Embracing Failure as an Opportunity: The Power of Continuous Improvement

“We look at this as ‘how can we fix this?’ as opposed to hiding it. Nobody wants to tell on anyone, but we need to know what happens if something goes wrong.” – Robin Queen, Quality Assurance Manager at Ascent Chemicals

Failure is often perceived as a negative outcome, something to be avoided at all costs. However, in the pursuit of excellence, failure can be reframed as an opportunity for growth and improvement. This is especially true in the context of quality control and process improvement, where identifying and addressing failures can lead to significant advancements.

Robin Queen is the Quality Assurance Manager for all three of Ascent Chemicals’ sites in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia. It’s Queen’s job to ensure there’s a roadmap to success when it comes to accomplishing daily duties and turning out a high-quality product that Ascent’s customers can depend on.

“When we are making a product and it doesn’t make spec, or when we run into something, we document it and we need to discuss a root cause analysis,” Queen explains. “We’re looking to try and figure out what happened, or whether it’s something that’s going to continue to happen.”

A job like this is especially crucial in the highly volatile world of chemical manufacturing. To produce a quality chemical product, it takes an unmatched attention to detail. But what happens when something within the blending or mixing process goes awry?

Turning Failure into an Opportunity: When faced with an off-quality batch or a product that doesn't meet the expected standards, it's easy to start over without asking the ‘why.’ However, successful organizations and individuals adopt a different mindset - they view failure as a valuable opportunity for improvement. Instead of shying away from failure or placing blame, they actively seek out ways to identify the root causes of the failure and find solutions to rectify them. This is where Queen comes in.

“We will let the customer know we have an issue, that we’ve done an analysis, and this is what we’re doing moving forward,” Queen says. “Customers loved it and wanted more of it. They didn’t expect us to tell them what went wrong. I think it helps build trust with a customer.”

One key approach to turning failure into an opportunity is through a culture of continuous improvement. This involves fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to speak up about failures and suggest ideas for improvement. By encouraging open communication and collaboration, Queen can tap into the collective intelligence of her team and leverage failures as catalysts for positive change.

Queen says that the key is to approach failure with curiosity and a growth mindset, constantly seeking ways to improve and optimize processes.

“We’ve seen that customers embrace this process because they’re able to tell their customers or end users about the chemical process,” Queen says. “The customer has become more involved in the overall process now.”

Ultimately, Queen hopes this transparency with the customer will result in enhanced product quality, new and innovative ways to produce products for customers, and a resilience and adaptability to quickly pivot to meet the growing demands of her customers. Queen believes that organizations and individuals who embrace failure as a part of the learning process are better equipped to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to changing circumstances, and thrive in a competitive environment.

“I would like us to be known as being trustworthy,” Queen explained. “I want our customers to know that we give them information upfront and don’t make false promises. We don’t want to be too restrictive in what we’re doing because sometimes we may do something a little differently, and that’s OK. We want to be flexible for our customers because it can’t all be cookie-cutter."