Layered Process Audits/Published: November 3, 2015

Implementing a Culture of Quality Using LPA Systems

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Not too long ago, the Harvard Business Review published an article suggesting what companies should do in order to institute a culture of quality. The article is based in large part on a two-year study that CEB, Inc. conducted on the subject. The research and the article promote a number of provocative ideas:

  • Social media marketing has made it easy for consumers and customers to compare products and register complaints, which drives companies to emphasize quality more than ever.
  • Since the Great Recession in 2008-2009, cycle times have decreased, and output gains have increased faster than employment levels, with employees often struggling to keep up and maintain quality.
  • The traditional approach to instituting quality—monetary incentives, sharing best practices, and training—does not alone produce a culture of quality.
  • Employees and companies that live quality—in other words, when people are fervent about quality as a personal value, rather than a value ordered from the top down—best create a culture of quality.

Genuine Culture of Quality

With these factors in mind, the Harvard Business Review defines a genuine culture of quality as “an environment in which employees not only follow quality guidelines, but also consistently see others taking quality-focused actions, hear others talking about quality, and feel quality all around them.” The article pinpoints four essential ingredients for a genuine culture of quality:

  • Leadership emphasis
  • Message credibility
  • Peer involvement
  • Employee ownership of quality issues

We suggest using LPA systems as a great place to start (or continue) a true culture of quality. When formulating questions, performing the audits, and evaluating the results, participants can bear in mind the idea of quality as a “grassroots” approach to the LPAs in the the above areas.

Leadership Emphasis

As part of leadership emphasis, managers and owners must be on board with the idea that quality is a leadership essential. This is so they can “walk the talk” about quality and not just give it lip service. We emphasize that this first step is mandatory for creating a culture of quality and that the LPA creation, implementation, and documentation processes focus on this.

Message Credibility

Auditors can keep quality at the forefront of the LPAs in citing information about quality from respected sources such as J.D. Power and Consumer Reports so that plant personnel don’t think the auditors are shooting from the hip or simply asking questions about whatever comes to mind.

Auditors can also ask questions about quality that appeal to plant employees personally. For example, they can include information about how much time and effort needed to redo an order versus getting it right the first time, or how quality affects the next person down the line. Questions must be clear so the respondents understand them. And the auditors must formulate questions about quality in a consistent manner. Therefore, word them in a similar fashion for clear comprehension and for ultimately obtaining the best information.

Peer Involvement

You can approach this in a couple of ways:

  • Auditors can formulate audit questions to emphasize how one employee’s work effort affects his or her fellow workers’ efforts.
  • Because peers frequently hold each other accountable and often talk informally about their work and the quality of it, the subject of quality should be part of these conversations. To install a sense of continuance, you want quality to remain a current subject of conversation. In an effort to do this, one company made posters containing employee comments about quality and hung them in busy areas of the shop. Another firm sponsored “quality competitions.”

Employee Ownership of Quality Issues

The LPAs can provide an opportunity to communicate to personnel the level of ownership that they have in addressing quality issues; in other words, the amount of latitude a person or department has in dealing with deviations from high standards. Auditors can indicate this level in the give-and-take that results from the audit’s questions and answers.

Researchers report that this can be a fine line. Giving too much direction can inhibit employee creativity and discretion; too little can result in employees being unclear about what authority they have with regards to quality issues. But when leaders provide the right amount of guidance, it makes employees feel they are involved and are owners, too, of the quality effort. This includes employees understanding how quality is part of the job, allowing employees to make decisions about quality in their work areas, and making sure employees feel comfortable raising concerns about quality diversions—even challenging directives from managers with regard to quality.

Conducting LPAs is a great opportunity to address quality issues in today’s workplace. Emphasizing management’s commitment to quality is job No. 1. After that, we can employ the idea of quality when we develop audit questions, when we implement the LPAs, and when we document the results. Quality can, and perhaps should be, the underlying current of any LPA program we conduct.

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