“Our Managers Are Not Committed to Quality”: Cracking Belief Bias at One Tech Manufacturer

Challenge

Sometimes rapid growth comes with not just pains but a total culture fracture. Take our client, a technology manufacturing start-up with a product that jettisoned them to $100 million in sales after just five years in business. At first, they could not keep their product in stock. However, as demand soared, customers began to complain about quality, and the complaints ballooned.

When we surveyed workers on the manufacturing line about their beliefs, one shared belief stood out: “Management is not committed to quality.

To say that senior management didn’t want to hear this belief is an understatement. They were bewildered. And they were tempted to discard the feedback altogether. But when they stepped out of their own defenses and opened to a more exploratory mindset, they began to listen to their line workers.

When explaining how this belief was formed, the line workers talked about a repeated experience. They would signal to the engineer every time they spotted a product below quality specifications. What frequently happened was that the engineer would overrule the line worker, giving the product a thumbs-up because the product functioned well despite what the engineer considered minor cosmetic issues like a color mismatch. The line workers were too frequently overruled.

Being constantly overruled, in any role, creates a negative workplace experience.

Eventually, as the belief that their perspective didn’t matter formed, these line workers grew tired. They stopped signaling for quality checks at all, causing deficient products to be delivered.

The line workers held a belief based on a repeated negative experience with engineers — a belief that needed to be rooted out in order for culture change to really take hold.

Solution

Senior management established new rules for the line: if a product was out of spec, in any way, it needed to be scrapped. For products with surface-level defects, they rewrote specifications, and aligned their line around them.

Result

Six months after the change, we surveyed the line workers. They responded, in total alignment:

Management is committed to quality.

Over the next two years, customer complaints plummeted fivefold.

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