Culture and the Quality Management System

March 31, 2015
May/June 2015
This online-only article is a supplement to the May/June 2015 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
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The first and most fundamental step of quality management system (QMS) design is to establish guiding principles. “We hold these truths to be self evident,” as in the Declaration of Independence, came over ten years before the Constitution. We need to secure our guiding principles before we focus on our QMS. The guiding principles for our country go on to say that “all men are created equal.” In a QMS, this guiding principle is of great importance. Quality is a system—a whole that derives its characteristics (good and bad) from the interaction of the essential parts. Management and workers are both essential parts. It is their interactions that assure a product or service of lasting quality. All are equal and each has its responsibilities. It is never what each part is doing separately that ensures that the system will work well. It is the interactions among those parts. Often I hear, “We would have quality if only the workers would do their work right” or “It’s management’s fault. If they would give us more resources, these problems would go away.” This is focusing on the parts and not the whole. Improving the parts does not necessarily improve the quality of the product. Focusing on the interactions will give us what we want. Guiding principles must begin with our interactions.

John Tooley
is the senior consult of Advanced Energy’s Applied Building Science Team, Raleigh, North Carolina.

I suggest that QMS design start with three guiding principles.

Guiding principle 1. Process fails more often than people. Therefore, when there is a mistake or a defect we will not blame our fellow workers or management. We will blame the absence of a process, or a flaw in the process. .

Coupling effective work processes with a fertile, blame-free workplace produces the best results. In The Carrot Principle, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton present a -ten-year study involving more than 200,000 people that showed how much more effective the “carrot” of praise is than the all-too-common “stick” of blame. Or as W. Edwards Deming puts it, “Managers must drive out fear.” Therefore, our companies must create a culture that actively seeks to banish blame—with the exception of blaming the process. To improve the process, we must have free feedback and willing workers who are not motivated out of fear.

Focusing on the interactions will give us what we want.


Guiding principle 2. Process converts our input into output. We will create or improve processes that will convert our materials, equipment, and labor into the products or services that the customer demands. We will do this efficiently, ensuring that the resources we use will provide top value at a price that is affordable.

Guiding principle 3. Quality means meeting requirements. Requirements are born of value. Value is what the customer wants. Without the customer, we do not exist. The third guiding principle is to meet the customer’s requirements.

Each guiding principle affects change. The fundamental question is, What do we want? Above all, we want to keep mistakes from becoming defects. Harmony in the workplace, and effective, efficient, defect-free products and services, give management, employees, and customers what they want.

Changing Our Behavior

To achieve lasting change, we must change our own behavior. We can whip people to get them to change, or we can give them incentives. “Beat a horse and he will run . . . for a while.” The carrot-or-stick thinking has never resulted in lasting change. A QMS must be directed at what we want, not what we don’t want.

learn more

Ackoff, Russell L. Ackoff’s Best: His Classic Writings on Management. New York and Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Crosby, Philip. Quality Is Free. New York: Mentor, 1980.

Dattner, Ben. The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure. Reprinted in San Jose: Free Press, 2012.

Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000.

Gostick, Adrian, and Chester Elton. The Carrot Principle. San Jose: Free Press, 2009.

To focus on not repeating a mistake is to focus on something we should not have done. Failure and mistakes give us opportunities to learn. Learn from your mistakes and errors. This is the first rule of a learning company.

We seek improvement by looking at errors of commission and errors of omission. We preach that doing wrong is bad, and we must avoid it. How bad is omitting what we should have done? We know that errors of commission can be expensive. But how much do errors of omission affect the bottom line? We must look at both kinds of error when we design a QMS. Both kinds of error must lead our processes to improvement.

Redesign is birthed in innovation. Innovation requires freedom from fear. Let’s create a QMS that has well-being in the workplace as our guiding value. A QMS must be directed at what we want, not at what we don’t want.

Sincere thanks to our team at Advanced Energy for their dedication to these guiding principles, and for our learning together.

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