Warehouse or call center, manufacturing or non-profit, service industry or product sales, the role of quality continues to be misunderstood. Sometimes, it appears that quality is intentionally misunderstood. Often it seems as if quality and compliance are synonymous, even though quality is a small part of compliance. Some businesses call quality “Quality Assurance,” “Quality Control,” or the “Quality Department.” Regardless of the name, quality is the only path to improving productivity; however, productivity is measured.
I have worked with businesses that used quality as a stick to beat employees and ultimately fire them. This is an absolute abuse of quality and the quality people! Worse, it hinders productivity because everyone becomes worried about meeting quality demands and not meeting customer expectations. The employees who meet “quality” in these organizations are depressed, morale is pathetic, and the brand suffers significantly. What really hurts, everything costs too much takes too long, and the company is not competitive, flexible, viable, or even worth mentioning.
What is Quality?
Quality is a process of striving to improve. Interestingly, people inherently know when they have received quality or not. Be it a person, a company, a community, a state, a government, etc., how one approaches quality as a process for improvement defines that person, company, community, state, etc. Some companies think, “We have a quality department, we are meeting quality metrics, we are doing just fine in quality.” To which I reply, in my best imitation of Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H 4077, “HORSE HOCKEY!”
Why; because that company cannot define what drives the metrics being reported. That company has a quality department but not a quality attitude, quality focus, and quality determination. It cannot be stressed enough if your people are not quality first; you are losing between 33% and 50% of your potential! Worse, the loss of potential is always hard to pin precisely to a direct problem when the problem is lodged in something as amorphous as “quality.”
Recognizing Quality Value
Let’s do the numbers together. A manufacturing plant, a call center, and a warehouse are examples A, B, and C, respectively.
Example A: Employee A has been trained on making a part; he has never been told how his parts affect the finished product and is sometimes sloppy in creating pieces. But, because he is within set standards, his sloppy work can be cleaned up at another station, so Employee A does not want to improve quality. Producing 200 parts made per day, with anywhere between 5 and 75 pieces, needing additional work; Employee A has an overall cost to the company above and beyond expected costs. Regardless if Employee A increases his productivity to 250 to 300 pieces per day, his defects remain potential lost.
Example B: XX Team has 15 agents; each agent is expected to handle 80-100 calls per day. But the quality metrics are so stringent; the team can only meet 35-40 calls per day on average. However, the business processes to complete work, and meet the quality standards, handicap any single agent from meeting the 80-100 calls per day. Does the company look at the agents or their business processes and quality standards? The business will demand higher productivity and never realize that the churn increase is from burned-out good employees walking away!
Example C: Inbound product receivers, outbound product shippers, and quality are the three departments in a warehouse. Inbound, they do not consider themselves part of a quality initiative; their productivity is driven by how many items get properly stowed per day. Outbound is where the company focuses as this is where the customer satisfaction is directly observed; how much an outbound picks and prepares for shipping is productivity. Quality is considered someone else’s job as a quality department counts for compliance to SOX and other legislation. Inbound and outbound employees know their positions, and because they are not quality, they can create quality problems intentionally or not, and someone else will always take care of the problem. Dirty part locations with inventory from other areas don’t matter; quality will fix it. Torn or damaged product in a location, it doesn’t matter quality will fix it. In this case, 2/3rds of the employee potential for improving quality is AWOL!
Now, someone might think, these are hypotheticals, not real businesses. Those examples are directly from my experience. Yes, these examples are slightly oversimplified for brevity; however, not having a whole company quality culture hinders productivity. This is a truth inescapable.
Co-Equal but not Co-Valuable
Productivity, however measured in your company for goods or services, should be a co-equal part of quality. Yet, if equality cannot be achieved, err on the side of increased quality until productivity catches up. The value of productivity is measured in green money, cash. The value of quality is measured in blue money, potential. Bringing up my favorite axiom, “Burn enough blue money, and cash evaporates, and no one can trace where the cash went!”
Returning to Example A, the employee does not know, has not been trained, and is unaware that their actions are directly costing the company. Since there is a quality person to check and “fix” the mistakes, the loss of potential is immeasurable until the business leaders have to increase the manufacturing price to account for the added work in quality to correct the errors. Hence, when all metrics are equal between quality and productivity, err on the side of quality, and productivity will catch up.
Want a secret; it does not work in reverse! Erring on the side of increased productivity increases costs elsewhere, burns potential, and ruins company bottom-lines. Quality cannot “catch up” to productivity — an example best witnessed in manufacturing and warehouses. The potential costs between manufacturing or multiple handling of products carry a potential cost, with no means of recovery. Thus, it remains imperative to understand the roles of productivity and quality defined early, and placed in the proper order, to avoid significant cash hits to the bottom line.
Quality – A Culture, Not Just a Department!
A quality culture is an extension of the individual’s professionalism, always striving to be better. Not faster, not slower, but better every day. Training is a dynamic part of quality, and learning something new should be encouraged. Yet, training, especially in call centers, always seems to take a back seat to operations and productivity. All because productivity is not correctly understood and placed in its proper role. Training and quality are potential or blue money expenses where the return on investment will be unknown. Why; because quality and training place tools into the hands of employees, who then go on to build or destroy based upon the examples of leadership.
Quality should be felt in every conversation, in every process, in every program, in every interaction. As the most important customer in a business is other employees, the quality program is the most important activity and process for enhancing the business’s goals, aspirations, and daily production rates. A culture of quality will then have the ground to grow and room to expand. But, a quality culture will not grow overnight, nor will it grow without causing stagnant processes to change.
Consider a seed. To grow, that seed has to be destroyed completely; but no one ever mourns the loss of the seed for the potential fruit to be born from that seed growing. The same is true for a quality culture growing; the culture will destroy the seeds of stagnation, the apathy of indifference, and the processes and procedures that are not valuable to the new quality culture. Will you allow a quality culture to grow?
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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