Anyone who has studied, or is interested in, the topic of Quality Management will know that the field is awash with theories, standards and models. From the origins of TQM (Total Quality Management) in the days of Deming & Juran, through Crosby and Zero Defects, Ishikawa and Taguchi and on through the work of Tom Peters – hardly a year went by in the 70s and 80s without another ‘guru’ throwing their hat, and a few theories and models, into the ring.
How I use leadership models
Those who have read my work over the years or studied a leadership programme with Babington and The National Centre for Strategic Leadership will know that I’m not always a big fan of such models (and before I get a barrage of tweets on the subject; yes, I know I have one named after me. The Hard Girling Integrated Improvement Model though is about bringing together several other models and theories and integrating them to focus on driving continuous improvement within the organisation. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
The problem with using leadership models for quality management
To me, many models seem to be designed primarily to further the aims and serve the needs of the originator, who is often a consultant wanting to generate business, an academic wanting to be published or a guru wanting to build their reputation. Many are both useful and insightful and can be used to powerful effect by a leader in an organisation. A leader just needs to be careful not to slavishly follow a model or theory that isn’t entirely appropriate for their context or to miss out important facets or issues because a model didn’t include them.
Principles of quality management
With all that in mind, I offer these 7 principles of quality management for a contemporary leader:
- Quality management isn’t just about the product. For any leader at any level in any sector, there are stakeholders who need to be satisfied. They have a set of expectations that must be met. The job of a leader is to understand those needs, plan to meet them, identify the need for quality and engage the team in delivering the desired level of quality…. Whether it be of performance, service, support, outcome or product.
- Quality is a shared responsibility. It isn’t something that can be abdicated to a specific department, team or function even if they have ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’ in their title. As a leader, your job is to meet the expectations of your stakeholders, whether you’re managing internal or external influences. That means processes, service-levels, people and product/output must be of the necessary ‘quality’. These all come under manager responsibilities.
- Quality requires teamwork. That means your team need to work together effectively to meet expectations and probably need to collaborate effectively with other people and teams too. Collaboration in the workplace or ‘cross-border’ working is the way of the 21st century, not tribalism.
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4. You and your people need to know when you’ve got it ‘right’. That means you and they need to be crystal clear on what ‘good enough’ looks like, in everything. In many ways, this is much easier with a tangible product, where things like specifications give clear indications. In service, it can much more of a ‘grey area’, especially regarding the ‘implied needs’ of a stakeholder. Unless people can tell what good looks like, how can they deliver it? Make it clear.
5. It’s a supply chain thing. More than ever these days, we realise that we stand or fall through the work and capabilities of so many others that operate in what we now think of as the ‘supply chain’. That means that people like suppliers of product and service and those who serve us – internally or externally – play a key role in our ability to deliver ‘quality’. We need to engage with them and make our needs clear too.
6. It’s usually the ‘implied needs’ that catch us out. The legal and contractual definition of quality talks about ‘…the ability to meet stated and implied needs’. It’s always hard to be really clear about the ‘implied needs’ of a stakeholder because they aren’t often clear about them either. If they were, they might well become ‘stated needs’ instead. As such, the implied needs tend to be less obvious, unspoken and nothing directly to do with the core product or service. Few stakeholders will specify, for example, how they should be dealt with on the phone or in a meeting. All will, however, soon have an opinion about whether the response or attitude of someone is acceptable or not. Think this through and talk about it, a lot.
7. Stakeholders are not created equal and their importance shifts. All of us have stakeholders that can make or break us. All have others that only assume importance at certain times or under certain circumstances. Some only really matter if something goes wrong. Others are quite important all the time. It varies, but you need to be sure you understand which ones matter, why and when. You need to ensure your team understand this too and know when to escalate or diminish the prominence of each stakeholder so that you can prioritise and allocate resources where they are most needed at any point.
There are many leadership models to consider
Please don’t think of this list as an exhaustive or complete one. Take all of Bill Deming’s seminal ‘14 points’ into account and consider other models which may be prevalent or insightful in your context. This is a big, important and sometimes intangible issue. Delivering quality and meeting the needs and expectations of stakeholders is a very big deal for any leader. It may even be the primary way your performance and your effectiveness as a team is judged.
Give it the time you need to understand, evaluate, plan, train and encourage team communication.