Creating a quality culture within your business is not as difficult as it may seem but it can require a shift in thinking. Quality can no longer be defined by international standards or statistical measures of defects alone. Today quality is defined by the customer and delighting the customer must be the focus of a quality culture. Traditionally quality has been defined by statistical measures of error rates and quality improvement has been focused on reducing variation in linear processes and eliminating errors in production. These measures of quality have been imposed from the top down with little input from front line staff. Producing a perfect product according to internal standards however does not guarantee the product will meet customer expectations of quality. Any cultural change requires engagement and ownership by all levels of staff within an organization. When the customer perspective is made central to the definition of quality it makes sense to use front line staff to be the architects of a quality culture. It is the front line staff in your business who have the most frequent contact with your customers. They engage on a personal level and obtain information that cannot be gained from impersonal surveys. They have intimate knowledge of what is required to meet and exceed customer expectations. Often front line staff are resistant to change. This resistance is not because they want to keep the status quo but because they have been through multiple change programs, driven from the top that had little impact and fewer results. Taking a practical approach that involves staff and recognizes the value of their knowledge will engage staff more quickly than a business wide conceptual launch of a new change program. Steps to introducing a quality culture. Step 1: Set up discussion groups of front line staff with the specific purpose of identifying the three most common complaints by customers from a front line perspective. Step 2: Conduct workshops with front line staff to precisely define the problems and create solutions. Prepare action plans to present to management for approval to proceed. It is important that the decision is made at the close of the workshop so action to implement can take place immediately. Step 3: Empower front line staff by delegating the necessary authority for them to implement the solutions. Action plans require clear responsibilities, accountable drivers, identified sponsors and an implementation deadline within three months. Step 4: Encourage regular discussions about current customer dissatisfaction and provide permission for front line staff to take action. This tactical approach allows staff to take control over improving quality for the customer. They will see and receive credit for the improvements and rather than being an intangible concept, improving quality will become embedded as a way of doing business.
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