Oklahoma's Quality Assurance Experience: Continuous Improvement through Employee Empowerment, Teamwork, Diversity and Best Practices
Boyer, Deborah K., Corrections Today
Today's correctional agencies are faced with many challenges--prison overcrowding, staffing shortages and an ever-increasing demand to operate cheaper, better and faster. Correctional agencies must find ways to operate more efficiently and effectively and reduce costs, while ensuring public safety remains the top priority. As the second largest state agency in Oklahoma, with more than 4,600 full-time employees and a fiscal year 2008 budget in excess of $535 million, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) is faced with similar challenges. In an effort to proactively address these challenges, Director Justin Jones created a Quality Assurance Unit in January 2006.
Why create a Quality Assurance Unit in a government agency such as ODOC? John Ryan, in an American Society for Quality (ASQ) white paper titled Making the Economic Case for Quality, discusses a review of Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award applicants by the U.S. General Accounting Office. The U.S. Congress asked the GAO to examine the impact of formal quality management practices on the performance of U.S. companies. The principal finding was; "Companies that adopted quality management practices experienced an overall improvement in corporate performance. In nearly all cases, companies that used total quality management practices achieved better employee relations, higher productivity, greater customer satisfaction, increased market share and profitability." Ryan further states, "The study also identified six common features contributing to improved performance that appeared consistently among the companies' quality efforts: customer focus, management leadership, employee involvement, open corporate culture, fact-based decision-making and partnership with suppliers." (1)
Many of these same factors are found within the vision statement of ODOC, which states that the department "will create a culture that empowers individuals, encourages teamwork, employs best practices and embraces diversity." Thus, the DOC set a course to create a Quality Assurance Unit that would embody the agency's vision through continuous improvement.
The Quality Assurance System
Quality assurance in ODOC is a philosophy and a strategy for continuous improvement at every level of the organization in an effort to: 1) ensure the best allocation of resources; 2) provide the most efficient and effective operations based on continuous improvement; and 3) ensure creation and delivery of quality (best practice), results-driven programs and services to best fulfill the department's vision and mission. Several ingredients contribute to the success of a quality assurance effort: leadership commitment, employee empowerment and organizational transparency. Leadership must be committed to the effort and to making it a part of the organizational culture--incorporating it into the way business is done on a daily basis at every level in the organization.(2) Employees are the greatest asset of any organization, and employees must be involved, encouraged and empowered to share their knowledge and ideas for improving work processes and making changes in the organization. Organizational transparency is an absolute necessity. Employees who are invested in the continuous improvement of the organization want to know the organization is listening to their ideas and suggestions and acting on them.
One of the key components of the ODOC Quality Assurance System is the use of organizational review panels composed of internal and external subject matter experts from other organizations who partner with the agency to examine operational areas and work processes and make recommendations for improvement. These experts bring knowledge, skills and unique experiences and perspectives to the organizational review process.
Most recently, the DOC acquired multisite videoconferencing capabilities and has been able to involve panel members outside of Oklahoma. …