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Mike Richman

Quality Insider

Understanding ‘The Culture of Quality’

ASQ/Forbes white paper provides insights that turn into actions

Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 13:30

Anyone, in any business, wants to have a culture of quality, and everyone, in a sense, does. But is that quality good or bad? Even more to the point, especially for top managers trying to inculcate excellence within the organization, how do you know the difference? How have leading quality-centric companies achieved their high states of quality, and what can they teach others about the journey?

These are some of the questions asked and answered in a new study, jointly published by the American Society for Quality and Forbes, titled “The Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise.”

This free white paper looks at the international culture of quality from the perspective of top managers as well as quality professionals. In addition to a wealth of raw data, the report also provides context through interviews with quality leaders and mini-case studies demonstrating how great organizations developed their cultures of quality. These details offer actionable intelligence to help readers improve the performance of their own companies.

Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Fedex, and Tata are some of the world-class companies interviewed in the report, with both C-suite executives as well as rank-and-file quality managers providing insights. However, top managers and quality professionals can view the relative success or failure of their company’s quality journey in quite different ways. In one rather surprising finding, 75 percent of surveyed senior executives stated that their companies embraced a “comprehensive, group-wide culture of quality”... but less than half of the quality professionals at those same companies agreed. This tendency to view one’s own quality less favorably the further one gets away from the executive suite is prevalent throughout the report.

Intel in particular is taking steps to address these concerns by polling team members on a regular basis about the relative success or failure of specific organizational initiatives. This information is shared with top managers, which fosters a spirit of partnership and understanding across the strata of the organization. It also helps the company avoid potential disconnections between perception and reality on the part of management and those nearer to process front lines. Ultimately, such open communication allows Intel to have a clearer picture of what is going right and what is going wrong in the organization.

Some other fascinating nuggets of information unearthed by the report demonstrate the vast differences between how ordinary companies and world-class ones manage for quality. Not surprising, the differences really begin to emerge when those organizations are polled about their relationships with customers. Take a look at a few selected quality metrics, and the percentages of respondents who replied “Highly applicable” when asked about them:

• “Identifying customer needs and expectations for quality”
All respondents: 24 percent
World-class organizations: 52 percent

• “Balancing value perceived by customers vs. delivery costs”
All respondents: 17 percent
World-class organizations: 41 percent

• “We actively involve customers in formal quality discussions”
All respondents: 24 percent
World-class organizations: 47 percent

• “We use big data to gauge customer needs”
All respondents: 16 percent
World-class organizations: 41 percent

The point, clearly, is that those organizations that best embody positive cultures of quality do so by thinking about their customers and how to serve them better. Much of that returns to the issue of intra-company communication—in other words, making sure that the path selected by top managers is understood and embodied by those throughout the enterprise. That is accomplished in many ways: formal training, goal setting, performance reviews, and incentives and reward systems.

Leading companies got that way because of investment in supporting quality initiatives, and if this white paper is to be believed, their lead on their respective competitors is about to get even wider. When asked about their plans for investment in quality during the next 18 months, 35 percent of world-class respondents indicated that these outlays would be “substantial” vs. just 17 percent for respondents overall.

Companies with a culture of great quality don’t achieve their success by accident, and although there is no “secret sauce,” world-class organizations have several things in common. First, their top management has made a deep and sustained commitment to quality, and includes these considerations in long-range strategic planning. From there, the message of quality is communicated throughout the organization, and firmly connected to tactical projects and programs. Risk-taking, innovation, and technological advancements are embraced, and the needs of customers are always front and center.

“From top to bottom and bottom to top, the company becomes a quality-driven ecosystem,” says Stephen Hacker, chair of the ASQ’s board of directors, speaking about the world-class quality enterprises described in the report. “From the C-suite to senior leaders, from middle-level managers to all departments, from the supply chain to customers, all [are] working in concert to achieve mutual objectives and improve operations.”

“The Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise” is available from ASQ and Forbes now; click here to download your copy.


About The Author

Mike Richman’s picture

Mike Richman


performance reviews & incentives? hogwash!

I enjoyed the article, but when i saw "performance reviews & incentives", I was disturbed.  It's sad the quality community continues to ignore Dr. Deming after all these years.  Pefromance reviews are one of the 7 deadly diseases and incentives shows a lack of understanding of human behavoir (you can only sustain intrinsic motivation, which is the best form anyway),  part of hat what Deming called the system of profound knowledge.  I suspect it's much easier to substitue performance reviews & incentives versus leadership.  I know Deming's work is esoteric & difficult to read, but if you want a clear description with lots of great examples, please see Dr Joiner's book: 4th Generation Management.

Audience effect, Known Responders

Of course the C suite responded the way they did. The answers were not anonymous. Did we expect the C suite to give any other lip service than "We are great?" I trust the validity of the responses from the willing workers more than the C Suite.

Quality first and above all? Well ...

It sounds very much as one of the many sailor's promises: in forty years career in quality business I've heard many leaders speaking these words but thinking opposite thoughts. Quality is a costly affair, and leaders are much too sensitive to the "right bottom figure" of their budget. Before understanding quality culture, any quality culture, leaders have to KNOW what a quality culture implies, in terms of continual commitment and provision of appropriate resources. If they don't do that, "it's only words".