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Organisation leaders need to walk the quality talk

Cecilia Mutuku

Quality, it is often said, is king. We can never over-emphasise the role that quality plays in our lives. From the service you receive from a company to the pen you use to write, a quality management system is required to ensure the end product or service meets set standards. As a trainer in quality management systems, I am often asked to describe quality.

Indeed, when I bounce back the question to the trainees, many define quality based on attributes such as goodness, beauty, look or feel. This is, however, imprecise. It, therefore, requires an objective measure of quality.

For this reason, the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has come up with a universal definition of quality, as “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an entity fulfills requirements.”

In recognition of the centrality of quality, a day is set aside every year (second Thursday of November – last week)to increase awareness on its value and in acknowledgment of the critical role it plays in our lives. The theme for World Quality Day this year is “Celebrating everyday leaders”.

This is a timely reminder that we have an opportunity to be advocates of quality, be it in championing for quality products and services or promoting a processes approach, every day, all the time. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the quality drivers and champions in our organisations. But who are the quality champions in any organisation?

Leadership at all levels is at the core of implementing an effective quality management system. Indeed, it is intentional that leadership is one of the seven principles of ISO 9001: 2015 Quality Management Systems because it provides commitment and guidance for the systematic and continual improvement of an organisation’s overall performance.

Leaders have responsibility to set the strategic direction of any organisation. It is also their role to communicate the mission, vision, strategy, policies and processes, besides shaping the culture of the organisations.

The behaviour of the leadership influences the quality culture hence the need to create and sustain shared values, fairness and ethical models for behaviour at all levels of the organisation.

The other six principles of quality management systems—customer focus, engagement of people, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision-making and relationship management—are important but leadership is at the centre of them all. So, why is leadership key if organisations are to produce quality products and services?

Indeed, leaders set the tone on how employees treat their customers. A leader who advocates for interests of the customer and stakeholders acts as the conscience of the organisation and will quickly intervene to delight them.

Another reason why leadership is key in driving the quality agenda, is that engaged employees are more likely to be enthusiastic and keen to exceed customer expectation. Empowered employees, too, take initiative without fear and when their contribution is recognised, they focus more on quality.

A recent survey by National Quality Institute (NQI) found that most decisions on adoption of international standards are influenced by decision makers in an organisation. The trend is worrying because, to date, only 172 organisations are certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to the Quality Management System (QMS) despite the fact that quality affects us all, everyday.

Without quality control, the world would be unpredictable and an unsafe place to live in. For a quality culture to be entrenched, leaders should encourage an organisation-wide commitment to quality and ensure that leaders at all levels are positive examples to their juniors.

Leaders also need to provide people with the required resources. These can only be achieved in an environment which consciously promotes quality. Quality is not an act, but a habit, as the great philosopher Aristotle once said. The writer is head of National Quality Institute—[email protected]

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