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August 27, 2020 3:45 PM, EDT

Companies That Prioritize Quality Work Can Sustain Disruptions, Survey Finds

Power lines down in Texas after Hurricane LauraDowned power lines stretch across a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 in Sabine Pass, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

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Research firm Gartner in a recent survey found that supply chain companies that build and maintain a culture that prioritizes quality work are better positioned to sustain their businesses when major disruptions occur.

“What we found during our conversations with executives — as well as the data — is it’s really hard to avoid these disruptions,” Bryan Klein, research director at Gartner Supply Chain Practice, told Transport Topics. “These disruptions actually seem to be increasing in many respects. Instead of trying to avoid them it’s about equipping employees to be able to manage those disruptions.”

Gartner began researching the effects of business disruptions in the supply chain before the coronavirus took hold. Once it hit, the pandemic provided new insight into how disruptions can impact businesses. As August drew to a close, Hurricane Laura threatened to inflict devastation in the Gulf Coast region that rivaled Hurricane Katrina’s impact there 15 years prior.

In fact, Klein noted that supply chain organizations may face various types of disruptions, including sudden shutdowns, digital transformations or even expansions into a new market. Gartner found supply chain leaders must develop and sustain a culture of quality to better withstand the costly impacts of disruptions, no matter the source.

The Gartner survey included supply chain players from transportation, logistics and manufacturing. It found that organizations experience on average three disruptions per year, and that 70% of respondents said reinforcing the importance of quality can get lost during a disruption with the surge of competing priorities.

“What we found is employees are inundated with messages all the time during a disruption about the importance of all these priorities,” Klein said. “Instead what companies and executives should be doing to help their employees manage through these disruptions, to sustain a culture of quality, is to actually help them navigate these tensions.”

Those companies that have a strong culture of quality are more likely to exceed their expectations.

Bryan Klein, Gartner

He added, “Those companies that have a strong culture of quality are more likely to exceed their expectations in terms of their financial and nonfinancial goals during a disruption.”

Gartner has been researching the effects of maintaining a culture of quality since 2012. Its surveys and research then found that companies were seeing more mistakes and were looking to shift into a new way of approaching quality.

“What we found is that, basically, because companies were ramping up in productivity and expectations were increasing, mistakes were more likely to happen,” Klein said. “At the exact same moment, mistakes were more visible than they were before because of the advent of social media.”

Klein added that companies didn’t want their employees to simply follow quality standards because they are told to do so. Instead, they wanted to foster a culture where employees independently made quality-focused decisions because it meant something to them.

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“We tried to figure out what, exactly, does that actually look like,” Klein said. “How do I know whether I have a culture of quality or not. What we found through conversations with supply chain executives, quality leaders and academics is a culture of quality exists when four things are occurring.”

First, he said, employees must hear others discussing quality. They also must feel quality all around them, and see colleagues taking quality-focused actions. There must also be a core group of people transferring quality to each other.

“Hear, feel, see and transfer quality is what we found ultimately drives a strong culture of quality,” Klein said. “What we found in the original research is that [with] those that have a strong culture of quality, employees make fewer mistakes.”

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