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June 25, 2018

Time for leaders to walk the quality talk

Quality, it is often said, is king. We cannot over-emphasise the role quality plays in our lives. From service you receive from a company to the pen you use, it requires a quality management system to ensure the end product or service meets standards.

As a trainer in Quality Management Systems, I am often asked what y quality is. In fact, when I bounce back the question to the trainees, many define quality based on attributes such as goodness, beauty, look or feel. This is, however, imprecise, as individual perceptions of the same attributes differ. This is further confirmed by the saying “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

It therefore requires an objective measure of quality. For this reason, the International Organization for Standardization has come up with a universal definition of quality, as “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an entity fulfills requirements.”

To recognise the centrality of quality, a day is set aside every year (second Thursday of November) to increase awareness of its value and acknowledgment its critical role in our lives. The theme for World Quality Day this year was ‘Celebrating everyday Leaders’. This reminds us we have opportunities to advocate quality, whether championing quality products and services or promoting a processes approach. We celebrate the quality drivers and champions in our organisations.

Who are the quality champions in an organisation? Leadership at all levels is at the core of implementing an effective QMS. In fact it is intentional that leadership is one of the seven principles of ISO 9001: 2015 Quality Management Systems because it provides commitment and guidance for the improvement of an organisation’s overall performance.

Leaders have a responsibility to set the strategic direction of an organisation. Their role is to communicate the mission, vision, strategy, policies and processes, besides shaping the organisation’s culture by living what they believe is important.

The values embedded in the culture and reinforced by the behaviour of the leadership have an effect, and not the idealistic well-crafted values listed in strategic plans. The behaviour of the leadership influences the quality culture, hence, the need to create and sustain shared values, fairness and ethical models for behaviour at all levels of the organisation.

The other six principles of QMS, namely customer focus, engagement of people, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision-making and relationship management are important, but leadership is at the centre of them all. So why is leadership key if organisations are to produce quality products and services?

Indeed, leaders set the tone for how employees treat customers. A leader who advocates the interests of the customer and stakeholders acts as the conscience of the organisation and will quickly intervene to delight them. Another reason why leadership is key in driving the quality agenda, is that engaged employees are more likely to be enthusiastic and keen to exceed customer expectation. Empowered employees too, take initiatives without fear and when their contribution is recognised, focus more on quality. In fact, leaders who promote process approach and assign clear roles and responsibilities, evaluating performance at intervals, promote quality products and services.

A recent survey by National Quality Institute found that most decisions on adopting international standards are influenced by decision makers in an organisation. The trend is worrying because to date, only 172 organisations are certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to the QMS standards, despite the fact that quality affects us all, every day. Without quality control, the world would be unpredictable and an unsafe place to live in.

For a quality culture to be entrenched, leaders should encourage an organisation-wide commitment to quality and ensure that leaders at all levels are positive examples. Leaders also need to provide the required resources.

These can only be achieved in an environment that consciously promotes quality because quality is not an act, but a habit, as the great philosopher, Aristotle once said.

Head of National Quality Institute

[email protected]

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