Monday, July 30, 2012

New insights on Quality, People, and Culture

Two new documents came across my desk today; both are worth mentioning.  One, “Organizational Culture, Tenure, and Willingness to Participate in Continuous Improvements in Healthcare” by Marco Lam, York and Dan Robertson is the lead article in the July 2012 edition of the ASQ Quality Management Journal.  You can find it at the ASQ site [].  The other is a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) version of a new ISO document ISO 10018:2012 “Quality management –Guidelines on people and involvement and competence”.    

What ties these two documents together is that both focus in the the importance of people within an organization to make or break an effective Quality environment.  

There is lots of literature that describes what happens when people in the organization are not engaged in developing and embracing a Quality Culture.  They either put barriers in the way, or they interfere with the implementation, or worst of all they ignore the whole process.  All these are tactics that interfere with the Quality process, and they can undermine the work environment and can undermine the company.  

Getting people on board with Quality may be one of the most significant initiatives that an organization can undertake.

FDIS 10018 is ISO Technical Committee 176’s offering of an approach to bring people on board with Quality Management, as it is expressed through ISO9001:2008.  First, to be clear, it is not a “normative:” document.  You see a lot of “can” and “should” but no “shall”.  You can translate this as “we think this is a helpful guide that you may want to consider”. 

It is pretty straightforward document and philosophy; it leans heavily on the notions of open communication, teamwork, leadership, and Quality application, innovation and improvement.  It is well written and provides some helpful thoughts that should resonate in the smaller organization.  

This 10018 document is not so much an implementation guide.  There are better documents to help with Quality implementation; consider for example “Canadian Standards Association ISO9001:2008 Essentials”.  This is more of a fine tuning document that provides some guides to help improve the organization that feels that it is not getting as much out of Quality Management as it could or should.

The article by Lam and Robertson is something very different.  It is an example of survey based research designed to answer some specific questions.  
In this case the questions are ones well worth asking:  

  • If individuals perceive that their organization is committed to continuous improvement (QI), are they more likely to volunteer to participate in QI that do not perceive the organization is the same way?  
  • Are individuals who feel stable and secure (tenure) more likely to volunteer for QI projects that those that feel less secure?
  • How do secure and less secure people engage in quality initiatives if they believe the organization is not really interested in Quality?

Understanding how people in a organization feel and act are very important, and it would be wonderful if we had better tools to work with than opinion surveys, but they did come to a few insights. 

First off, people who feel stable and secure are NOT more likely to be the folks that volunteer for QI projects, but people who thought that being stable and secure with the organization was desirable did volunteer more.  
Second, if people feel the organization is committed to Quality they are more likely to volunteer.  
Third, if people feel the organizations approach to Quality is more a “flavour of the day”, workers may still participate, but NOT  to the same extent.  

On the surface these may appear to be pretty mushy conclusions, but from my perspective they support my own experience.  Don’t look to the “old-timers” to come on board with Quality projects; look rather to the folks that are the “up-and-comers” who are the people who want to be tomorrow’s leaders.  And second, you can’t fool up-and-comers; the more committed you are, they more committed they will be.  Try to fool them with flash, they will see through it.  They will participate, learn the skills they want and need and move on.  

And management is left asking themselves, “what happened to all our aspiring up-and-comers?”  

And that is never a good thing.

PS:  At the moment you can not purchase ISO 10018.  For those interested, contact your National Standards agency (ANSI, SCC, BSI, AFNOR, etc) for more information.

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