Quality As A Movement For Change. Seriously?

Luigi Russolo - Dynamism of a Car

Luigi Russolo - Dynamism of a Car

- "I'm moving to the Quality department"

- "Oh… What have you done wrong?”

The announcement of my new job is welcomed by a mix of incredulous amazement and worries about my professional choices. Moving to Industrial Quality, after years spent with business, international operations, marketing, communications and social media, seems like a weird decision. Why leave shiny projects, where creativity and differentiation bring about public recognition and visibility, and move to the austere world of quality? Isn't it about compliance, adherence to rules and norms, control and repetition? Isn't it tedious and... boring?

Well, that’s the point. It can be tedious and boring. But it can also be exciting and fulfilling. It all depends of the vision an organization has about quality. And the organization I’m in now – a large vaccine manufacturing company – precisely wants to take a fresh look at quality. Not only does it want to improve quality through new ways, but it sees quality as having the potential to trigger a massive culture change that could spread to the whole company. I’m joining an organization that wants to develop Quality as a movement for change.

A culture change issue

Like many old, large healthcare businesses, my company has built a strong culture which brings people together and make them feel proud to contribute to public health. At the same time, it is a heavily industrial, capital intensive business (more than half of the total 13,000 staff works in industrial operations), evolving in a conservative and heavily regulated environment. And yes, we have quality issues. Despite all processes, systems, training programs, controls, strategic initiatives and communications campaigns. Whatever we keep doing (that is, a lot), quality problems still prevent us from supplying our customers with as many products as they need, at the quality level they demand. Worse than just a financial loss, this is a loss for public health, and a continuous source of stress for the company and its employees. Things are not working well.

It’s time to do things differently

It started with hiring a person with a disruptive vision of quality, to lead the global quality operations while reporting in directly to the CEO. I wrote previously how this new Chief Quality Officer got interested in social collaboration and engagement approaches like Break Dengue; they’re the modern alternative to top-down approaches. Top-down has reached its limits for quality improvement – and for many other things; and it doesn’t work at all for culture change.  Enabling this culture change is going to be my job, as Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement.

I couldn’t find any other professional with the same title in LinkedIn (out of 300 million users?!) but my reference in this field is the truly amazing job done by the Horizons Group at NHS Improving Quality in the UK. Improving health and care by enabling change agents wherever they are – and giving them actual change skills, like what was done through the School for Health & Care Radicals is such a brilliant idea. Kudos Helen Bevan, Jackie Lynton, Naomi Witcomb, Carol Read, Jodi Brown… + all Health & Care Radical fellows, and many thanks for inspiration! (Tips for newcomers: you can watch out for the School’s 2015 edition, read the “New era of thinking and practice in change and transformation” White Paper, and connect to The Edge, “A hub for change activists in health and care to learn, connect and mobilize for transformational change”).

Creating engagement around quality

The quality winning formula [AV]

The quality winning formula [AV]

It’s easy to identify what has to change in dysfunctional cultures; it’s less easy to have a structured and comprehensive approach. A while ago, I had developed a framework for culture change that I called “Voices”, as I believe it all starts with listening to what people have to say, and letting them speak. The acronym stands for Vision, Openness, Information, Culture of leadership, Enterprise 2.0, and Success metrics. 

Only recently did I realize our engagement plan for quality actually matches this framework quite well.  There must be some level of robustness in it (or at least, thinking consistency over time). The plan has seven components – that is, one more than the Voices framework. I’ll explain.

1. Inspire: collectively write and share our narrative. This is about crowdsourcing the story we’re in, our direction, and sharing it through innovative communications models. Not another set of meaningless, top-down cascading of void corporate speak.

2.  Open Up: connect with our internal and external eco-system. It starts with mapping and understanding who the stakeholders are, and engaging with those who (may) contribute to the success of the initiative. Cross pollination of ideas enable innovation and engagement.

3. Educate: set up an in-house quality and leadership training center. Not only this academy will enhance people’s technical and leadership skills, but it is also a great opportunity to publicly recognize highly qualified staff – even those with no academic background – by making them coach and train others.

4. Involve: establish a dialog and co-construction culture. Create ways and environment for people to contribute wherever they stand in the organization. Demonstrate an inclusive, hierarchy-free mindset; break down barriers, to free up creativity and engagement.

5. Collaborate: implement new collaboration tools. Facilitate collaboration and cross-silo access to relevant information; remove organizational obstacles to information access, support added value management. Maintain & strengthen a sense of community, and increase staff’ digital literacy.

6. Monitor: define and monitor simple, inspiring progress indicators that are not just “technical” but connect with people’s values, which are positive and make people feel good when they’re achieved; monitor and share progress.

7. Lead Change: This is the collective enabler that will support all first 6 aspects. It is about driving culture change-related initiatives through a volunteer network working in parallel to / in alignment with the current hierarchical organization, as J. Kotter describes in Accelerate! We want to develop voluntary commitment and emotional connection to performance excellence.

Interested to know how this will take shape? Watch this space! Inspired by fellow Change Agent WW John Stepper’s Working Out Loud, I plan to share the most interesting aspects of this journey. I will also speak about it at the International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare (London, April 2015) and at the we.CONECT event (Boston, April 2015). Meet me there!

It’s going to be a great learning opportunity on my side, as I have a lot to learn about quality. What I already know is that it's a unique chance to work at the service of people, business and public health at the same time. I’ll be located in Boston, MA from early 2015 – so if you happen to be nearby, come and let’s chat!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions about culture change and quality improvement.