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Airbags, ignition switches, and even emissions software. While large recalls make the news at a regular pace, these are surrounded by scandal. News reports include claims of illegal or unethical activity executed by individuals or larger groups of people. Unfortunately, as new reports expose even more it’s revealed that the activity was accepted or possibly encouraged by management, as well as the organization at large.
This is not a condemnation of Takata’s management or employees (or VW or GM) at large – like many professionals, they are dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working people. However, there are lessons in these issues that quality leadership and quality professionals need to embrace. Why was quality a quiet bystander? How should leadership ensure that this doesn’t happen in their house? What should quality management professionals do if they find themselves in a similar situation?
Quality, a Teammate with Accountability
The aforementioned offenses were reportedly performed in test labs and in the PPAP processes, areas where quality has dominion.These scandals have had a profoundly negative impact on the companies involved, the customers, the employees, and the public. Lists of specific employees were compiled and fired, and specific engineers and managers were personally singled out in the press. The public shaming highlights the personal accountability of individuals in these cases.
These events happened in the domain of quality, why weren’t they reported? LNS Research firmly believes that quality should be a collaborative partner to other functions; in part because our statistics show that market leadership is strongly correlated with making quality a cross-functional responsibility with enterprise-wide visibility and accountability.
However, while quality should be a cross-functional responsibility, the quality department is still an autonomous entity that is ultimately responsible for safeguarding their employer, the customer, and the public against the effects of harmful products. All businesses should have corporate values to protect the company, shareholders, and public against harm. Quality should embody these values.
Lesson 1: Quality must have the power to put a stop to behavior that could result in harm and courage to use that power. Quality is a responsibility of all, not just the quality department, but the quality department must always have the loudest and most authoritative voice backed by veto power, and use that veto power to protect the company and its customers.
Hidden Problems, False Culture
Many companies talk about commitment to quality and to customers - including those making recent headlines. However, behind the veneer, their culture did not foster putting quality and the customer above all else, including competitive performance and cost pressures. A real and meaningful danger facing quality leaders is lip service to quality without a hard and fast commitment to quality at the executive level. This includes making the hard decision to delay product launch to ensure a safety issue found during test is fixed, reset direction when a product clearly is far from meeting hoped-for performance, or accept higher costs when a cost saving measure introduces safety concerns.
Commitment to good quality comes from leaders setting expectations of transparency and ethical responsibility to the company, its customers, and possibly other entities such as the environment or third parties. Leadership doesn’t just entail setting the guidelines for others to follow, but setting the bar in the execution of those expectations.
Commitment to good quality comes from a culture that actively promotes openness and reduces the perceived risk of being wrong. An organization measuring “organizational courage” knows it has an issue with fear. Focus on reducing the perceived risk, not on measuring employee courage.
Commitment to good quality requires executive prioritization. Prioritization comes in many forms, including organizational power, boardroom visibility, and investment of adequate resources in operational excellence.
Commitment to good quality must also come from the rank and file, which is often a give and take. Give good training, give recognition for standout quality contributors, and take a commitment to quality first.
There are many examples of great leadership and great quality organizational structure. For instance, Coca-Cola views quality as a critical component to customer satisfaction and the company’s success. As such, Coke’s VP of Quality reports directly to the CEO and Board of Directors, and has the power to shut down any plant at any location at any time.
Lesson 2: Quality Leaderships must foster an open, transparent culture of quality, backed by executives, supported by employees, and with quality leadership as its exemplar.
When Acquiescence is Unethical
We can’t say that this one applies to Takata, but it needs to be said. Anyone working as a services or software provider in the quality space has walked away from at least a handful of companies over their career concerned about its poor quality processes, culture, or technology. The poor performer’s quality professionals are usually aware that there are systemic issues, but have been unable to gain the executive support and resources to correct them, and so… they muddle on.
Until the poor quality landscape results in a major quality escape that forces the attention of senior management. Then the burden of responsibility for failure is placed squarely on quality’s shoulders, as the “preventers of poor quality.” New quality personnel and technology are brought in to “fix our quality problem” by whipping the quality department into tip-top shape, which of course only partially addresses the problem, because quality is a cross-functional responsibility.
Let’s rewind. Fix the problem at its source. If there are systemic problems with quality and the Operational Excellence model, throw a flag. Engage six sigma teams if available, or escalate it. And if it is truly severe and falling on deaf ears, blow the whistle.
Lesson 3: If something is really wrong with the Operational Excellence landscape, don’t accept “no.”
Join us on Tuesday, March 29, at 1:00 pm EDT as Andrew Hughes presents the results from the fourth iteration of the Metrics that Matter research study conducted between LNS Research and MESA International, and place particular focus on how the deployment of IIoT, Cloud, and Analytics are transforming manufacturing.
All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.