Ideas to Improve The Quality of Your Firm

By Nancy Blodgett

Here are some helpful ways to improve the quality of your firm.

Adjust Your Attitude

  • Be open to new ideas!
  • Make time for quality improvement.
  • Don’t manage by fear. Help people feel secure in their jobs.
  • Don’t let the statement: "we’ve always done it this way," keep the firm from trying new approaches to problem-solving.
  • Change the "Us vs. Them" culture of management and staff by adopting quality principles and methods. Working together to solve common problems will help break down these barriers.
  • Encourage everyone in the organization to read or listen to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
  • Don’t think of quality as a program; it’s a mindset and a method of operation.

Gather Data to Help in Decision-Making

  • Survey clients to find out what the firm can do more effectively.
  • Do a confidential survey to find out what staff think could be done more effectively.
  • Use the results from both surveys to make improvements to operations.
  • Make a regular effort to determine the changing needs ("requirements") of your clients in order to meet them effectively.
  • Survey clients and staff on a regularly basis to determine whether improvements that were made have had a noticeable impact
  • Make management decisions based on gathering data and determining facts, not based on hunches or gut instincts.

Have Management Guide Improvement Efforts

  • Form a Quality Council of key leaders and managers to direct and guide organization improvement efforts.
  • Management should prioritize identified opportunities for improvement. Determine which problems should be addressed first, second, etc., based on what will help further key firm goals.
  • Create an plan that lays out what processes will be analyzed for improvement in what order after prioritizing external and internal survey results. (Prioritizing survey results requires firm leaders to be clear about what they want to accomplish. This is where having a mission statement and strategic plan can help.)
  • If no mission statement exists, firm leaders must take the time to develop one. If people in the organization aren’t working together on a common mission, everyone may be pulling in a different direction and the firm is nowhere near as effective as one that is "singing off the same song sheet."
  • Management should publicize positive results gained by process improvement efforts both internally and externally. Clients will be pleased that the firm they hired to help them is working to improve processes.

Train, Train, Train

  • Spend more money on training. Send your managers and staff to classes in effective client service, leadership training, teamwork, and conflict-resolution.
  • Invest more money in training staff in effective client service, conflict-resolution, teamwork, stress management, job-skill building.
  • Train everyone in the principles and methods of quality improvement.
  • After the training, form quality improvement teams to improve work processes.

Measure Processes

  • Begin to regularly measure the cost of waste and rework inside your organization and use the results to drive improvements to processes.
  • Adopt a Balanced Scorecard Approach to Process Measurement. That is, start measuring processes from 4 perspectives, not just from the financial point of view. The other three perspectives are: 1) Client Perspective, 2) Internal Business Operations, 3) Innovation and Learning.
  • Once one process is improved (as demonstrated by measuring it), move on to another critical process. Never stop measuring and improving processes!
  • Conduct a cost-of-poor-quality audit.
  • Do an assessment of your organization using the Malcolm Baldrige Quality award criteria as a road map or yardstick to improvement.
  • Improve the organization’s process for tracking marketing activities and measuring results.
  • Use technology to help measure processes and drive improvements.

Align Systems [Compensation, Billing, Performance Evaluation] with Quality Goals

  • Modify your compensation system to include client feedback as an important element to consider in determining management and staff compensation.
  • Recognize and reward effective client service.
  • Create incentives so that employees feel like they have a stake in the organization’s success.

Implement Best Practices, Quality Standards

  • Find out how firm processes are done by similar providers who are willing to share knowledge in the common drive for continuous improvement.
  • Share effective processes done in one department of your firm with other departments that could benefit from the knowledge.
  • Consider getting certified to the quality standards of ISO 9001 or 9002.

Form Process Improvement Teams, Use Quality Tools

  • Form teams that use quality tools, such as flowcharts and process measurement, to work on improving processes identified by the external and internal surveys as needing improvement.
  • Form a team to study ways to reduce the time in takes to issue bills.
  • Form another team to study ways to reduce the time it takes to retrieve records.

Nancy Blodgett, president of the management consulting firm, has extensive knowledge and experience applying performance improvement principles and methods in service-sector organizations. She has published more than 350 articles, including in Quality Progress magazine, Stephen Covey's Seven Habits magazine, Legal Management and Bottom-Line Management.

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