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Building a quality culture

Progress indicator

Published: 28 Nov 2022

A quality culture is at the heart of any successful organisation. Consultant and communication coach Lesley Worthington outlines the key building blocks to achieve it.

If you look closely at any reputable, successful business, you will almost always find a strong corporate culture. You will find engaged and empowered employees, enviable employee retention, and superior product quality.  

Culture is a secret weapon, but it’s becoming less and less secret. It is also becoming more and more obvious – and more and more talked about.  

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a white paper on Quality Management Maturity (QMM). One of the takeaways was that without a quality culture, it will be difficult to achieve a high QMM score. Although a voluntary programme, this score could well end up being a critical metric in the pharmaceutical space in the future, so we’d better start paying attention.  

"Building a quality culture is all about the people skills – communication, and all the touchy-feely stuff that seems like it doesn’t really belong in this space."

Lesley Worthington, Consultant and communication coach

It’s always been clear that a strong culture leads to success and now, with initiatives such as QMM, the motivation to create a strong culture is here too.  

So, how do we get there? How do we build a quality culture? How do we change an existing culture, if it’s not yet what we need it to look like?  

Three things are needed: clarity; trust; effective communication. Let’s look at each of these.  

Clarity  

We need to take a step back and remember our purpose and that of our organisation. Why we do what we do – literally, why do we exist?  

We have all these fancy slogans and mission statements and visions and guiding principles and tenets. More often than not though, these are all about marketing, or assuring our stakeholders that we stand behind something. But, can every single person in your organisation answer the question: ‘What’s our purpose?’ And, more importantly, does everyone have the same answer?  

Have the leaders clearly communicated that vision and purpose? To everyone? So that there is a shared vision and single purpose informing everyone’s activities in the organisation?  

We need that clarity so we can have a shared vision and so that everyone is united in working toward that unifying purpose. ‘We save lives!’ Or, ‘We improve quality of life!’ Or perhaps ‘We make [product] accessible to more people!’  

Whatever it is – everyone has to know it and everyone has to believe in it. That can only happen if there’s clarity. It has to come from the top. And it has to filter down through the entire organisation.  

Trust  

You need people to feel like they belong; that they are valuable, can be trusted to do their jobs competently, and that their opinions, feedback, suggestions and contributions matter.  

People need to feel they can speak up if they see some way to improve things. People need to feel they can report something that seems ‘off’. People need to feel they are integral to the success of the organisation – an essential, valuable and valued piece of the puzzle.  

Building this team feeling and the attitude of support and collaboration that leads to this feeling of trust, comes down to relationship building. Which takes time. And it happens one relationship at a time. One conversation at a time.  

Effective communication  

Finally, we need effective communication throughout our organisation.  

  • Are the lines of communication open?
  • Are you working in silos and keeping to your own area, or is there communication between departments and functions?
  • Is training effective?
  • What happens during onboarding?
  • Have you educated people, or only trained them?
  • Have you communicated the why or only the how?
  • Do people know how to talk to each other?
  • Does upper management know how to talk to people on the shop floor?
  • Do department heads know how to talk to upper management? And to other department heads?
  • Do subject matter experts know how to make their knowledge accessible to others?
  • Has everyone been trained to write for the real world, or are people still hanging on to the writing they brought with them from academia?
  • Are people skilled at getting their messages heard, understood and acted upon?  
  • Is anyone making sure everyone’s soft skills are up to scratch? Is there support for this sort of thing?  

The common denominator 

Think about the common denominator for these three elements: good communication skills.  

It’s no shock to realise that without good communication skills it will be difficult to achieve clarity, build trust, or communicate effectively up, down, and across your organisation. 

If you can’t communicate with clarity, you will struggle when creating a shared vision and unity of purpose. So, a quality culture will be hard to build.  

If you don’t make an effort to connect with employees – above and below you; if you don’t bring your authentic self to work; if you make yourself unapproachable – either physically or by the language you choose to use; or if you lack transparency, you will struggle to build relationships. Trust will be difficult. So, a quality culture will be hard to develop.  

If you struggle with small talk, have trouble navigating difficult conversations or giving constructive feedback, have poor intercultural awareness, lack emotional intelligence, don’t match your language to your audience, insist on using buzzwords and jargon, or have poor listening skills, effective communication will be difficult. So, a quality culture will be hard to build.  

It takes time, and requires a focus on relationship building. Relationships aren’t easy. People are messy. Creating good relationships takes patience and commitment. Building a quality culture is all about the people skills – communication, and all the touchy-feely stuff that seems like it doesn’t really belong in this space.  

But it does. And it must.  

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