality ‘stems’ to shoot through and rise above the ‘canopy of KPIs and targets already in place’. These newly targeted improvements or changes in how an organisation works are much more effective, and often come from those who can affect the change. This challenges the modern theory of standard KPIs and objectives.

Looking ahead

The principle of quality management is that it can always be improved, striving for success through continuous development to improve what we do individually and collectively. We can make savings and be better for the environment and our communities. Potential lays dormant in every business and there is always something to enhance. The most important question for an organisation to ask themselves is how much they want to do that.