During the 80’s, 90’s and even up to about 2005, people in leadership positions talked all the time about quality. It was a known concept and considered to be vital to short and long term success. Then, starting in the first decade of this new century, more and more people stopped talking to me about it and stopped including it within their strategic plans.
The new word that replaced quality was “systems”. Starting over 20 years ago, systems and processes became the hot topic. Everyone wanted to build new and better ones. They wanted them to be standardized and often centralized in order to be more efficient. And, at the time, given the state of many organizations’ systems or lack thereof, this was a smart choice.
However, the cost of focusing on systems, processes and all the related technology was that the topic of quality became a secondary or even tertiary topic of discussion for many leaders. It just wasn’t on the New York Times best-seller list of books or concepts. Many felt like they “had been there and done that” during their earlier careers. Still, I think it is time that we revisit the concept of quality and not regulate it to the dust bin of history.
In the past, quality was the result of getting people to do what needed to be done through rules, regulations and micro-management. In many work places, fear in combination with controlling people through centralized authority caused some degree of quality to take place.
Then, over the decades and with the rise of global competition in combination with economic, political and massive social changes, quality was recognized to be the result of trust, respect and clarity. Rather than being a top down outcome, it was more of an inside-out approach related, in part, to self-confidence, personal clarity, and effective teamwork.
Furthermore quality, be it in services or products, was achieved through thoughtful, quick and flexible responsiveness to internal partners or external customer needs. In short, quality outcomes happened because people believed in quality and the related systems supported people to make quality decisions.
As leaders, the first step to generating quality in the midst of these wickedly challenging times, is to remember three key points:
- people want to make a difference.
- people care about the work they are doing, want to do a good job and want to know they are making progress.
- people want to be in win/win relationships.
For organizations to become nimble, flexible and agile during the next two years, we need to remember the above key points and to recognize that when people feel like they are making a difference, doing a good job, making progress on a daily basis, and doing all of this within a win/win work environment, then quality based decision-making will become a cultural norm.
From my experiences over many decades, it has become quite clear to me that quality happens when people feel like they and the work they are doing is respected by those in supervisory, management and leadership positions.
This week, sit down with your team and discuss with them the things that need to be in place for quality to become a consistent outcome. It will be an illuminating discussion.