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Restarting a quality program in your organization.

Even the most well-planned quality efforts will get off track from time to time. When that happens, you'll need two things:

* A strong quality communication strategy.

Focused management behavior.

One of the most powerful communication tools you can use in initiating quality, or jump starting" it if it gets off track, is management behavior as part of a comprehensive quality communication strategy. That's why Quality Myth #1 is so important. The best media campaign for quality will self-destruct if managers don't model corresponding behavior as part of their responsibility for helping to make quality happen.

Many of the management recommendations suggested here can be built into your quality communication strategy as behavior-driven management communication-that is, communication that reaches employees in the form of policies, decisions, daily activities and other "walk-like-you-talk" indicators from the leadership.

You can start building your strategy by showing the Quality Myths and Realities to your leadership team. Some members may say they are already familiar with them. Chances are good that this familiarity doesn't extend to the use of the quality basics to drive the vital communication function.

That should get a discussion started on management's role in the quality effort, with the emphasis on communication. Communication and quality are virtually the same activities. But managers don't always see this without coaching. Your goal here is to help them make that connection, and profit by what you, and they, can do with it.

Your next challenge is to assure that you provide management with the right messages to communicate in support of quality.

To do this, you'll need data.

A sound first step is to identify the symptoms of a stalled drive for quality. The following are some of the most common symptoms my colleagues and I have seen over the years in companies that need a quality "jump-start."

Symptom #1: Quality has been around for a while but performance hasn't taken off.

Symptom #2: Managers aren't seeing the hard, bottom-line gains they expected from the quality effort.

Symptom #3: Managers are complaining increasingly about Symptoms #1 and #2.

Symptom #4: Employees say they don't understand what they are supposed to do differently now that they are part of a quality effort.

Symptom #5: Employees complain that management behavior isn't reinforcing management statements about quality and customer service.

Symptom #6: Employees don't see how "all this quality stuff' is really going to help them or the organization.

Symptom 7: Quality is blamed for getting in the way of work around here," as something extra added m to the regular work routine.

Symptom #8: Supervisors, department heads and other middle managers seem detached from the quality effort, often complaining: What does this have to do with me? The employees are handling everything without my help."

Such symptoms are evidence of gaps between employee (and management) expectations of quality and subsequent realities. Your objective is to influence behavior, through communication, that closes those gaps, and aligns management behavior with the quality messages and with employee perceptions.

Here are some approaches:

First, analyze the original management statements that you deployed about quality, asking such diagnostic questions as:

What behavior changes did management ask of the work force in support of quality?

What behavior changes did management itself promise it would make in support of quality?

What outcomes of quality were promised or anticipated?

What basic business problems was quality positioned to solve?

What rationale did management provide for mandating the significant shift to quality?

In your best judgment, what expectations about quality do you think might have been raised in employee minds?

How do the original messages stack up against the Quality Myths and Realities?

* Based as much as possible on subsequent data, how well do you estimate that the original expectations were met? Exceeded? Missed?

Where you think you lack sufficient information, analyze subsequent performance of the quality effort, using data instead of guesswork.

Surveys are especially valuable here.

You can do formal ones. We get excellent results for clients using a survey format that measures, from the employee perspective, what management says and what management actually does. The resulting data gives managers specific improvement areas on which to focus for the greatest possible returns with the least cost in time, money and other resources. We compare it to firing a rifle instead of a shotgun. You hit only what you need to hit, without destroying the entire target.

Another way to get perception data from employees is to ask them, using prepared questions designed to measure the gap between earlier quality expectations and subsequent perceived realities.

You can do formal focus group interviews. If you do, seek participation that reflects a cross-section of the organization. Or you can do informal sessions with random groups of employees in lunchrooms, break areas or around desks. Getting good, candid information shouldn't be hard. We seldom find employees reluctant to talk about their hopes and their disappointments with a quality-improvement effort.

Do a quality audit, using the Quality Myths and Realities as your guide. Wander around your organization and ask key people questions that reveal approaches to the quality challenge.

For example, using Quality Myth 4, ask inspectors what they do with the failure data they gather. Do they feed it to employees working in small groups who then use it to formulate recommendations for continuous improvements that make the failures disappear? Or do they store the failure data in a desk drawer, or not gather the data in the first place?

Using Quality Myth 5, find out how your organization's industrial engineers, process control experts or statisticians approach their work. Do they tell employees what to change in their work processes, or do they work with employees to arrive at improvement recommendations together?

Using Quality Myth 7, ask managers, supervisors and department heads what top managers have done, personally, to help them attain their quality objectives. Do top managers come around often to listen to ideas and facilitate solutions? Or do the quality wishes of top management appear only in the form of an occasional memo on the need for everyone to get behind the quality drive? Or does top management appear to be totally absent from the quality-improvement process?

Listen carefully for symptoms of Quality Myth #9-that quality is just another management fad that will blow over like its predecessors. If "programitis" is a problem, and it often is, you'll hear frequent references to it, phrases such as "program du jour," "program of the day," or "the bouncing ball." Capture this data. Note the frequency and sources (not necessarily names, but rather work areas and organizational levels).

Obtain what you consider a defensible array of data that you can use to educate management on the current status of the quality effort. Be as specific as possible in pointing out where you suspect the stalls are coming from. And don't be shy in recommending ways you think management can help itself jump, start the effort. Being a communicator in a quality-focused organization, or one moving in that direction, is seldom without its challenging moments. The more data-driven honesty you can bring to the process, the more the organization is likely to gain from the quality effort.

Use your employee-survey and quality-audit data to show where one or more of the myths may be causing sluggish performance. For example, there may be too much inspection and discarding of final products, too little employee involvement in continuous improvement, or rewards for volume of production instead of quality or production.

Show the results of your formal and informal data-gathering activities among employees and offer specific new messages and media (including new management behavior) that can rev up the quality machine.

And don't hesitate to show how you plan to measure the gains to the organization if these improved communication-related approaches are adopted. Explain that follow-up employee surveys should reveal, among other things:

* More employee knowledge of their jobs as part of a quality team.

* Concrete evidence of increasing hands-on involvement by leadership in the quality effort.

* Employee belief that the shift to quality is permanent.

* Concrete signs of increasing employee involvement in hands-on improvements to their work processes, based on performance data.

Follow-up audits of quality could show:

Increasing bottom-line performance gains from employee, driven improvements:

* reducing waste of time, raw materials and other expensive resources;

* improving customer satisfaction data;

* Increasing use of inspection data to support employee continuous-improvement teams;

* An expanding collection of stories about small but significant improvements by employees in work processes, customer satisfaction and other business activities;

Demonstrable gains on the competition, as revealed by continuous benchmarking and market data.

If getting quality started at your organization, or keeping it going, seems especially challenging, that's because quality is just that--challenging. It represents a major new way to manage organizations, one that departs from many of the basic beliefs and approaches that have prevailed in organizations since at least the advent of the assembly line nearly a century ago.

Reduced to its simplest terms, quality-improvement, as it is being implemented in cutting-edge companies around the world today, requires the precise merging of people and work processes. It's a system where the "hard" world of data, statistics and finance merges with the soft" world of human attitudes, beliefs, feelings and assumptions.

Communication can be one of the essential tools in the management of this interface, every bit as valuable as statistics, industrial engineering, human resource management and the other work specialties of quality. For in the final analysis, quality relies on the effective communication of information from the work processes to the minds of the operators, all in the interest of producing products and services that satisfy customers better than your competitors' products and services do.

Communicators have been helping with that work for ages.

Daniel Koger is an independent consultant specializing in quality Production and communication in Arlington, Va.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Koger, Daniel A.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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