Director of Quality and Training, Mark Perka, Explains Wholesale’s Six Sigma Quality Approach
This marks the second in our series of “Inside Wholesale” interviews with some of the key folks at Wholesale Screening Solutions. This month, we sat down with our Director of Quality and Training, Mark Perka. He takes Wholesale’s data-driven management approach and makes it tangible and personal to the individuals who perform the research and deliver results to clients each day. In this Q&A, Mark talks about how his team weaves culture, training, and metrics into a Six Sigma quality approach.
Q. Quality of data is obviously critical in an industry that impacts people’s lives and livelihoods. What is your overall approach to quality at Wholesale?
A. We focus on three key pillars of quality: culture, training, and metrics. Let me offer a brief overview of each pillar.
At the beginning of the new hire onboarding process, and prior to beginning training, all new hires are welcomed in a weekly address by the executive committee. There’s a steel thread running throughout these meetings about the importance of quality and how it weaves into our core values, and that’s just the beginning. For example, we have lanyards on which we carry our security badge, and when someone performs a quality activity and a supervisor or co-worker observes it, they can be awarded a quality button.
We also have an awards program where individuals who have demonstrated 100% quality in their product are put into a drawing for cash value certificates. December’s drawing consisted of over 66% of our associates! Rewards and recognition for quality continue, and employees are recognized for consecutive months of 100% quality. We have individuals in our organization who have achieved more than 12 straight months of 100% quality. When you consider the large number of transactions completed by our researchers in one day, having people that have not made an error in a year is a big deal! Quality is built into the cultural fabric of our organization and it’s working.
Training is highly important to us. We have a two-week, in-depth training on the criminal justice system, our culture, and how to do a search. We do a lot of upfront training before a new hire even begins to learn how to perform research. This training is followed by testing, and ultimately, graduation for each jurisdiction. It’s very important that we impart knowledge of how to do the right things and why what our researchers do is so important.
Related to training is conformance to requirements. We have a full-time technical writer on staff who drafts all of our requirements, or what we call documents of success. We have work instructions on how to do general searches properly, plus jurisdiction-specific-requirements; how to successfully perform a search in one jurisdiction successfully vs. another. Everything is written out and documentation is constantly revised and audited to ensure quality.
Because training and learning are continuous, we also have a learning management system (LMS) that we use to push out computer based training that individuals can utilize in order to learn more about jurisdictions. Through the LMS, we can build profiles on individual associates in terms of their jurisdictional knowledge so supervisors can perform operational load balancing. If a supervisor knows they have an excessive load in a particular jurisdiction, they can look to see who’s certified in those jurisdictions and allocate the load accordingly.
Part of what we’ve been able to do with quality is to really examine those processes and have someone who is an expert at process design and improvement take leadership of it. None of this is possible without the metrics to highlight where the defects are. (Read more about metrics-driven management here.)
We also have a monthly “Current State of Quality” meeting. From internal researchers to external supplier network, we pull all the data together and a cross-functional team analyzes our current scores for trends and patterns and opportunities to improve.
Q. In our industry, people tend to be very focused on defect rates. How do you address this with Wholesale employees?
A. It’s true that the background screening industry is very focused on defect rates and driving down the number of defects that occur in research and reporting. At Wholesale, we turn this around and focus our efforts on driving up our accuracy rate. We staff for accuracy, train for accuracy, and reward accuracy. Defect rates go down as a natural result, but the focus on the positive side makes a big difference in the culture and priorities of the organization.
Q. How Does Six Sigma Play a Role in Your Efforts to Drive Quality?
A. We subscribe to the Six Sigma methodology, which provides a rigorous framework that allows us to deliver quality to our clients through continuous improvements and corrective actions. Each piece of our process is identified, analyzed, and has corrective processes applied to it. If there is a defect in any part of our process, whether that defect is an error, a lag in productivity, or a bottleneck in the system, we can quickly identify the issue and take corrective actions. We have supervisors who counsel the affected employees, and our quality team looks at it for patterns to determine if it’s a systemic issue, a training issue, or some other issue. We look at the process and determine how to mistake-proof it, attacking the root cause not just the symptom of the problem.
As a result of our Six Sigma approach, we’ve been able to drive our defect rate down significantly while also increasing the number of searches we perform. We are very close to achieving a Six Sigma level.
In case you missed last month’s Q&A on data-driven management, check out our interview with COO, Dan Agee here: Forklifts and Background Checks: Q&A with Our COO, Dan Agee.