Magazine article Training & Development

Quality through Self-Directed Learning

Magazine article Training & Development

Quality through Self-Directed Learning

Article excerpt

Quality Through Self-Directed Learning

Quality has become a buzzword. Everyone hears about it, everyone knows it's important, and everyone wants to do something about it. But for all the noise and good intentions, not a lot of progress has been made in achieving quality.

One reason is that everyone's idea of quality is different. A high-quality product from a manufacturing plant does not have the same kind of quality as high-quality patient care in a health care organization, which is not the same as high-quality customer service in a retail outlet. What's considered high quality in making plastic prizes for a carnival booth may not be of the same degree as the high quality needed for making electric power in a nuclear power plant.

But in the final analysis, many different kinds of quality can be defined in one way. As Philip Crosby says, quality is "conformance to requirement, not goodness." Another way of saying that is "Doing what you do, and doing it right, all the time." Then the quality question becomes one of defining "doing it right."

Even W. Edwards Deming's definition of quality - as "what the customer wants" - fits in with Crosby's notion. In an organization that incorporates Deming's philosophy, quality is still a matter of conforming to requirements, but it is the customer who defines the requirements - the customer defines just what it means to "do it right."

Which brings up the next point. If we believe that quality is a matter of "doing it right," then we assume that the organization, the market, the customer, or someone knows what "doing it right" means. If not, the organization will not be in business much longer; no amount of talk about quality is going to help.

Doing it right

The challenge of quality then - at least in many kinds of work - is to make sure that everyone knows how to "do it right." (Of course, this won't work unless people already know that they are "doing the right thing." If not, the organization has a leadership problem that must be addressed first.)

To achieve high quality, people within the organization should be consistent in how they do things. That consistency is based on some kind of standard: for example, the number of defects per thousand products shipped, the amount of variance allowed in the size of a particular part, or the number of minutes within which a customer expects to be served.

If you accept that quality equals consistency, the next logical question is this: "How do you achieve consistency?"

To great extent, you can achieve it through effective training - by training employees to "do it right." Good training ensures consistency, but only if the training itself is consistent.

Training through the years

To understand what that means, go back in time to the first trainers.

Imagine yourself squatting outside your cave, carefully shaping a piece of flint. You are one of the world's first artisans, a flint napper, known throughout the area for the quality of your flint tools. In fact, you are so well-known that you can't keep up with the orders.

So you look around the tribe and pick a likely young person to train in your trade. You show him or her how to pick the right nodules and how to shape them into the various tools of your culture. All the time you are sending a message: Do it this way. Do it just like me.

"JLM" training means that the apprentice, if he or she has the talent and ability (in other words, if you made a good hiring decision), produces tools as fine as yours. The quality is high.

If demand warrants, you will someday have a second and maybe a third apprentice. But you train each one with that same brand of consistent JLM training, which ensures consistency of product - or quality.

Jump ahead a few thousand years. You are the owner of a small forge and smithy in the 19th century. For generations, the family business has produced high-quality tools for the townsfolk - shovels and axes and such. …

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