Every organization is made up of a series of systems. Like the human body with its various systems, each distinct, each contributing to the health and function of the body/organization. Systems, in turn, are made up of components and processes. The components are the parts that make up the system like the heart, arteries. veins, and capillaries, or the raw materials, people, tools, and forms. Processes are what the system does with those components to achieve an outcome.
Qualitize is what we do to improve either the components or the processes (or both) of any system in our organization. To qualitize is to make something high quality. Quality goods or services are the result of quality components and quality processes. Good quality lifts people. Poor quality drifts people. When your team or organization produces excellent quality work the people know leaders pay attention and care about what they do. When the work is poor quality it signals the opposite and people’s attitudes and performance drift. Your best employees may eventually drift away from your organization.
Putting it to Work
There are really only two things you can do to improve the quality of your product or service. Improve the components or improve the process. Identify an output you want to improve. What one thing, if better than it is now, would bring the greatest return to your organization? This would be a great time to employ the habit called Solicit (see my last post).
Now map out the process in a flow chart. It’s best to do this with a team of stakeholders. List every step in sequence along with the owner of that step and any other components (people are components, too) such as parts, forms, equipment, etc.
Now that you have a visual map of the process with a list of components, decide where there are constraints or bottlenecks in the process or inferior components that are causing a poor quality outcome. Work on the most obvious one(s) first and measure the improvement. then, as they say on the shampoo bottles, “Rinse and Repeat.”
Making it a Habit
In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Qualitize, I mentioned the saying, “The standard you walk by is the standard you set.” In other words people will usually raise or lower their performance to meet your expectations. If you “walk by” poor quality work and say or do nothing about it, they assume you don’t care and that becomes the new standard.
Your job as the Engager is to set the tone of continuous improvement. A great place to start is with you. Set a consistent time in your day when you will work on you. Read a good business book, take a class, join a peer group. Do something that will help you grow as a leader. Casually let people know what you’re up to and that you’re doing it to continuously improve yourself.
I was talking with an Operations Manager recently who took self-improvement to the next level. He knew he was having challenges with some members of his team. He had attended a class on Organizational Communication and decided to put some of those ideas to work. He sat with his team and asked for honest feedback on how he comes across when he communicates. There was some hesitation at first but then the floodgates opened. It was not a comfortable session, kind of like self-performing exploratory surgery. But he came out of it grateful for the feedback and ready to improve. That sets a tone for his team that will benefit him, his team, and his organization.
You can also work on you by habitually asking yourself, “Is this my best work?” Don’t send an email or submit a report or send a text without double checking to see how you could improve it. Never have a conversation at work that you haven’t planned for. Think through how you could best engage in the interaction. You can do this even if you’re not planning for a specific conversation. You can scenario plan for types of conversations or conversations with certain people. If a conversation is spontaneous and you can’t plan for it, replay it in your mind and think about how to improve the next one. That’s especially true of phone calls.
Another step in setting the tone of continuous improvement is to make it one of your team’s cultural beliefs. Once you’ve begun to lead by example, start talking about continuous improvement as “the way we do things around here.” Start asking the question, “Is this your best work?” Reference continuous improvement as the reason you’re asking.
Many leaders believe people are generally lazy and don’t care about doing quality work. While there may be a certain lethargic comfort to mediocrity, if you make Qualitize your habit you’ll find the dullness will begin to fade, People’s eyes will brighten and there will be a buzz of excitement born out of the pride your people will take in the great quality of their work.