Quality Culture Versus Traditional Cultures

Organizations that develop and maintain a quality culture will differ significantly from those with a traditional culture. The differences will be most noticeable in the following areas:

  • Operating philosophy
  • Objectives
  • Management approach
  • Attitude toward customers
  • Problem-solving approach
  • Supplier relationships
  • Performance-improvement approach

1. Operating Philosophy

In an organization with a traditional culture, the primary focus is return on investment and short-term profits. Often the methods used to maximize profits in the short term have a negative effect in the long run. In order to improve the organization’s bottom line on the next quarter’s profit- and-loss statement, executives might decide to “unload” a defective product on customers, put off critical technology upgrades, or eliminate training programs for employees. An organization might cut back on equipment maintenance, employee benefits, or performance-incentive programs. All of these shortsighted methods are common in organizations with traditional cultures, and while they might prop up the bottom line temporarily, they invariably lead to disaster in the long run. A short-term operating philosophy is the rea­son why traditional organizations often experience a large turnover at the top. The CEOs who apply this short-term operating philosophy are often “cut-and-run” managers who maximize short-term profits by eliminating essential functions, activities, and personnel. They then take their percentage of the resulting profits and leave, only to repeat the charade at another organization.

In an organization with a quality culture, the core of the operating philosophy is customer satisfaction. Quality organizations focus on doing what is necessary to exceed the reasonable expectations of customers. Such an approach can lower profits in the short run but is the key to long­term survival and prosperity. For example, making a major investment in an expensive technology upgrade can cause the next quarter’s profit-and-loss statement to be flat. Over time, however, the benefits of the new technology will take hold and will be reflected in profit-and-loss statements for years to come. Organizations that adopt a quality culture typically have less turnover at the top. This is because such a philosophy encourages decision makers to stay in their positions long enough to either enjoy or suffer the conse­quences of their decisions.

2. Objectives

Organizations with traditional cultures typically adopt short-term objectives. The focus is on what the organization should accomplish over the next several weeks and months. Organizations that adopt a quality culture plan strategically. They develop both long- and short-term objectives, and they do so within the context of an organizational vision.

3. Management Approach

In organizations with traditional cultures, managers think and employees do. In fact, employees don’t just do; they do what they are told. Managers are seen as “bosses” who give orders and enforce policies, procedures, and rules. In orga­nizations with quality cultures, managers are seen as coaches of the team. They communicate the vision, mission, and goals; provide resources; remove barriers; seek employee input and feedback; build trust; provide training; and reward and recognize performance.

4. Attitude toward Customers

Organizations with traditional cultures tend to look in­ward. They are more concerned about their needs than those of customers. Customer relations might actually be adversarial. Organizations with a quality culture are customer-focused. Customer satisfaction is the highest pri­ority and is the primary motivation driving continual im­provement efforts.

5. Problem-Solving Approach

There is a lot of finger pointing in organizations with a traditional culture. When problems occur, decision mak­ers and employees tend to expend more energy on deflect­ing or assigning blame than on identifying the root cause of the problem, which must occur before the problem can be solved. Traditional organizations suffer from the “most valuable player (MVP)” syndrome, in which problem solv­ing is viewed as an individual undertaking wherein inde­pendent “heroes” operating all alone jump into the breach to put things right just in the nick of time. At best, this ap­proach is erratic.

Another phenomenon that occurs in traditional cul­tures is the “waiting game.” With this strategy, decision makers hold back until someone appears to have the prob­lem almost solved; then they jump on board and act as if the idea was theirs all along. Such an approach encourages manipulation and subterfuge rather than innovation and creative thinking.

When difficulties occur in organizations with a qual­ity culture, the focus is on identifying and isolating the root cause so that the problem, and not just its symptoms, can be eliminated. Problem solving is typically a systematic process undertaken by teams, with input solicited from all stake­holders. The goal is to create solutions, not “heroes.”

6. Supplier Relationships

In organizations with a traditional culture, suppliers are kept at arm’s length in relationships that are often adversarial. The maximum possible pressure is exerted on suppliers to bring down prices and speed up delivery, even when such an approach is likely to drive the supplier out of business. In organizations with a quality culture, suppliers are viewed as partners. Supplier and customers work together cooper­atively for the good of both. Each gets to know the other’s processes, problems, strengths, and weaknesses, and they collaborate, using this information to continually improve the relationship and the performance of both.

7. Performance-Improvement Approach

In organizations with a traditional culture, performance im­provement is an erratic, reactive undertaking that is typically triggered by problems. In organizations with a quality cul­ture, continual improvement of processes, people, products, the working environment, and every other factor that affects performance is at the very core of the operating philosophy.

Source: Goetsch David L., Davis Stanley B. (2016), Quality Management for organizational excellence introduction to total Quality, Pearson; 8th edition.

5 thoughts on “Quality Culture Versus Traditional Cultures

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