Delta Partners Management Consultants
Your trusted advisors.

The Culture of Quality

Guest Contributor

This week we invited Sam Jbarah to contribute to the Delta Blog. Sam has been a long-time commenter here on our site, and it has become obvious that he shares a great many of the same views as we do. So, when he started talking to us about some of his views on quality in an organizational setting,we quickly invited him to share with our community. We hope that you enjoy Sam's writing as much as we do!

    – Alcide


Corporate cultures vary much the same way as social cultures. They evolve and take root over many years through the actions and behaviors of everyone in the organization.

The best definition of corporate culture I have ever seen describes it as:

…the process of assimilation that a new employee goes through to learn the norms and accepts them to be the way things are done around here.

Most often, people confuse quality processes such as document control, CAPA, management review, audits, with a quality culture. In reality, those are processes that are necessary as a minimum for a system to be deemed adequate. In other words, they are the basic building blocks of a quality management system that meets some quality standard the organization is certified to.

With that in mind, how do we assess the effectiveness of the management system? It is a question that I have posed to many auditors without getting a plausible answer.

Finding Effective Systems

Over the years I have worked with a number of organizations in varying industries, sizes and geographical locations, and they all seem to have some critical ingredients missing to truly call their system effective.

System thinkers look at the bigger picture and study how the processes are linked. They diagnose the links to address issues at the macro level to make sure the system does deliver what it is suppose to deliver, i.e., assure effectiveness.

The linkage between those processes is what a quality culture is made of. It is what keeps it together, and it is what new employees will learn and accept as part of the cultural assimilation process.

There are three critical ingredients, without which, the quality culture is dysfunctional and will never evolve beyond going through the motions to simply keep the certificate valid:

  1. How does the organization solve problems?
  2. How are decisions made?
  3. How does the organization learn and grow?

Solving Problems

You can tell so much about how an organization approaches business problems by simply examining how they solve problems.

To assess the problem solving PROCESS, ask the following questions:

  1. Is it a team approach or individual efforts?
  2. Is there an agreed upon methodology such as 8D or other methods used as the preferred method for solving problems?
  3. Is key leadership involved all the time?
  4. Are individuals or departments willing to share information and publicly acknowledge problems or is it done covertly?
  5. Once solutions are implemented and problems are solved, is there willingness to share the lesson with others?
  6. Is there some analysis process to determine repeat problems – areas where there are more problems than other areas?
  7. On average how long does it take to solve a problem? In this case, the time is measured until the problem is deemed solved by evidence.
  8. Is the organization proactive in identifying problems before they occur, or do they simply wait until the fire starts? In management system language, what is the break down between corrective action and preventive action?
  9. How are teams chosen, and how are they developed?
  10. Are people encouraged to identify problems, and are they rewarded for their actions?
  11. What happens when a problem thought to have been solved reappears again?

The answers to those questions will help build a complete assessment of the problem solving process, and will help in managing the process to improve it.

Many of the answers will lead to understanding of the other two questions regarding decisions and learning. In my experience, simply observing how people behave when a problem occurs tells volumes about the quality culture of the organization.

Making Decisions

Everyone in an organization makes decisions every day.

However, a series of questions will determine the effectiveness of those decisions and enable a deep understanding of the quality culture of the organization.

Ask the following questions to determine the effectiveness of the decision-making PROCESS:

  1. Are decisions based on facts and data, or are they based on gut feelings and opinions?
  2. Is the organization quick to make decisions or do people tend to take a long time – thus undermining the issue at hand?
  3. Are their decisions deemed to be the domain of certain people or is anyone close to the issue, and capable of making the decision, authorized to make the decision?
  4. Not every decision will be the right one. How does the organization deal with wrong decisions?
  5. Some issues are more critical than others. What are the norms for dealing with critical issues such as customer complaints or financial issues?

In some cases, I observe that managers will consult others prior to making decisions, which, most of the time, is the right way to do things. However, managers tend to forget that, despite checking in with others, they are ultimately responsible for the decision.

The ability to make sound decisions is the difference maker between those who are leaders and those who pretend to be leaders.

Learning and Growth

Learning and growing seems to have emerged as a critical topic in recent years.

Many books and research papers have been written on the subject. Some organizations utilize databases to log lessons learned and acquired knowledge of processes, products, methods, tools, mistakes made within the organization, and mistakes made by others within the industry. Some organizations periodically benchmark their business processes against others, and document the findings in a database for everyone to read.

To assess the learning process in an organization, we need to ask the following questions:

  1. How do employees share knowledge amongst each other?
  2. Is there a mentoring program for new or transferred employees?
  3. Is there a system where departments are asked to document their experiences to share with the rest of the organization?
  4. Are senior employees willing and open to share their knowledge, or do they view it as their hard-earned advantage?
  5. Is there any succession planning process where employees are readied for the next step up, rather than having to start learning once they are promoted?
  6. Are there any cross training programs in the organization where employees are given an opportunity to observe and learn what others do?

Audit Your Knowledge Processes

While it is very difficult to quantify the amount of knowledge within an organization, it is necessary that a process exists, nonetheless. Not having a process will diminish the amount of knowledge over time, so there needs to be a great deal of focus on the process rather than the quantity.

There have been cases where senior employees left and took everything they knew with them – and it ended up costing the organization dearly.

Remember the three process questions from the beginning?

  1. How does the organization solve problems?
  2. How are decisions made?
  3. How does the organization learn and grow?

Understanding these, how they are linked, and how they effect the functioning of core management processes is critical. It determines the organization’s ability to respond to changes and ensure continuity.

Having healthy and functioning processes that are well managed will improve the overall effectiveness of the quality system, and will drive substantial improvements in every corner of the organization.

I would recommend that an audit style study be conducted, starting with the questions listed here, to determine the state of the quality culture, and how to improve it. However, we must be cautious that we interview a cross section of employees from all levels, departments, and locations. 

Magnifying Glass: CrazyFast via Compfight cc


One of the problems is the vast number of quality management systems and lean management tools that are out there. 5S, 8D, FMEA are just a very small selection, and the business or their consultant needs to determine which is the best system to apply before they even start to identify and implement changes. That’s why using a quality consultant is so important.

By E_QMS on 2016/10/26

Add a Comment

Notify me of follow-up comments?