Creating a Quality Culture

Posted on August 21, 2012  Comments (2)

This month Paul Borawski (CEO of ASQ) has asked the ASQ Influential Voices to share their thoughts on the Feelings and Quality Culture.

I don’t think creating a culture of continual management improvement is complex but it takes more commitment than most organizations seem to have. To build a culture that supports customer focused continuous improvement a management system needs to reinforce consistent behavior over the long term.

There is far too much saying certain things (customers are valued, people are our most important assets, etc.) but not backing those claims up with management systems that would be needed to operationalize those beliefs. Failing to do this just results in surface changes that have no depth or commitment and will shift with the winds (no culture change).

It is very difficult to create a culture that supports customer focused continuous improvement that doesn’t understand the failings of: extrinsic motivation and arbitrary numerical goals.

An understanding of variation and how to properly use data to aid improvement is also critical (otherwise huge amount of waste are generated on all sorts of fruitless efforts to explain common cause variation leaving far to little time to actually for on quality). An appreciation of the long term is necessary, which means reducing time spent on trivially urgent matters so focus can be given to important but not urgent matters.

And a respect for people is needed: a real respect, not just claims – which nearly every organization makes. The huge egos of most USA senior executives result in them taking huge amounts from the company to such an extent that they are inherently dis-respectful. The hero culture they profess with their pay package makes it extremely difficult for anyone to take them seriously when they claim to care about a culture that values the stakeholders of the organization.


Culture is what builds based on day to day decisions over many years. Culture isn’t expressed in claims about beliefs, culture is defined by the actions that are taken.

You can’t buy culture change. You have to live it. It isn’t complex, but it is difficult. It requires actually thinking and working differently not just adding some power points to the deck and thinking culture is now taken care of.

I don’t see most senior executives in the USA having any interest in a quality culture. Very few have any evidence they will put beliefs above what they can extract from the company (a few act honorably but I am very disappointed in most of them). Which sets the tone that everyone should focus on getting the most they can from the company, first. That is the prevailing wisdom of the current executive class. It also is about as antithetical to what is needed to create a quality culture as you can present as the leaders of an organization.

It seems to me most people have given up any hope of getting senior executives to behave honorably on pay. Failure to address the issue creates huge problems in many ways. And one of those problems is in trying to get everyone else, that isn’t allowed to be massively overpaid, to act as though we are part of something worth building. Along with all the other contradictions with a quality culture it embodies (disrespect for stakeholders, hero worship versus building strong systems, not understanding variation etc.).

Related: Build the Capability of the OrganizationDo What You Say You WillDo What You Say You WillDrucker: “contempt for the super-corporate chieftains who pay themselves millions”

2 Responses to “Creating a Quality Culture”

  1. Larry Getts
    August 26th, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

    What can I do as a continuous improvement manager when top management is behaving exactly the way you are describing? They say they want the culture change, and want me to implement it, but don’t want to do any of the things that must be done to create it. Our employees know it, our supervisors know it, I know it; we are “playing” continuous improvement without the support of upper management.

  2. John Hunter
    August 26th, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

    When top management is just giving lip service to improvement the challenge is very large. Finding a new job is often the best solution. But if you want to try where you are the best advice I have is in:

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2010/12/06/how-to-get-a-new-management-strategy-tool-or-concept-adopted/

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2012/03/19/selling-quality-improvement/

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2010/02/09/circle-of-influence/

    and the links within those posts. The short answer is you need build a belief in improvement that can’t be stopped by those addicted to poor management practices that have power. That is done by successful improvement that wins over those that matter (you often can’t win over everyone but some can accept new ways of working that are successful).

    If you go somewhere else you have to be careful in finding a place that is actually committed to managing well and continual improvement. It is rare, sadly.

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