5 Ways Supply Chain Leaders Promote a Culture of Quality

Sept. 25, 2014
These trends are putting tremendous pressure on tech sector supply chains to sense change and respond immediately.

Strong leadership is essential to developing and sustaining a culture of quality, but a new research study from ASQ and Forbes Insights finds that only 60% say their management supports the quality vision and values unequivocally.

The research — “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise” — explores organizations’ support of quality and the key components of a successful culture of quality. More than 2,000 senior executives and quality professionals worldwide were surveyed to gauge their organizations’ quality culture.

The study finds that only 47% of respondents say their leaders lead by example or otherwise “live” the values, and only 50% say support for the company’s quality vision is apparent among middle management.

According to Rodney Donaville, senior director, customer experience, quality and culture for HP, quality is the most important driver of the customer experience, so it’s crucial for the organization to take steps to strengthen a company’s culture of quality among its leaders.

“At HP, we created a set of specific quality behaviors that are aligned to our company’s HP Way,” Donaville said. “Everyone here is a leader. We strive to behave and act in a way that embodies each of these five attributes as we continue to be leaders for each other, our customers and in the world. The quality behaviors translate the leader attributes into quality expectations for all employees.”

As the technology industry continuously evolves, several trends are becoming apparent. Businesses in touch with these trends and prepared to address them, will likely be better positioned to succeed.

The more mature a company’s supply chain and risk management processes are, the better the company fares when a disruption occurs. The research shows: 44 percent of companies with mature processes suffered a 3 percent or more decline in their revenue, compared to 57 percent with immature processes.

These five supply chain leadership attributes offer some helpful insights into building a culture of quality:


  1. Always Be Accountable

    Communicate openly and frequently about quality; and own quality issues through to their resolution

    When a supplier ships the wrong item, a defective item or ships it late and a customer calls them on it — it is rare that the first thing they do is apologize. Own up to the mistake as your customer wants to be informed about what’s happening. Most of the time when you call and talk with your customer about a late shipment due to quality issues, they will work with you to suggest alternatives and maybe even say “Thanks for letting us know.”

  2. Have a Will to Win

    Set audacious quality and continual improvement goals; and partner to deliver market-defining quality.

    A medical device company had an issue with incoming quality from their supplier. Unfortunately, it became a finger-pointing exercise of who was to blame instead of a chance to work together to discover the root cause and fix the issue. It just so happened that at the supplier, one of the assembly technicians came up with a novel idea to help maintain high quality standards — instead of sending the customer 24 parts that make up a subassembly. His thought was “how about we assemble it here, ourselves, since we know that parts anyway we can test and send them the completed unit?” This solution worked. Instead of sending 24 components, the supplier now sends one subassembly; a relatively simple improvement that ensures better quality from the person who does the work.

  3. Exhibit a Passion for Customers

    Advocate for your customers at every opportunity and make them a priority when considering tradeoffs.

    Everyone knows that your customer pays your salary. Are we actually thinking about our customers when we make decisions? How will this affect them? An easy example to share is when the automotive industry has a recall. Chances are very high that the issue occurred somewhere in the supply chain. What is the impact on the customer? Somewhere along the line, someone must have approved the design or release of product or any other reason that the defect was passed on.

  4. Demonstrate a High Level of Capability & Innovation

    Demand quality excellence through the business life cycle; empower, encourage quality innovation and challenge the status quo.

    In the supply chain, everything can be related to a process. We must create, maintain and improve processes that perform and consider creating a high level Value Stream Map from suppliers to customers. During a Value Stream Mapping event, one could find that there are many redundant quality inspections being performed by the supplier, the manufacturer and the customer. Regrettably, in many supply chains the communication between companies can be described as poor at best. A lot of waste can be eliminated by having the representatives there to talk and communicate with each other.

    An important rule for a good, lean supply chain is — in order to have good suppliers; you need to be a good customer. This means that ordering sporadically or making unjust demands does not help the supply chain.

  5. Work Hard to Develop People & Teams

    Invest in quality talent, tools and processes; reward and recognize excellence in quality.

    From the survey, 54% of the respondents said they plan to increase investment in quality in the next 18 months. Use this time wisely. Develop simple techniques that will help the front-line worker solve problems like using the 5 Why’s or any of the seven basic quality tools. Get your supervisors and managers to coach and mentor more. Work with your supply chain to develop a feeling of teamwork.

Values in Action

An organization’s leaders are also responsible for establishing corporate “values” that can help individuals at all levels make better and more responsible decisions relating to issues of quality. According to the research, only 61% of organizations describe their quality values as clearly stated. Only half of respondents say such values are clearly understood throughout the organization.

If an organization is seeking to improve its culture of quality, a closer look at the three areas mentioned — vision, values and leadership — is likely a good place to begin.

But be warned, says James Lawther, a long-time quality-focused executive and now the principal blogger at leaders hoping to set a strong quality example should avoid overcomplicating matters. “Quality isn’t about statements,” Lawther said. “It is about getting out of your office, finding something that doesn’t work the way it should and fixing it. Then fix something that customers or employees say doesn’t work, then fix something else, then fix another thing.” Walking the walk, says Lawther, “really isn’t so hard.”

Quality, cost and delivery are considered three of the most basic measures for a lean organization; this is no different in the supply chain. You’ll only get so far in making improvements internally for your customer; you have to reach into your supply chain to continue the process to become even more successful.

Anthony (Tony) Manos is a catalyst with Profero Inc., where he provides professional consulting services, implementation, coaching, and training to a wide variety of organizations--large and small, private and public in many industries focusing on lean enterprise, including lean manufacturing and lean healthcare. He has extensive knowledge of lean and quality in a wide range of work environments. He is trained and certified by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) U.S. Department of Commerce in all elements of lean manufacturing and is Lean Bronze Certified.

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