“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question I’m sure most children are asked at some point. Among the answers of teacher, doctor, popstar, builder and astronaut, I doubt many of them are harbouring ambitions of a job in the quality profession.
Of course, as we grow up, we realise that there are far more professions out there than we ever learn about at school, with a role in quality being just one of them. However, that doesn’t mean that every quality professional deliberately chose that role. In fact, many of them fall into the role almost by accident.
Maybe the previous quality manager retired or moved on from the company, and the position was offered as a promotion. Perhaps the role was inherited as part of a restructure. Or maybe the new quality manager put themselves forward for the role, viewing it as a development opportunity.
These ‘accidental quality managers’ aren’t uncommon. In fact, as more and more businesses make quality a priority, they are growing in number and will likely continue to do so.
The common problems faced by accidental managers
Accidental quality managers aren’t a bad thing. With the right training and support, they can thrive in the role and become huge assets to their organisations.
Unfortunately, too many of them don’t get the right support – they are left to sink or swim. Nobody within the company provides training, so they have to figure things out for themselves.
If they are lucky, the senior management team will be supportive. They’ll see quality management systems as more than just a means to get ISO 9001 certification and will actively encourage teams to put quality first.
However, even with buy-in from senior managers, an inexperienced quality manager will still face plenty of challenges. Their knowledge of what best practice looks like will be limited, and they won’t be familiar with methodologies, tools and systems that could benefit their organisation.
The challenges are even greater when senior managers aren’t interested in the quality management system; when they view it as something to be maintained to keep ISO auditors happy, rather than recognising it as a valuable business system.
Unfortunately, this attitude is quite common, and not just in companies with accidental quality managers – I’ve seen organisations where even the most qualified quality professionals don’t have any support from their colleagues.
My first priority when working with any organisation is getting buy-in from the entire management team. Building a world-class business should never be just one person’s responsibility.
Why should we support accidental quality managers?
Quality is not limited to big corporations with deep pockets. The higher the number of businesses that are focused on delivering high-quality products and services, the better it is for all of us, professionally and personally.
As quality professionals, we should be banging the drum for quality and supporting quality managers however they secure their role and whatever size organisation they work for.
If we help inexperienced quality managers succeed, their management teams will feel more positive about investing in quality. They will have the confidence to invest in developing their quality management system, attaining ISO accreditation, and employing or engaging the services of additional quality professionals.
How to support accidental quality managers
In organisations where quality management has been made one person’s role, this creates a problem when that employee moves on, and the successor is expected to simply pick up where they left off.
In cases where the organisation is already working toward ISO certification or is hoping to attain existing accreditation, the quality manager’s role often becomes about maintaining the system rather than improving it.
Situations like this can be avoided if organisations stop siloing quality management and make it everybody’s responsibility. That begins by getting everyone engaged in the quality management system and making continuous improvement part of the company culture.
This is why I get all my clients to focus on the ISO frameworks rather than the certification. The certificate is simply a piece of paper. The framework – the quality management system – is where the value lies.
If the quality management system is only ever seen as a tool to get certified, the organisation will never unlock its many benefits or reap the rewards fully.
The first step to supporting accidental quality managers is helping them to know how to build a quality management system that supports the business. After all, a quality manager cannot successfully take charge of a quality management system if they do not fully understand it.
[Photo credit: Phil Andrew]