Making Quality Sexy!!!
Posted on October 10, 2013
Just wanted to welcome our new readers that signed up during the National Health Care for the Homeless Council Leadership Summit. I was honored to help facilitate this great event and work with some amazing leaders from around the country. Your passion fuels this important movement! Also a big thanks to all the Staff at HCH, I always love teaching, learning and hanging out with you all.
Okay, as a former Quality Assurance Director, I realize quality is not the sexiest topic in the world. However, my recent presentation with homeless providers in Colorado Springs on quality improvement got me thinking about the nature of quality in the helping professions. I hope you find this as interesting as I do.
I’ve always struggled to understand how to use quality systems like Six Sigma or Total Quality Management in the helping professions. These quality systems are designed to eliminate error in processes and product. Of course, we can identify errors in our work with clients but it is sometimes hard to connect these errors with what we were trying to accomplish in our mission statements. Sid Kemp’s definition of quality puts this into perspective: “The opposite of quality is error, and quality management is the effort to bring error under control and reduce error to acceptable levels.”
So the question I struggle with is: What is the error we are trying to reduce or bring under control? Of course there are errors in our field such as medication prescription/dosing errors, staff turnover or meeting paperwork requirements. While these things are important, is it any wonder people can get turned off when quality is brought up. Instead of unleashing our motivation and passion it often just tells us what we are doing wrong or poorly.
The real quality question becomes: How do we measure our passion and not only quantify our mistakes? The key is in how we define error. Error, and thus quality, is straightforward when you manufacture widgets. But what is error when we help people heal from trauma, educate first graders, assist homeless individuals to secure permanent housing or work to reduce gang violence?
Over the next several weeks I will put forth my thoughts on rethinking quality and error in the helping professions. Before I get into my thoughts I would love to hear yours. What are the errors inherent to our work with clients? Maybe even more challenging, how do we connect the management of error with our passion for our work and our organizational missions?
Quality management might not be sexy but it is critical and I believe it challenges how we should view and approach our work.