How do we create a culture of quality at our workplace?
This is a bit of a challenge.
There’s widespread agreement that for an organization to have Quality (with a capital Q, to represent the concept of quality assurance and quality management and all that that entails) it must come from above. The mindset of Quality must exist in the leadership. The owners and executive-level types. It must be a way of working, thinking, and leading that is embodied at the highest level of the organization. A top-down sort of idea.
But here’s the catch…although there’s agreement that it must come from the top down, it can’t be delivered in a top-down style. Meaning, it can’t sound like, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why it’s good for us. Here’s how to think. Watch this training. Do what I tell you. And we’ll all be golden.”
This command-do style of communication flops badly. It creates resistance. A feeling of pressure. A burden. Yet another thing to have to do, to have to think of, or to possibly screw up.
We have to get people to fully, and with their whole heart, WANT to tick the boxes. We have to get them to WANT to care. So, we have to communicate in a way that makes this happen. Telling our team how amazing things will be if we do this, that, or the other, is marginally better than bossing them around. But we can do even better. What if we involve them? What if we show them we genuinely care about their input? What if they really feel part of things? Like their little piece of the puzzle matters? Like they are responsible for the success of the organization? Like they are valued and respected?
I believe this is what we have to do. I believe this is the “secret”.
But it’s not easy. We try. We say we have an “open door”. We tell everyone we want their input.
But think about…Do you think the new recruit (who’s still in the probationary period) is going to throw a quirky (but insightful and game changing) idea into the ring when the boss says to the team “So, what do you think?”. Do you think the brilliant expert who is embarrassed about her English is going to feel comfortable getting into a valuable back-and-forth discussion about something with the CEO? Are most people going to feel comfortable exposing themselves and their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, reservations? Probably not, right? It’s scary for people to put themselves “out there”. They risk rejection. They risk being laughed at. In their minds, they might even feel like they’re risking their jobs. Or at least their credibility. Scary.
How do we get past this?
How do we get people to be “all in”?
How do we get people feeling a sense of ownership and responsibility, when they’re just this tiny cog in the system?
How do we get people to embrace being part of the team when they feel so small? So insignificant? So overlooked?
It all comes down to trust.
So what do we do? How do we build trust?
You know those adventure/survival thingies that teams used to do (before Covid)? Swinging through the trees, trusting their colleagues would catch them. Remember? Maybe you’ve even been part of one. They were all about building trust, right? Companies paid big bucks do take their team to the wilderness and do death-defying activities that required everyone to trust each other. Why?
Because trust builds teams, builds companies, builds solutions, builds a better world.
How else can we build trust?
Ready? It’s right under our noses.
Communication. We can build trust through effective communication.
This starts to become a bit circular though. We need to have trust in order to communicate effectively and yet we need to communicate effectively in order to build trust? Yes. True and true.
Trust is one of those things that’s a long game (unless you do the wilderness survival route) and so it starts in the little conversations. The everyday conversations. We have to nail these. We build our relationships through these tiny little interactions that almost seem mundane and meaningless. The ride up in the elevator. The chit chat as you walk to your cars together. The few minutes before the Zoom meeting before everyone is signed in. The break room small talk. The tiny, well-planned compliments, “Great work on that project, Wanda”. The little accolades in the weekly status meeting, “Shoutout to Peter for suggesting a tweak on the way we do blah blah.”
Through these small conversations we build trust. We show interest in others: beyond-the-job interest. We know Simon just became a dad. We know Andrea’s kid just started university. We share our values. We show who we are. We understand where each is coming from. We know everyone better. They know us better. We know that they know how we feel about their work. And about them as people. We know that they know we see them as people, in fact. And not just as an employee. Not just as a lab tech. Not just as another quality associate. Not just as an intern. This makes them feel safe, known, respected, secure, recognized, appreciated, and important.
The groundwork has just been laid for a loyal, devoted, team-player who is ready to fully buy-in to our Quality mindset and ideals.
When we feel like this and the boss asks for our input we’re much more likely to feel safe sharing it. We trust the boss. The boss trusts us. We know they know about us personally, and respect our work and contribution, so it feels less scary to have candid and honest conversations. It feels less risky to share our thoughts. And to add to the conversation. Everyone becomes part of the conversation. And this extends to every conversation, in every corner of the organization.
Then we look up and suddenly realize that all that time spent nurturing our work relationships – taking the time for these “minor” conversations – has led to alignment throughout the whole organization and now everything – every thought, every action, every conversation – by everybody, reflects the Quality values held by those at the top.
By learning how to communicate in a way that builds trust in the small conversations we, as a team, conquer the big conversations.
What if you’re in the middle? And what if your leadership team doesn’t have a Quality mindset to begin with. Then what can you do? Are you powerless?
No, no, no. Absolutely not. It might be more of a challenge, but I believe strongly that it’s certainly possible to drive Quality from anywhere within the organization. I believe that the leadership will eventually shift, because the results will speak for themselves.
At every level of the organization, I believe the communication skills that allow you to have great conversations build trust, which leads to a shared culture. You can build a Quality organization – with or without your top leadership leading the way. YOU can be the leader when it comes to Quality.
Why not? Isn’t this what we tell our kids when they miss out on the coveted spot of “captain” on their team? Don’t we say, “Don’t worry, you don’t need a title to be a leader.” And then, aren’t we beaming with pride to see them rise as leader, from the middle of the pack?
You can lead from anywhere. So you can build an organization with a Quality culture from anywhere.
And I hope you do.
(If you’ve got a leadership team who is Quality minded but having trouble getting everyone onboard, share this with them and see what they think. It might resonate. It’s worth a shot.)
I love talking about this stuff. And I love talking about communication skills. And words. And I love people, too.
If you want to meet for any reason, please reach out.