Quality, Compliance, Food Safety… Who Is Responsible?

Columns - From the Advisory Board

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October 3, 2019

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Within a food manufacturing company, who are the people or functions that are responsible for quality, compliance, and food safety? As you ponder that question, regardless of the function you work in, I hope you answer, “I have responsibility for quality, compliance, and food safety.”

If you work for a company that embodies that culture of quality ownership and has employees who truly believe they have responsibility for quality, compliance, and food safety, you work for a company with the right culture for sustained success.

I realize that in most organizations and in human behavior for that matter, the most common assumption made by the employee is thinking that the function they work in, or the work they are responsible for performing, is the most important function and job within the organization or facility. Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Think of each function as a player on a team sport. Pick a sport: football, basketball, soccer...any team sport; every one of that team’s players/positions is critically important to its success. Some people say a team is only as strong as its weakest link or least talented player. That may hold some truth, but another truth is that each player is equally important to any other player on the team.

Bringing that thought back to a manufacturing facility or supply chain site, and looking at the functional areas within the facility, I want to focus on manufacturing/operations, human resources, finance, engineering, and quality. Sure, there might be other functional areas included, but for this purpose, I will keep to the five noted.

As you look at those five functional areas, I challenge you to identify the most important function among the group. If you declare that one function is more important than another, you are challenged back to explain why the others might not be considered as important as the function you identified.

I trust you are realizing the message here is that all functions are equal contributors toward the success of the organization. All functional personnel are encouraged to work interdependently with all other functions and their respective personnel.

Another analogy is thinking of each function as a gear within a machine. Regardless of the size of the gear or the placement of the gear, each must operate effectively with all other gears inside that machine for expected performance.

Too often, quality, compliance, and food safety are considered together as a less important function, a cost center, a nuisance or necessary evil. But effective quality is necessary for sustainable success. Strong quality, compliance, and food safety systems can be a competitive advantage when the functions communicate and work well together.

Personnel who have quality in their titles may be the face of quality for the company, but every employee has responsibility for it. Employees are to follow proper procedures, execute tasks flawlessly, and communicate/elevate issues and concerns quickly when something goes awry. When the policies, procedures, and programs are optimized to be effective; include extreme efficiencies without waste; and direct quality into the process, it makes sense for every employee to embrace the programs and deliver a high-quality product to their customers.

I am not saying that the quality department is the most important in the organization, but I am saying to give the quality function and its attributes the respect it deserves if you want to drive success, eliminate waste, and maintain customer confidence.

When you walk around the facility, or sit at your desk and perform your assigned job responsibilities, and make decisions for yourself, your department, and your plant, bring “quality, compliance, and food safety” into the decision-making process along with the considerations and influences of all the other functional areas.

If you can truly achieve that comprehensive 360° perspective with equal functional balance in your decision-making process, you are someone that understands the value and contributions from all functions, a true leader, and a person that embodies a healthy organizational culture for perpetual success.