However, the sum total of the organization's output extends beyond the realm of the quantifiable. Qualitative measures also exist, and they can impact on the quality of the organization's output as well. It can be argued that even qualitative outputs will eventually impact on quantitative outputs. Ford's loss of reputation as the result of the Pinto scandal, for example, cannot be quantified but the sales and profit decreases that flow from the scandal can be quantified. The implications, however, of the damaged reputation cannot be avoided once the damage has been done. Thus, it is important for managers to control the qualitative output before the impacts appear in quantitative form. It may be impossible to control the impacts once the damage has already occurred.
In this way, the notion of quality as typically defined in production-oriented theories like Six Sigma or TQM, proves inadequate. As Ordonez, et al. (2009) showed, managers will tend to focus on quantitative goals over qualitative, in part because measurement of the former is much easier. Managers always know where they stand with respect to quantitative measures. This is significant implications for the definition of quality, however. Because quality extends beyond what is easy to measure, managers and management theorists alike continue to struggle to define quality.
It is precisely this confusion that hints at the first truth about quality. Quality looks different at different organizations. Each organization must define quality in its own terms. This allows managers to best understand all of the different components of quality on which they must focus. When objectives are set, goals must flow. Ordonez et al. discuss the different pitfalls of setting goals, but ultimately any organization must have some goals for itself and its members.
It is the role of the leader to define quality for the organization. This helps to alleviate some of the issues inherent with the reliance on goal-setting. Leaders must effectively communicate not only the goals, but the hierarchy of those goals and the means by which those goals should be attained. Leaders must constantly challenge their workers to maintain a focus on each goal, not just the ones easiest to pinpoint or measure. One of the key traits of a good leader is the ability to juggle multiple priorities, and this must be not just for the organization as a whole but for each component of the organization for which the leader is responsible.
Quality, then, is in the eye of the beholder. The leader defines the organization's priorities, which then become the vision of quality. The concepts of six sigma can be applied broadly, to include qualitative goals as well, minus the specific measurement component. The leader sets a vision for the company, which becomes a set of goals. Quality becomes the deviation between the leader's vision and the organization's outputs.
Given the difficulties inherent in goal-setting, the implications for leadership are clear. The leader must craft and clearly communicate the organization's definition of quality in a thorough manner. If the organization wishes to strengthen its reputation as an ethical firm, then this must be incorporated into the goals. The leader should also challenge the employees to handle multiple goals. It is reasonable that not every employee is able to meet multiple sets of goals, in particular when goals may conflict, but it is the role of the leader to find the right pieces and place them in the right part of the organization.
Given that quality looks like a lack of deviation from the organization's desired outcomes, the setting of those outcomes is perhaps the most important part of the leader's role with respect to quality. This is why leaders must be visionaries. Without a strong organizational vision, it is difficult to create meaningful goals. Without meaningful goals, the organization cannot attain any meaningful measure of quality. Ordonez et al. listed several examples of such. The Sears case illustrates an organization that set a non-meaningful goal that was not tied to any big picture objective for the company. The result was an ill-conceived goal that did not result in the achievement of any quality. The goals were met, but the company lacked quality overall because the goals were inappropriate. This stemmed from a total lack of vision on the part of the company's leadership.
The leader's role as a communicator is also critical to the development and achievement of a high level of quality in the organization. Because each employee must deal with a set of goals, and in the course of duty must weigh the different goals with respect to priorities and the organization's ultimate objectives, leadership must be able to communicate clearly to each employee how this must be done. This requires the cultivation of a strong leadership team. The autocratic leadership style is best suited to a workplace designed around Taylorist principles, but the modern workplace requires that several levels of leadership exist, each with strong competencies in communication and motivation. Thus, the cultivation of leadership is critical to overall organizational success. Each leader must also take responsibility for the objectives of their workers and units. This creates an effective chain of leadership and responsibility that can guide the organization towards overall quality. Each group has its own definition of quality, and the way in which all of these different definitions of quality come together to support the organization's overall definitions of quality is one of the most important tasks for modern leaders.
As the definition of quality as evolved, it has becoming increasingly dependent on goals, such that today's workplace is believed by some to be overly reliant on goal-setting. This highlights the need for managers to be above all else superb organizers and communicators. Moreover, the organization must develop a depth and breadth of leadership talent, since many leaders will be needed to meet all of the different definitions of quality that go into the organization's overall vision of quality.
Part III: Phase I
The Leadership Challenge approach is founded on five key steps: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart (Kouzes & Posner, 2009). These steps provide hints as to the ideal set of skills that a good leader should have in order to be most effective.
The first of these is to model the way. I believe that a leader must be skilled at developing a holistic vision of the organization in the future. The vision must incorporate all aspects of the organization. More importantly, a visionary leader will be able to see the path by which the company moves from the present situation to the fruition of that vision. The leader must have strong visionary skills, and a strong fundamental understanding of how the organization works. The leader must pay keen attention to the organization's resources and capabilities, because at this point of the process they will be the main constraints, and it may be required that the vision incorporate ways to overcome this.
Imparting a shared vision requires that a leader by inspirational and a strong communicator. Having a vision is one thing, but in order to translate that vision into action, the leader must be able to communicate that vision throughout the organization. Only then will the rest of the organization rally behind that vision and work hard to see it through. The best leaders are so effective at imparting a share vision that each member of the organization takes it upon itself to contribute to that vision. We can see this at a company like FedEx, where not only did the earliest employees commit to the vision, enabling the firm to get through hard times, but the employees today remain committed to the vision.
Challenging the process is a more difficult element of leadership. The view that the organization's processes and systems must be subject to change and that managers must be prepared to take risks stems from the TQM idea that constant adaptation is required to maintain quality. Therefore, leadership requires attention to detail. Changes may be subtle but the effective leader is always aware of the current situation and just as important is willing to make adjustments to the organization in order to meet the current reality. Likewise, leaders have a disdain for complacency. This drives them to accept risk as part of the leadership process, and accept that sometimes risks taken will result in negative outcomes. The ability to be comfortable with failure is therefore another key trait in a leader.
Enabling others to act is an important element in leadership. The view that workers are unable to comprehend their responsibilities has been pushed by the wayside, and with it the autocratic leadership style. To achieve full organizational buy-in, leaders must foster an environment where the unit sustains its own quest for quality. Members contribute to the goals and hold each other accountable. This requires a leader that is willing to delegate authority when…