5 Steps to Boosting Your Company’s Approach to Quality

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What sets you apart from your competition? Chances are, one key differentiator is the quality of your products or services. Even in an era where quality is supposedly a “given,” your customers nonetheless value your offerings because of their consistently high quality. They have attained that special status of “repeat customer,” knowing they can depend on you to provide only the best for their money.

But even great companies experience low points from time to time. Or—if you’re engaged in a start-up or other early-phase business—quality can sometimes be an issue. If so, taking key action steps can correct the problem and help solidify your reputation and high-standing in the marketplace. Such action steps include:

1. Document how things get done. For many small businesses, growth occurs organically and the business owner doesn’t ever get around to documenting essential processes. But the more customers you take on, the more important it is to ensure things are done right, every time, and that’s only possible if there’s a standardized, documented path to production and distribution. This is even more urgent if your business is subject to any sort of state or federal oversight (like OSHA).

2. Incorporate testing at the start of the process, not at the end. Discovering a quality issue at the end of the manufacturing (or customer service) process is often too costly or damaging for an easy fix. That’s why iterative testing is so important. Problems that arise at any stage of the testing cycle should be addressed as soon as possible. By immediately resolving issues related to either quality or a defect in production, you can save significant time and resources over the long run.

3. Correct quality control issues without casting blame. Sometimes, in the course of doing his or her job, an employee is first to spot a quality issue within the organization. Unfortunately, there are times when a company is reluctant to acknowledge the issue, whether due to constraints involving time or resources and instead chooses to “blame the messenger.”

To better ensure quality, the opposite approach is preferable. “Companies are all too often surprised when they routinely chastise people who raise quality concerns and then find that people hide these issues,” note management consultants Doug and Polly White. The key is rewarding employees “who identify quality issues, don’t punish them.”

4. Train employees to focus on quality from day one. Not all employees understand their individual role in ensuring the quality of your products or services. But they’re often the ones best positioned to pinpoint quality issues or other shortcomings in various systems—if they’ve been trained (and empowered) to prioritize and identify those issues.

A focus on quality can be incorporated into employee training from their first days on the job. Look for ways to share details of the history of your business, emphasizing how valuable it’s been for employees to determine where shortcomings or obstacles have undermined product (or service) quality. Make sure your employees, both veterans and new hires, understand how attention to detail in their daily jobs has a direct impact on the company’s overall success.

5. Look to your customers for feedback and insights. Quality-conscious businesses actively solicit feedback from their customers. Whether through surveys, focus groups or personal interaction, check in with your valued customers and ask them to describe the quality and consistency of their experience with your business. If problems seem to repeatedly crop up, it’s safe to say there’s an issue with quality that should be addressed and resolved ASAP.

As small business coach Melinda Emerson says, “Consistency and quality walk hand-in-hand. Without consistency, quality doesn’t matter because your customers won’t know what to expect.”

Want more advice on boosting quality or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

 

How to Accelerate (and Reap the Benefits of) Enhanced Employee Training

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Employee development used to be a luxury businesses could indulge in, if and when they had the resources for training. That’s no longer the case. To maintain a competitive edge in today’s marketplace, employers simply must put a priority on building the skills sets of their workforce, if only to contend with ever-constant changes in both technology and market conditions.

If you’re looking to accelerate the quality of employee development within your organization, here are several tips to keep in mind:

A commitment to development begins at the top. Sometimes employees are sent the message that training is all-important, but then they see little participation or support among senior management. This disconnect can weaken an employee development initiative right from the start.

“Executive buy-in is essential, and training programs can flourish when upper management recognizes the value of training, provides support, and participates in creating concrete objectives,” writes HR expert Steve Rossetti. Never forget, he adds, “that senior management are employees, too.”

If you’re a TAB Member (or thinking of becoming a TAB Member), you’re already demonstrating a commitment to developing your own skills—a point well worth making as you bolster your employee training program.

Make training a regular part of each employee’s work schedule. A one-time “training event” rarely delivers much return on investment, experts say. It’s more efficient to establish a schedule of ongoing development workshops or classes, because (a) this sets up the expectation and understanding among employees that training is a key part of their job responsibilities; and (b) continuous training reinforces key lessons and makes far more of an impact than any once-a-year or semi-annual event.

Offer a range of learning options. Training is not the type of program that succeeds with a “one-size-fits-all” structure. Obviously, employees (like anyone else) learn at their own pace—not to mention having different workloads and job responsibilities—so it’s more effective to provide flexible learning options, including mobile and on-demand opportunities for training that better fit their schedules and ability to absorb new information.

This is particularly important, considering an average workplace might have as many as five different generations of employees working there. A serious commitment to development involves recognizing how different generations best absorb new information (millennials, for example, expect training to incorporate mobile devices as part of the learning process), in order to succeed.

If all this sounds like a significant expenditure of time and resources, remember the benefits your organization will reap with an effective employee development program:

Aids in recruitment and retention. The ability to acquire knowledge and further one’s career through training is a powerful recruitment and retention tool. Higher-quality job candidates will look more closely at your company if they see a genuine commitment to training built into your culture. In this way, your business can emerge as an employer of choice in the hunt for new, high-quality job candidates.

Builds a cadre of potential leaders. Employees who might otherwise be “stuck” in their positions can, through proper development, emerge as authentic leaders in their own right. In this way, you’re gaining a talent pool of potential team leaders and managers—a significant benefit, when you consider all the effort required to look outside the organization for such individuals.

Keeps your focus on the future. Employee development necessarily centers around changes in meeting customer needs and adapting to new conditions in the marketplace. This focus on what lies ahead benefits everyone in the organization—from HR and marketing to IT and sales. It keeps everyone on their toes and looking ahead, rather than backward at “what worked in the past.”

Companies that go beyond paying lip service to employee development reap the benefits of this type of initiative. Don’t overlook the value of a skilled, learning workforce as a key ingredient towards the growth of your business.

Want more advice on employee development or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!