Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture

by Tanmay Vora on November 24, 2009

Welcome to the final post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first eleven posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership

#QUALITYtweet Middle management is the glue

joins long-term organizational goals with short-term

improvement actions.

Strategies for growth and improvement that take a shape in corporate boardrooms are implemented on the floor by people at all levels. Middle managers translate these larger goals and vision into actionable tasks that teams execute. Middle management of your organization plays a pivotal role in mobilizing people to execute tasks in line with larger goals and values.

Most “Quality Improvement” literature focuses on “commitment from the top”. That is the first step. I would also like to emphasize on “commitment from the middle management” because they are a very important link between the top and the bottom.

The primary focus of the top management should be on nurturing the middle layer of management, for they can make a huge difference in organization’s growth. They form the culture and set the tone and behavior for people who execute. A strong middle management means strong organization.

Typically, the role of middle managers in quality management is:

  • To ensure that all actions, tasks and behaviors are aligned to the broader vision and goals.
  • To build a strong customer oriented culture by setting right examples.
  • Not just to manage people, but truly lead them.
  • To have a strong business acumen to facilitate right decision-making
  • To be oriented to and driven by customer needs, hence building a customer-oriented culture.
  • To take accountability of culture-building and not always look at the top for directions.
  • To mobilize people to drive quality.
  • To involve people at all level in team in process improvement
  • To ensure right flow of information at all levels
  • To manage employee behaviors and focus on team effort to deliver quality

Top management should formally delegate responsibility of process improvement to a group or an individual. If quality improvement isn’t anybody’s job, it is not surprising that it doesn’t get done.

People look at their leaders as role models who are expected to be setting right examples. Middle management behavior and attitude ultimately ends up shaping the overall organization culture. If you want to get a pulse of an organization, just observe how middle managers communicate and the content of communication. With positive communication and motivation, employees can be truly engaged to the mission of the project and hence the organization. Quality of communication and leadership with internal customers (people) is as important as that with external customers.

Managers tell stories that people believe in and adopt. Challenge for people at the top is to ensure that middle managers tell right stories, which ultimately builds the right culture.

Keep your middle management focused, and rest of the culture building activity becomes much easier.

Tanmay VoraTanmay is a Software Quality Management professional based out of India. He hosts QAspire Blog and tweets as @tnvora. He is also an author of the book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project
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