Cost effective quality & safety management - Part 1

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Ask 100 CEOs or owners of food businesses whether the quality is important, and you will get a resounding yes from all of them. And if you then ask why, you’re also likely to receive the same answer: compliance.

Compliance is costing food companies increasingly more. First of all, because of increasingly stricter regulations and higher certification requirements. In addition to this, supply chain integrity and accuracy in data management are increasingly becoming an issue, especially in the face of the impact of ever lower detection limits for contaminants in the food chain. This poses a lot of challenges for the management of quality and food safety. At the same time, in a traditionally low-margin sector like food, reducing costs creates constant pressure.

Food Safety Experts survey results

Quality is, therefore, at the centre of two opposite trends, as confirmed by a survey by Food Safety Experts conducted in 2018 with 153 companies in the global food industry. For 53% of the respondents, cost reduction was the most important issue, followed by increased legal and customer requirements (21% and 12%, respectively).

This scenario is the cause of frustration for many quality managers who feel that their company considers quality and food safety as an unavoidable cost, although, in fact, it could be a source of profit too.

Changing this state of affairs is entirely achievable for organisations, and in this 3-part series, we'll lay out a 7-step process to do it. Let's start with the first two steps: creating a sense of urgency and assembling the right team.

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Creating a sense of urgency
The first step will be to convince management that strengthening the company’s quality & food safety culture is an urgent matter that should not be postponed. It can be divided into four sub-steps.

Adopt the right perspective. Quality has two sides: the benefits of having it, and the cost of lacking it. When you approach stakeholders, make sure you include both. Stressing the benefits alone may not create a lasting impact, while focusing on potential hazards only may reinforce the perception of quality as a mandatory cost.

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Talk money. When you prepare your meeting make sure you quantify how much non-quality is costing the company in terms of increased expenses and missed profits. You can include historical data (e.g. time wasted to fix minor quality issues or non-urgent customer complaints) as well as realistic scenarios (e.g. product recalls or failing an official audit). We’ll look at the cost of non-quality more in detail in the next article.

Create allies. Before giving an official presentation in front of the main stakeholders, it’s best to have informal interviews with a few of them. This way, you can test their openness to your idea, get to know their doubts and turn them into allies. Make sure you always start with your direct manager. The next steps will be much harder without having them on board.

Have a plan ready. When you succeed at building a case for quality, expect a natural question: “How do you plan to get us there?” Prepare to answer proposing a high-level, 2 to 3 year plan, where you should make it clear that this is part of an ongoing effort, and not a project with a beginning and an end.

Assembling the right team
In the 1970s to the 1990s, when quality was not yet a true discipline, quality departments were often the destination of employees who were unfit for other areas of the company. Things have changed drastically since then and having a strong team has become crucial. This phase can be divided into five parts.

Assessment. You should start by assessing each team member individually, considering their experience, knowledge, qualifications and personal inclinations.

Activity analysis. Next is assessing the performance of the team by monitoring what tasks are done regularly and how long they take. To ensure collaboration, make it very clear that the collected data will be presented as a whole, and won’t be used to single out the performance of specific individuals.

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Interviews. The appropriate moment for a personal assessment will be one-to-one interviews with the team members, where you can discuss the results and the best way to use their experience and further improve through training or coaching. Of course, previous assessments may reveal that some members are not a good fit for the team. In this case, it may be necessary to move them to a different department or take even more drastic measures.

Management’s approval. Once that exercise is complete, it’s time to present the results to your management, to get the final seal of approval for your high-level plan in terms of developing your team and to know what budget you’ll be working with.

Kick-off workshop. Now that you have an approved plan, a strong team and a budget in place, it’s time to organise a workshop where the team can better define the training requirements, next actions and share tasks and responsibilities.

Want to know more?
If you would like to learn more about strategic management in quality and food safety, come and visit us at Fi Europe in Paris on 3-5 December 2019! A more detailed presentation on this topic will be given by Rob Kooijmans of Food Safety Experts on 3 December from 11:15 to 11:45 at the Expo FoodTec Hub.

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