Quality: A State Of Mind

Tom Martin-Ball, Lead Auditor at Alcumus ISOQAR, considers the theme of this year’s World Quality Week.

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Written by: alcumus
7th November

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock these last few months, I need to inform you that the economy is facing challenging times.

What makes it even more difficult for businesses to negotiate an economic downturn these days is the fact leaders are now required to do so much more than simply make money for their stakeholders. Increasingly, you’re expected to be custodians of the environment, take responsibility for employees’ mental health, and generally measure up to ever higher ethical standards that are often unspecified yet easy to fall short of.

In other words, you can’t focus solely on the bottom line of a spreadsheet. You need to be mindful of other impacts your organisation has on people and the environment and ensure your corporate culture is geared toward doing the right thing. This involves making subjective, ethical decisions. As Marvin Gaye and, er, Jimminy Cricket opined: let your conscience be your guide.

So it is that the theme for World Quality Week 2022 promoted by CQI (the Chartered Quality Institute) is ‘Quality conscience: doing the right thing.’ It’s an invitation for leaders to reflect on how corporate culture and conscience can help or hinder an organisation to make decisions and ‘do the right thing’ for all stakeholders.

But what does this have to do with ‘quality’?

Any definition of 'quality' always relates to how well a product or service meets specified attributes. And how do you achieve this? Through ‘quality management’ which is the means of ensuring those quality standards are achieved.

In other words, the products and services you produce are merely the outcome. What we’re really interested in here is your approach to management itself. You can’t achieve the former without getting the latter right first.

All of this can, of course, be framed within a formal Quality Management System such as that specified in the ISO 9001 international standard. The clue is in the name, after all. And indeed, all those non-financial issues mentioned earlier such as your approach to mental well-being and the environment - which are all components of achieving quality - whilst they do have their own ISO standards, and can also all fall within the scope of a quality management system. (Specifically, see 7.1.4 which considers social, psychological, and physical factors.)

In the real world

Without the right attitude and approach from senior leaders in the first place, all the above counts for nothing. When I’m auditing an organisation’s Quality Management System, the day always starts with a chat with ‘top management’ to get a feel for their approach. One doesn’t like to jump to hasty conclusions, but experience tells me that I can get a feel for how the day will go from that talk. Auditors will always also talk to other individuals in the business, to understand whether ‘top management’ (to use the actual terminology of ISO, casual though it sounds) is providing the leadership that’s required.

Invariably, I see that organisations that don’t cut the mustard in this aspect also fall short in other aspects of not just their quality management system, but their general approach to business too.

All this is best summed up by Vince Desmond, CEO of the Chartered Quality Institute, who says:“’Doing the right thing’ gets to the heart of quality management in any organisation, and the heart of what the quality profession is there to help with. At the end of the day, providing and improving the quality of products and services is done by people who have to make decisions every day, often balancing a range of stakeholder interests. We must recognise the complexity of this challenge, how management systems can help translate values and policy aspirations into daily work at all levels, the importance of leaders in setting the tone, and why doing the wrong thing will ultimately damage organisational reputation and, at worst, lives.”

Hear, hear, Vince.