The use of methods and tools to continuously improve quality within an organisation should be at the heart of any business strategy. The potential benefit is even greater if quality-related activities are implemented consistently and systematically across organisations and systems.
Ensuring the goods and services provided by an organisation or business are high quality is essential for success for main two reasons:
- If a business produces poor quality goods or delivers poor quality services, its customers will go elsewhere.
- If a health service or care provider organisation delivers sub-standard care, its patients or clients may experience adverse outcomes that can, in a worst-case scenario, result in permanent disability or death.
However, even though high-quality outputs and outcomes are crucial for a successful organisation, most staff within those organisations find the activities associated with assuring and improving quality to be boring and something of a chore to be avoided as much as possible.
As we think about new approaches to engage and motivate employees post-pandemic or in “COVID-normal”, we need to ask ourselves, “why do people find quality-related activities to be a chore?” and “what can we do to make these activities more engaging, perhaps even fun?”
We believe NOW is the time for organisations to try different opportunities, methods, approaches and tools to improve the quality of their products/services and stay competitive in a changing world.
Having motivated teams that are interested and willing to participate in quality-related activities is essential. Read on to find out the reasons why employees find quality initiatives boring and discover the ways to change this narrative and engage them!
- What are quality-related activities?
- QI: whose job is it anyway?
- Why do staff see quality-related activities as a chore?
- How can quality activities be made more engaging or fun?
- MEERQAT provides an engaging quality-related activity for frontline staff
Let’s start defining what we mean by “quality-related activities”
Practiced effectively, these activities can contribute enormously to the success of an organisation, but the flip-side is that, when poorly understood or poorly implemented, these activities are likely to be weak and ineffective in ensuring high quality outcomes.
There is some overlap between the three types of quality activity, but there are key differences as well:
- Quality Assurance (QA) reflects the minimum standard an organisation aims to meet in the products it creates or the services it delivers. QA activities are, therefore, those activities that ensure customers/clients receive products/services that meet or exceed those standards. This includes planning for how the required standard will be achieved and how defects or problems will be avoided or prevented, as well as tools to identify or track defects or problems.
- Quality Control (QC) activities are the checking mechanisms during production or service delivery process pathways that detect errors, defects or problems that might result in poor quality products or services. QC activities can be considered part of the overall QA system for a product or service.
- Quality Improvement (QI) activities are those activities aimed at improving the quality of a product or service. Thus, if an error or problem is identified as part of QC/QA, QI activities are used to identify the source of the problem and correct it.
Let’s look at the most critical differences between QA, QC and QI
1️⃣ While QA and QC are focussed on ensuring products or services meet nominated minimum standards, QI activities can – and should – be used to ensure ongoing improvement in the quality of goods or services, even after minimum standards have been met. The starting point for QI activities is NOT that a product or service is necessarily “poor quality”, but rather that quality can always be improved. Therefore, QI is associated with continually raising quality standards.
2️⃣ Some people distinguish QA, QC and QI on the basis of whether these are proactive or reactive activities; however, this is not necessarily the most useful distinction. For example, QA is proactive because it’s about planning how to ensure a quality product or service. However, QA can also be reactive because when a product or service is found not to meet the required standard, one aspect of QA is to immediately fix the problem or provide a workaround to avoid the sub-standard product/service impacting adversely on the consumer/client. Similarly, QI activities can be undertaken in response to a problem being identified (reactive), or they can be proactively undertaken as part of a continuous improvement approach to quality management.
3️⃣ Usually, QC is carried out by a quality assurance engineer. On the other hand, QI is the responsibility of all people in the organisation.
4️⃣ One thing QA, QC and QI have in common is the need for data collection and analysis, which includes a range of data about the inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes of business processes.
5️⃣ QA answers the question: “Are we meeting the standard(s)?” while QI answers the question “How can we do this better?”
To illustrate this difference, the diagram below shows that QA is mainly focused on providing assurances that something meets the minimum standard or threshold. On the other hand, QI focuses on improvement regardless of where something is on the quality spectrum and continues even after the minimum standard has been met.
QI: whose job is it anyway?
While there may be a “Quality Manager” and/or “Quality Team” in an organisation, as Dr W. Edwards Deming – the respected academic, engineer, business consultant and author – noted, “Quality is everyone’s responsibility.”
Obviously, staff who are responsible for frontline product or service delivery can’t devote a large amount of time to QA, QC or QI activities. This is why it’s important for there to be people whose primary responsibility is quality management (such as the Quality Manager and Quality Team).
Where these roles exist, the Quality Manager/Team will oversee and/or conduct quality planning (i.e. QA), as well as data collection and analysis (i.e. QC), and take the lead in coordinating QI activities across the organisation.
However, since “quality” is a characteristic of everything we do, it’s up to each member of an organisation to think about how they can do their jobs to the highest possible standard and to be continually looking for ways to improve how they do their job. Every staff member should be conscious of the minimum standards they are striving to achieve, be able to self-check or monitor their own actions and – most importantly – be working to improve the quality of their work.
