Could “Living” Quality Be The Route To Sustainability?

culture of quality, corporate culture, Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan KureyA colleague and I were recently discussing whether there was truly an increase in the speed of technological change and turbulence in the business world now versus any other time in history. The twentieth century certainly saw huge leaps in technology and you could even argue the the Industrial Revolution (approximately 1760 to about 1840) was a time of change and turbulence. But one thing is true. When there is great change,  there are philosophical shifts that accompany technological changes. Corporate culture is certainly an expression of those philosophical shifts.

Philosophical shifts change how companies produce

The current workplace trends are showing how these philosophical changes are taking place. Assumptions about customers have been challenged by social media and Big Data. Leadership and the ways companies are organized are focused on ways to increase employee engagement. There is more movement to remote working, flatter organizations and fostering more ownership by everyone in the company. Still, there is tension between seeing world as potentially open and constraining.

In all of these trends is the pursuit of quality

Seeking differentiation in the marketplace in the short term and sustainability for the long term, companies are looking to define quality.  According to Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan Kurey, consistent quality may be elusive at times because

“…the likelihood of error has risen. In many industries, cycle times are compressing. During the recovery from the Great Recession, output gains have outpaced employment growth, and employees report straining to keep up with demands.

Due to these factors, Srinivasan and Kurey say that a new approach to quality is necessary.

So what is a “true culture of quality?”

Srinivasan and Kurey wriite in their Harvard Business Review article that when employees “live” quality as a personal value rather than being told to comply, companies create an environment where there are fewer mistakes and a healthier bottom line. While it is tempting to see this through a lens of kaizen or other total quality management, it is more than this. There are four factors that support quality as an overall cultural value.

  • leadership emphasis
  • message credibility
  • peer involvement
  • employee ownership of quality issues

Moving towards sustainability

It seems that making quality a part of the corporate culture would naturally lead to sustainablity. Yet, it is clear from the research done by Srinivasan and Kurey that the corporate culture has to be part of everyday behavior, a living reality. One thing that is less clear is how quality is defined. Is it like kaizen and involves incremental steps towards making things better? Or is it more about taking pride in one’s work? But perhaps creating a culture of quality is both and more. According to Jim Dougherty, corporate culture has to be part of the business model. The emphasis on quality seems akin to the search for excellence. It takes all levels of the organization to make the four factors work on a daily basis. This is how corporate culture is expressed anyway. If this alignment is complete, it is more likely for a company to be sustainable.

This is merely the beginning of this conversation so please join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, March 28, 2014 at 4pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT. We welcome your thoughts and insights about how “living” quality could be the route to sustainability.

 

How would you define a “culture of quality?”

Who is best suited to define what is quality? Why?

What types of obstacles might prevent a “culture of quality” from developing?

How would you hire to create a “culture of quality”?

What relationship do you see between “culture of quality” and sustainability?

 

 

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