Magazine article American Banker

Quality Management Basics: First, Learn to Walk

Magazine article American Banker

Quality Management Basics: First, Learn to Walk

Article excerpt

For any bank launching a transition into a structured, quality-management process, putting the basics in place is a smart way to start. It is desirable, if not mandatory, to learn to walk before trying to run.

At first glance, the transition may appear daunting. Seminars, books, and conservations with quality professionals make clear that a true quality-management process is complex.

It has far-reaching implications for how managers manage, how employees at all levels contribute, and how the bank itself, does business.

Notwithstanding those complexities, beginnings can be elementary.

Moreover, the basics of quality management genarally will prove to be practices and procedures that just make good business sense - whether packaged as a quality process or not.

Six |Baby Steps'

Although mature quality-management processes - in operation half a dozen years or more - unquestionably will have more moving parts, the fundamental components needed for beginners include:

* Systematic methods for listening to clients.

* Mechanisms for surfacing quality issues.

* At high-level committee to manage the quality agenda.

* The use of teams to improve quality.

* Training and support for quality-improvement teams.

* Systematic ways to measure quality results.

Because no single "best" way exists to build a quality process, it is worth noting that each of those basics can be adopted with variations.

Indeed, the more successful quality-management installers have tailored the basics to fit their organizations' customary ways of doing things, taking advantage of existing managerial structures, strengths, and practices. Let's explore some variations.

Listening to Clients

An investment department serving 50 pension fund clients undoubtedly would seek client input much differently than one serving 50,000 depositors.

Banks with strong quality-management processes have established continuing and systematic methods for tuning in to their clients - from surveys and focus groups to purposeful, periodic conversations.

Any technique must address obvious questions about how well the bank's products and services are meeting client expectations.

The good ones also try to understand the client's agenda - where the client is heading, what new problems the client's company expects to face in the next year of two, how needs are likely to evolve in the client's industry.

Setting the Agenda

Effective quality-management processes include methods for raising quality issues to the attention of someone (or some committee) able to act on them.

For example, some banks require that the regular agenda of departmental meetings include a discussion of quality issues for the purpose of identifying those to be acted on.

Other companies have revitalized existing employee suggestion systems to surface quality-improvement ideas.

In many cases, natural work groups are organized into standing quality teams with, among other purposes, a mission to identify deficiencies in support to internal users, sources of external customer disappointment, and causes of errors and other forms of procedural waste.

Sales and marketing people can be invaluable sources of observations about unmet client needs or competitors' actions that could suggest problems to be solved or product development projects.

Similarly, technologies can often identify emerging tools that could be applied to client requirements or internal problem solving.

Steering Committee

In structured quality-management processes, a high-level steering committee, or Quality Council, often is the target for quality issues bubbling up from an organization's front lines.

Because any meaningful response to a significant quality issue likely will require investment either of people's time or of capital, it is essential to have a body of senior executives involved in selecting and setting priorities for which major quality issues to address. …

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