👉🏻Advice from MEERQAT: Meaningful and sustainable improvements in quality occur when people at every level of the organisation feel a shared commitment to continuous improvement.
There are five main reasons why employees see quality-related activities as an onerous task to get done as quickly as possible:
- Staff are usually time-poor, with more work than they can reasonably handle in a given shift or workday. In this context, quality projects are seen as an extra work activity, to be done on top of their “real job” and usually without any additional resources.
- Many people – particularly frontline service providers – are turned off by data collection and data analysis and their eyes glaze over when they see charts and statistics.
- Quality approaches such as Improvement Science and Lean Six Sigma are gaining favour with senior management in many sectors. However, many of these approaches require significant training to master and frontline staff are not interested in investing time and effort to become an expert in improvement science or a black belt in Lean Six Sigma.
- Staff often struggle to relate quality initiatives to their own work or the issues they experience in doing that work. They perceive many quality initiatives as being imposed on them by executives, with little or no input from staff about real issues and appropriate remedies.
- With budgets getting ever tighter, many organisations have restricted their quality activities to reactively addressing problems that have occurred, rather than proactively looking for ways to improve the quality of business processes. Quality activities in response to problems can be perceived by staff as “fault-finding” investigations that could result in disciplinary actions.
It is worth taking some time to determine which of these reasons apply to quality-related activities in your organisation, as an important first step to working out the best way to solve them.
📲 Consult with our team about using MEERQAT to solve your organisation’s issues with staff engagement in quality activities.
How can quality activities be made more engaging or fun?
The issues described in the previous section reflect problems with the way quality activities – particularly QI, which is the one quality activity all staff should be actively involved in – are practised.
The challenge for organisations is to ensure that necessary elements of QA (such as accreditation and benchmarking), QC (such as auditing and indicator monitoring) and QI (such as quantitative and qualitative evaluation of quality improvement projects) take place under the auspices of the Quality Manager and Quality Team, while frontline staff are engaged only for those activities to which they can add – and from which they can gain – genuine value.
Fortunately, there are many practical ways in which QI can be made more engaging and enjoyable for frontline staff:
- Encourage people to be creative. Ensure all your staff know that you want to hear their ideas. Creative employees can help your organisation achieve its objectives by coming up with better solutions to problems.
- Make QI regular (ideally weekly). People lose interest in QI activities if they are only sporadic, e.g. avoid the rush of activity that surrounds upcoming accreditation visits. A practical way of doing it is at the end of each week. You can get some biscuits, buns or beers and invite your team to your “quality circle.” It’ll allow staff to share stories and communicate with people in work areas with whom they may not usually have much contact.
- Use high-quality and easy-to-use engaging tools (like MEERQAT). Avoid spreadsheet-based tools (Excel is a turn-off for many frontline staff).
- Undertake QI activities in short bursts (30-45 minute blocks). People dislike long meetings and half- or whole-day workshops can just create a backlog of work to catch up on later. An approach to QI that takes people away from their work for extended periods is not a sustainable approach to QI. Moreover, if staff resent the time they’re spending on quality activities, they are less likely to fully engage or enjoy those activities.
- Try and keep it informal. Allow humour! A relaxed atmosphere with laughter goes a long way in defining your organisational culture, and also encourages creativity.
- Set the stage for brainstorming. Loose, pressure-free brainstorming in a relaxed setting is one of the best ways for your staff to generate new ideas.
- Reward good efforts and good outcomes. People like to have their efforts acknowledged – regardless of outcomes – and good outcomes should always be celebrated. You can use newsletters or social media to ensure positive messages are disseminated to staff and other stakeholders.
Organisations that harness the creativity of their employees to solve problems and improve processes have better financial outcomes, have happier staff – and customers/clients – and produce better products or services. After all, a quality improvement journey depends upon empowered and motivated people to drive change in the workplace.
Whatever sector or industry your organisation is in, the quality of the goods or services you deliver can be significantly improved by engaging teams of frontline workers to identify problems and find solutions for those problems.
MEERQAT offers a simple – yet elegant – collaborative improvement approach that allows frontline staff to be engaged in those quality activities in which they can add – and gain – the most value. MEERQAT provides a platform for managers and staff to reflect together on work processes, using structured conversations about “work-as-done” as the starting point for identifying actual – and potential – issues, as well as workable solutions and improvements.
MEERQAT helps organisations avoid wasting time and resources on QI projects that don’t address the right problems or have the buy-in of the staff who will have to implement the solutions. These are key reasons why QI projects fail to deliver the desired improvements.
Organisations can use MEERQAT’s Basemap Builder to generate interactive process maps for any business process, or access the Basemap Library, filled with templates that provide a great resource for organisations on the path to quality improvement.
For organisations in the health and aged care sectors, the Basemap Library includes maps for current national quality and safety standards, to ensure that staff engagement in QI is aligned to accreditation requirements and can contribute to achieving accreditation objectives such as continuous improvement.
Learn more about how MEERQAT can help you improve quality and employee engagement.
Do you have your own thoughts on quality-related activities? Share them in the comments section below!