Quality Management ‘Activism’: Overcoming the Policing Mindset

Posted by Rob Harrison on Thu, Jul 02, 2015 @ 09:46 AM

enterprise-bill-of-process-2.jpgEarlier this week LNS Research conducted an interview with an Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) deployment veteran. The conversation was specifically targeted at capturing the essential ingredients of a successful, best practice driven EQMS vendor selection process, but also touched upon a core philosophy about how to approach quality management that I want to share.

As a director at a $5B consumer packaged goods and medical devices company, his insight was particularly interesting. He deployed his Quality, Environmental and Health & Safety (QEHS) platform to harmonize almost 30 different, often interoperable and related processes, globally.

Though a huge amount of information and insight was imparted around practical matters, our interviewee was asked one final question in closing that, in a way, represented the core of his quality philosophy, which jibes with my own, and will hopefully provide you with some food for thought:

“If you were to give just one single piece of information to the person you were a few years ago about to embark on this journey…what would it be?”

His answer was swift and clear.

“What made the difference was the people we recruited [selection and implementation team]; they were crucial to success. They were listeners and doers and brought substantial subject matter expertise.” This wrapped up on a theme throughout the interview that was about commitment, communication, and action.

The selection and implementation of EQMS is just one facet of excellence in Quality Management. What we want to explore in this post is the apolitical nature of those who truly subscribe to the notion of continuous improvement versus conformance and the status quo.

 Quality as The Police

As we’ve written about in the past, all too often quality is perceived as ‘a department’ rather than a responsibility. The premise here is that ‘those in power’ have a mandated Quality Management System (QMS) and employees must be checked to ensure conformance. In this scenario, organizations fall into the mindset or trap that assumes procedures will be followed, even if they are poorly written or inefficient as part of an overall process. In this paradigm, it’s the job of the quality team to police and document that conformance, and in regulated scenarios ensure compliance is maintained.

Post audit, the quality practitioner is responsible for tracking delinquency and chasing corrective action owners for closure. It’s a negative scenario that is represented as imposition upon those who would act in a way that compromised quality, safety, and environmental citizenship.

I hope you’ll agree in this bleak scenario and one that any stakeholder should rally against—for many reasons, but primarily because this approach will at best maintain a status quo. It will remain consistent, but it’s not likely to improve performance because it’s based on assumptions of flippancy or negligence toward quality. No employee sets out to deliver poor performance, and if they do they should stand out for that without the need for a police force. If quality enforcement is required, it’s a signal that theres a deeper cultural, educational, or leadership-related malignancy that requires attention.

The Quality ‘Activist

Just to be clear, in this context were talking about Quality Management or QEHS activism, and not activism as our broader culture might perceive it. As Quality Activists we have the goal of altering established practices and undermining the status quo for something better for all stakeholders including, but not limited to our customers.

We seek to recruit to our cause based on our quality manifesto that outlines QEHS values, QEHS policies, or EQMS project goals. We act consistently and communicate our cause through all channels possible. Activists demonstrate and empower constructive and consistent behavior that promotes actions that are aligned with a cause. In our case, the cause is quality excellence, continuous improvement, and achieving and maintaining compliance. Part of it is also about contributing to Operational Excellence and a more optimally performing organization. 

The distinction between policing and activist is when we link to imagery from the media to the concept. The point is really meant to open our minds to the cause, and how our QMS, EMS, or HSMS all serve as frameworks with tools designed to help us improve. Without activists the outcome could and often does resemble a police state. It is up to our QEHS professionals to change the situation from within. Thats where we view what we do as what defines us and our brand in conjunction with how we all share a common goal.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” 
 Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Our veteran EQMS deployment interviewee sought out specific people with certain qualities, and did not attach a label of activist to any of them. I say that without their QEHS activism his organization’s global deployment would not have been the success it is, and would not continue to improve itself and the quality, EHS performance, and the brand it supports.

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Tags: Enterprise Quality Management Software, Quality Management System