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Engaging Quality in the Workplace… Priming the Workforce

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ASQ has reached out to members asking about employee engagement… More specifically, to what extent do organizations engage about the importance of quality? And, how should companies approach the issue and make a real difference?

To what extent dTVRBNA==o organizations engage about the importance of quality?

I play a little game with myself and make a note whenever I see “quality” referenced.  I find myself chuckling regarding the saturation of the word in our marketplace vocabulary. We want stakeholders to associate us with quality and figure saying it a lot or putting it in the company name is going to do the trick. We think adding signs around our workplace or inserting the word into our mission statements will do the trick. Not terrible ideas… But, it doesn’t seem to be that simple.

How should companies approach the issue and make a real difference? 

I’m currently reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell.  In this book, I found the inspiration for my response here… Priming.

Priming is a nonconscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects. It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. Additionally, priming can also refer to a technique in psychology used to train a person’s memory in both positive and negative ways.” (Source)

What if employers used priming to engage (influence) employees regarding the importance of quality? For example:

  • Conceptual Priming – Determine what related ideas are necessary to prime the response. What words do employees associate with quality? Use this to prime people before shifts, during meetings, within written communications, etc.
  • Non-Associative Semantic Priming – Same as above, but consider concepts instead of words.
  • Repetitive Priming – Repeat communications related to quality to influence later thoughts.

In the absence of my recent association with Blink and considering I have little experience in this particular field of psychology, I’d offer more traditional suggestions like this:

  • Incorporate quality into KPIs and associated incentives. Research has shown this isn’t enough on its own, however.
  • Offer and support ongoing training.
  • Consider the focus on quality within the metrics you’re using to evaluate performance. If I’m pushing you for sales or production numbers and don’t incorporate or support quality metrics within that, I’m basically telling you to get sales and/or produce at any cost.
  • Create a true culture of quality, which is defined as “environment in which employees not only follow quality guidelines but also consistently see others taking quality-focused actions, hear others talking about quality, and feel quality all around them.”  There’s an excellent Harvard Business Review article where that definition originates.  In the article,  Four Essentials of Quality are discussed. These include:
    • Maintaining a leadership emphasis on quality
    • Ensuring message credibility
    • Encouraging peer involvement
    • Increasing employee ownership and empowerment

The bottom line:

“Employees who ranked their company in the top quintile in terms of quality reported addressing 46% fewer mistakes in their daily work than employees in bottom-quintile companies. In our surveys, employees report that it takes two hours, on average, to correct a mistake. Assuming an hourly wage of $42.55 (the median for CEB client companies), a bottom-quintile firm with 26,300 employees (the median head count) spends nearly $774 million a year to resolve errors, many of them preventable—$350 million more than a top-quintile firm. Although figures will vary according to industry and company, here’s a broad rule of thumb: For every 5,000 employees, moving from the bottom to the top quintile would save a company $67 million annually.” (Source)

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