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A Commitment to CQI Benefits
Both Customers and Facility

Clint Maun, CSP

If thereís a true commitment to the effort, CQI can significantly benefit both the customer and the facility. The CQI philosophy says an organization can improve the quality of itsí products and services. There are three critical components in any CQI effort: attitude, process and results.

The Attitude Component
The attitude component is the belief that itís possible to continuously improve quality. Quality must be defined in the attitude phase as follows: if the product or service meets or exceeds the expectations of the customer, and it meets or exceeds our expectations as the provider, then it is by definition a quality product or service. That means if we say our product or service is good but the customer isn't satisfied, itís still not quality. Conversely, if the customer is satisfied but we donít think our product is quality, then itís not quality - we are simply delivering our work effort with an attitude of, well they are satisfied, but we know itís not as good as it should be.

So, to have a quality product or service, we must satisfy both sides of the equation. The customer comes first, and after the customer is satisfied we must also truly believe weíre providing a quality product or service.

One of the difficulties of this multipurpose definition is there are many different customer types to satisfy. Using the quality definition presented earlier, that means all customer groups should have their expectations met or exceeded.

If employees do not adopt that tough definition of quality they will always be stuck in the middle of who is more important and who counts most - who likes our efforts and who doesnít like them, simply saying, we have a host of customers to satisfy and we have to ensure our products and services are meeting their needs and our needs. This allows us to focus an appropriate attitude for our improvement efforts.

The Process Component

Once we have developed the attitude of what quality is and have determined we are going to improve, weíre positioned for the quality improvement process versus merely quality assurance. Quality assurance (QA) is an effort where we check and determine if we have met established specifications or standards. But with that process we check the quality after the product or service has been completed. That fosters an inspection mentality and doesnít encourage empowerment or self-initiated behavior by the department to improve the product or service. The QA function is very important and we shouldnít lose track of trying to measure how we have performed. But we should also have people who feel empowered to correct the problem or form a team to work on an issue when it comes up, and not wait until an inspection to determine there is a quality program.

Therefore, the process of CQI is about developing an appropriate definition of our vision and purpose for the program and or attitude of what our quality definition is all about. We are then in position to train our managers for their jobs as facilitators, coaches, mentors, and sponsors and try to remove from them the responsibility of being in charge of everything as a type of overlord or policing body. This allows us to move our management team toward facilitation and empowerment of people to work on quality improvement, rather than the attitude that itís their job to do the work and our job to see itís done right.

Once training has been developed for our managers, it is important to proceed with training staff on how they can be involved on quality action teams. People need to check their own work to determine when there is a problem or concern that needs attention and get away from trying to determine who is to blame for the problem. We need to educate them to fix the system or process that caused the initial issue or concern. That allows us to train people to appropriately be involved on teams within the department and other key departments so we can get on with dealing with opportunities, challenges and problems that present themselves daily.

Once staff members have been trained on how to be part of quality action teams, they can then be involved in the start up of such teams to address specific problems or concerns. Quality action teams require some type of approval by an overall leadership council within the overall facility. The team would be responsible for working diligently to fix a problem or concern. The team would also take responsibility for developing a process to ensure the issue is correctly analyzed, researched, and that implementation of the team plan is carried out to fix the system or process. Once that is done, the team reports back to the overall leadership council guiding the program.

The most important part of this process is that employees throughout the organization are involved in working on these efforts for quality improvement. These teams can be not only fun and motivational, but can also lead to a staff morale boost and turnover reduction. If done correctly, the team process takes a considerable amount of pressure off management to always find the problems and try to fix them, and it also leads to improved communication and involvement. Personal accountability will increase and staff will truly feel they are part of a team effort with a focused commitment to improve quality.

Facilitators need extra training to help draw out ideas and work as catalysts for the quality action teams as needed, or when there are problems with group dynamics or interaction. They also help smooth any turf or territory problems. Facilitators are used to ensure there is a smooth team process going on and they may b used as special internal consultants when necessary.

The Results Component
Once we have achieved the attitude that we can continuously improve quality, have a common definition of quality, and have a process for trying to empower people to be involved in the quality initiative, we then must target our efforts toward achievable results. It is important to produce CQI programs that have a logical and measurable tie to targets for success. CQI programs have failed in the past because they were involved in activities and efforts, but there was no focus on what they were trying to do in the organization. This doesnít allow anyone to feel they are making any difference. When this occurs, disenchantment and attitude problems with the overall program result. By setting measurable targets that must be accomplished in the CQI program, you can ensure that teams are started up in a manner that allows people to feel there is a need to work on the team effort.

You can also directly impact your organizationís revenue, costs, and quality issues in an accountable fashion. These targets could be implemented all the way from turnover reduction to errors in productivity, waste, labor concerns and other types of specific quality measurements. When we set up these measurable target for the organization, the process takes on a true commitment and the attitude is properly focused.

This is where the CQI program definitely has its major impact for return on investment. We also find these types of efforts allow the organization to constantly measure its success against these targets. These targets can be department specific or they can be for the overall facilityís CQI effort, but we must tie them to measurable targets or outcomes that allow the program to be successful.

When consulting with organizations we implement the following principle: We celebrate our championship season against the targets before we recognize the individual performance by members of the team. In other words, the entire focus must be successfully achieving the targets and then individual performance celebrations can be tied to that target accomplishment. This sets a very important team-building attitude in motion. It also improves communication and allows the organization to see measurable return on the CQI effort.

When you put a three part process in place for CQI that includes attitude, process and results you have a chance to directly impact the organization in ways you never thought possible. Many of these CQI efforts are directly attributable to measurable improvements that would never have occurred if they were tried using a traditional top down management approach.

If you are interested in more information on a CQI program in your organization click here.