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Quality conscience: Who holds you to account?

Published:

Kate Smith, Managing Director at Capella Associates, discusses the challenges of knowing what the right thing is, and shares what a quality conscience looks like at her organisation.

Author: Kate Smith, Managing Director at Capella Associates
  • Quality assurance
  • To help ensure we deliver outstanding results for our stakeholders, Capella has a documented quality management system (QMS) and supporting processes, documents and resources. These are audited at least annually, and, led from the top, they focus on capturing and sharing best practice (not just pointing out non-conformances).   

    However, our management system doesn’t cover every choice, every decision, and every action that’s taken. Whilst we can aim to fully align with the QMS, it’s our ‘quality conscience’ that ensures we choose things that are best for the whole, make decisions that are best in the long-term, and act in a way that we’re proud about.      

    For me, quality conscience is about our individual and collective behaviours. Agreeing shared values and promoting these can help drive good behaviours, and these can be reflected through communications, role profiles, and performance management processes. Ultimately though, we are each responsible for our own behaviours, so the controls must be self-imposed. It is about choosing to do the right thing.   

    How do we know what the right thing is?   

    For those who are good at self-reflection, we can ask ourselves whether we’d be proud to tell family and friends about the things we’ve done, or whether we’d be happy to be on the receiving end of the action. Or we could take a more-structured approach and do an impact assessment, with questions such as “does the outcome have a positive impact on all stakeholders?”. Other people are often best placed to see things that we can’t see for ourselves, so it’s good practice to also invite others to critique, either informally through trusted colleagues, or formally through third parties. Capella has an Advisory Board with external members who provide oversight and scrutiny.  We also use third-party certifications and awards to assess against best-practice frameworks. But all these practises require us to be open to seeing things we might not like, being willing to change, and being honest with ourselves and others. To build a strong quality conscience, these behaviours need to be valued, nurtured, and celebrated.   

    When we asked our team what “doing the right thing” meant to them, we were able to gauge the strength of Capella’s quality conscience. What we heard certainly passed the “I’d be proud to tell family and friends” test. Responses included: 

    • “Keeping the bigger picture in mind.” 
    • “Providing extra support for learners who need it even when there’s no budget.” 
    • “Looking for solutions and not giving up when things are tough.” 
    • “We always say to learners that if anything happens at home or work that could affect them or their programme, they should talk to us…we want them to get the best out of their apprenticeship…we let them know they’re not alone, we’re here to help and can point them to others if needed.” 
    • “Challenging things we know aren’t right.” 

    So, back to the opening question, “who holds you to account”? Of course, only you can answer this. You can look to your organisation since it has a role to play in setting standards, embedding them and adhering to them. You can seek help from others including third parties. You must also look within and ask whether you’re holding yourself to account and doing the right thing. 

    Read more on the World Quality Week 2022 theme, 'Quality conscience: Doing the right thing'. 

    Location
    • United Kingdom
    • Body of knowledge
    Type Branch
    Branch Thames Valley

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    Weighing up the consequences of doing the right thing

    Published:

    For World Quality Week 2022, the CQI’s Chair, Amanda McKay CQP FCQI, discusses what doing the right thing looks like in the nuclear industry, and the changes that have occurred over recent years to incorporate a quality conscience from the start.

    Author: Amanda McKay CQP FCQI, CQI Chair
  • Quality assurance
  • As a quality practitioner for over 30 years, I’ve seen lots of changes in both the sectors I’ve worked in, and the quality profession itself. Many organisations are now more aware of their social impact and the need to report on their approach to environment, social impact and governance. We are also seeing the board being held to account for not only financial and productivity performance, but also being a ‘good’ organisation. 

    Productivity and profitability do not always drive the right behaviours. I’ve seen that over the years, especially with quality, where corners can be cut when things are buried under lots of concrete or in difficult to reach places, sometimes technically within the specification. In recent years I have seen a change in the way quality is perceived at board level. In my early days it was about inspection and quality control, but we are now seen as trusted advisors working with the other functions in the organisation to do the right thing.  

    What does ‘doing the right thing’ mean 

    Doing the right thing means that we build in quality from the start. In the industry I work in, that means quality is part of the Gate 0 (pre discovery phase) considerations along with method, cost and schedule. We also think about the ethics of what we are doing, if it is the right thing to do, whether we should be involved with this organisation, or working with this country – this was not the case a few years ago. 

    Weighing up the repercussions 

    Looking at the current political situation across Europe, we have seen organisations and countries in a dilemma over doing the right thing, especially with energy costs rising. It would be easy to ignore the moral dilemma and take the cheapest/easiest option, but countries have taken the right choice. However, even the ‘right’ moral choice can have repercussions – for some countries, it has brought another environmental issue with the return to coal and delaying the decommissioning of nuclear power. These are difficult choices but overall are made for right reasons. 

    As a profession, our principles have been about doing things right and right first time, but that isn’t always the same as doing the right thing. Our core competencies as a profession – being governance, assurance, improvement and leadership – should lead us down the route of being the consciousness of the organisation. Within quality, we tend to be embedded across the organisation and sighted on all aspects of the strategy and operations, so we are in a good place to understand and advise on doing the right thing.  

    I’m looking forward to World Quality Week in November and the discussions and debates about ‘doing the right thing’ how we as a profession understand the concept and share the good practice across all sectors. 

    Learn more about World Quality Week 2022

    Download resources, let us know how you are celebrating, and discover more to read on the theme, 'Quality conscience: Doing the right thing'.

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    • Body of knowledge
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