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Reframing perceptions of the quality profession and its business

Published: 12 Sep 2022

In the CQI’s recent Workforce Insight research, fewer than two in five working respondents said they felt highly valued by other teams, departments and employees in their organisations. Could the key to raising that number lie in changing the perception of quality? Quality systems and assurance professional Ryan Renard CQP MCQI makes the case.  

There is a fundamental misconception within industry that quality sells itself.  

Quality as a profession has relied on risk aversion – directing people away from non-compliance, unsafe conditions and poor quality. This is evidenced in the quality inductions we have all sat through, or even presented, in our working lives. 

As such, the historical perception of quality is the proverbial stick that reacts with a swift strike when issues occur, stopping or delaying other departments. This produces a negative-perception spiral, whereby the quality department is seen as an obstacle, rather than a facilitator.  

When there is a problem, an individual or team seeks out the quality department’s advice to, potentially, receive an answer they do not like. This may cause them to interact less, eventually creating a larger problem and an answer they dislike even more – and so the cycle continues. 

“What is easiest is often overlooked” 

When I joined the aerospace industry, the average age of the quality department sat firmly in the mid-fifties. This typified the perception that quality was a profession meant for those who wished to see out their retirement, or who wanted a change from other skilled jobs, such as operations or engineering.  

Within work, colleagues joked that “those who can do; those who can’t talk”, or that the quality department was the ‘failed engineers’ department – or even the ‘police’. Often, because of the systems, perception and remit issued by the business, they were perceived as obstacles and hurdles, their opinion only sought when necessary, but rarely when valuable. Some used this position as an opportunity to further their preferences and opinions, rather than objective requirements and flexible solutions. 

If you were to ask the team within your business ‘why do we have quality’, what would they say? More importantly, what would you want them to say?

In the quality profession, we are often the bearers of what could be perceived as ‘bad’ news. The content of our responses typically questions the method, approach or outcome of a given situation, for which the business representative asking the question was undoubtedly responsible in some part.  

Without suitable training in communication and rapport, how can we frame the focus on the system as the error? These two ‘soft’ skills (a misnomer, causing negative perception in itself) are undervalued and underappreciated throughout industry. As the renowned American psychiatrist and psychologist Milton H. Erickson said: “What is easiest is often overlooked.” 

It is important to remind ourselves that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have available. No-one comes to work to do a bad job. 

Changing perceptions 

Perception and framing are essential to selling quality – compliance is not seen as a ‘sexy’ industry, despite our passion for it. 

If you were to ask the team within your business what quality means to them, what would they say? More importantly, what would you want them to say? 

We need to change our approach, from believing quality is inherently valuable – that standards incentivise compliance and regulations hold businesses to account – to understanding that quality is relative and contextual, decided upon by each person within a business and team. If the written word were sufficient, or even the results, why would we need a department, or individual, representing quality? 

Make no mistake – businesses need to make money to be viable. The quality and finance values need to be inherently linked. 

Closing the generation gap 

The profession is reaching a natural tipping point. The gap between generations of quality members is significant, often a few decades, but quality is becoming a career choice. It is becoming a place to make a difference through change and proactive leadership, rather than staunchly setting boundaries and defending limits. 

As quality professionals, it is our responsibility to sell standards, best practices, compliance and improvement to our stakeholders. We provide the why to the how. As Aristotle said: “Knowledge of the facts differs from knowledge of the reason for the fact.” 

Our goal and aim is to change our ‘away from’ thinking (what we/they do not want) to ‘towards’ thinking (what we/they do want). Essentially, to motivate businesses by gaining, not avoiding. Think of insurance, which is often sold under the guise of ‘if the worst should happen…’. That is a motivating thought if you are risk adverse, although not everyone is! 

Instead of quality mitigating risk, quality enables growth and expansion. Instead of quality being ‘failed engineers’, we are successful leaders, inspiring change and personal responsibility. 

Instead of quality defending boundaries, we create clear parameters from which to explore the unknown safely. Instead of helping to save businesses, we help to facilitate growth. 

Successful quality culture is where information is freely shared, personal responsibility is openly accepted, and the business actively participates in continuous improvement and problem solving. 

To develop and build this culture, everyone within our businesses must be suitably aware, knowledgeable and trained in quality techniques, requirements and skills. We do not all need to be experts, but we do need others to be able to embrace the mantra “quality is everyone’s responsibility”. 

“The greatest personal limitation is to be found not in the things you want to do and can’t, but in the things you have never considered doing,” said Richard Bandler, co-founder of the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) approach to psychotherapy.  

Reaping the benefits 

What are the benefits of this reframe? Our first benefit is found in active and wilful engagement with quality, and quality departments or professionals. This open dialogue means knowledge can be freely shared, improvements identified by local subject-matter experts, and problems identified before they happen – or suitably managed before they grow too large. 

Our second benefit is in improving the accessibility and interaction by changing the perception of quality within businesses and industry. By providing fluidity and flexibility within business systems, approaches and methods enable the business and departments to react to strategies and changes. 

The third benefit is assisting in supporting and facilitating the narrative of the end-user within the businesses, defining acceptable behaviours, actions and thoughts that support a safe and trusting perception of industry. 

To achieve this, a collaboration culture is necessary. The business and its employees’ perception of quality derives the value we can contribute to growth, expansion and improvement.   

Do you frame yourself as facilitators who facilitate growth and expansion? If quality was reframed, what changes could this make to you, the business, the industry and your customers? 

Do you want to have your say on this issue? Get in touch at [email protected]