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A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Inspire Your Chosen People

In the recent View from the Q, the CEO of American Society for Quality posted the following questions, for which I have provided my responses.

If you’re working on a culture of quality, or sustaining one, what do you look for in the people you hire into the organization?
1. They are independently competent and capable of performing the work required.
2. They interact harmoniously and respectfully with others, at all levels.
3. They are fastidious about details and conscientious about matching expectations within time and budgets provided.
4. Their expressions reflect passion, energy, enthusiasm, and overall positive reception to quality culture goals.

How can you tell whether an applicant will contribute to, thwart, or work at quality culture goals?

Ask for real-life examples demonstrating where they supported quality culture.  As a starting point, evaluate the credibility of their "show-me" examples.
Be attentive to cynicism and a jaded mentality, which is the opposite of passion, pride and esprit d'corps.
Be attentive to the pronouns selected (We vs. They) which reflects their accountability.  If the applicants distance themselves and describe themselves separately from their team, their true impressions are revealed.
Ask them to describe their mentors and key influences, and close professional companions.  Since people reflect those with whom they most frequently interact, this would provide some insight to their personal convictions and principles.

What attitudes support the success of a culture of quality?
Respect, Pleasure, Passion (from virtuous convictions), Accountability  (description is below)

Are the personal attributes universal, or do they in your experience differ around the world?
Personal attributes are constant, but are demonstrated in different ways, not just across international cultures but by different personality types (i.e. Myers-Briggs categorizations).  Some cultures show their passion with boisterous and bombastic expressions, while others demonstrate their passion through expanded work ethic and extreme diligence.

This is the executive short version.  To understand my rationale for these selections, please enjoy the remainder of the blog posting.


To elaborate, I would like to start with a "Worst-Case Scenario" which I obtained from Paul Ingrassia's book Crash Course (2010 Random House) which details the history and decline of the American Automobile Industry.  I hope that with this example from the early 1970s, I can refute the linear expectation that increased quality can be achieved simply by increasing compensation to worker.  

"The new contract granted the company's hourly employees a 30 percent wage hike over the next three years.  It ended the cap on cost-of-living adjustments, and accelerated the payment schedule from annually to quarterly.  Most notably, the new contract allowed workers to retire after thirty years on the job with a full pension."

The effect of this inspiration was detrimental to the work-ethic of the American autoworker.  According to Ingrassia's account.

"Rights were trumping responsibilities ... many factories had to close for the first days of deer-hunting season ... some auto plants had gambling rings ... when a machine broke down and stopped the assembly line, only skilled tradesmen were allowed to repair machinery.  The electricians or machinists often took their time getting to where they were needed, so that the plant would have to go into overtime to make up for lost production, and everybody would get more money."

The effect of this (mis)management was realized in the deliberate reduction of quality levels due to a combination of poor decisions and hostile employees.

"... also reduced the number of quality inspectors ... highly automated assembly process would ensure high quality without much traditional quality inspection ... Autos regularly roll off the line with slit upholstery, scratched paint, dented bodies, bent gearshift levers, cut ignition wires, and loose or missing bolts ... the trunk key is broken off right in the lock, thereby jamming it."

So the combination of expensive resources, poor worker motivations, and inadequate quality culture created the perfect storm for domestic auto manufacturers.

"Somebody had to pay for it all, and that would be the hapless consumer.  In three years the prices jumped nearly 20 percent.  Just when Detroit needed to boost sales to pay for soaring wages and benefits for its employees, its price increases gave consumers a strong incentive to try a foreign car."

As Santayana allegedly quoted, "Those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it."  The lessons from four decades ago remain relevant and pertinent in today's business culture, not just for automotive manufacturing but across all industries and domains.

As a prerequisite to addressing the specific questions from the ASQ CEO, the illustrious Mr. Paul Borawski, I would like to treat this as a process challenge where I would identify Special Causes and Common Causes that would need to be controlled and protected in order to achieve our desired goal.  The title of this post is Inspire your "Chosen" People.

Special Causes

I have identified 4 Special Causes which can ensure that your employees fall within the predefined boundaries to reflect a status of being chosen.  Those that exist outside of the boundaries are not the ideal and have to be either tolerated, contained, or removed.  It is important to refine your people before attempting to inspire them, in order to reduce the waste and frustration associated with failed or futile programs.

1. Independently competent and capable:  The foundation of all work is that the participants are independently competent and capable of delivering the desired outcome.  While a certain level of orientation and customization can be provided to "train-up" a resource, without this capability, all of the quality cultural inspiration is for naught.  No amount of passages from Deming or Juran will make me competent in brain surgery, nuclear fission, or sinking the 3-point jumpshot at the final buzzer in the championship game.

2. Harmonious interactions with others:  Culture refers to the interactions between people to generate ongoing traditions, norms, and implicit expectations.  If an individual is consistently clashing and interrupting discussions, their very presence creates negative encounters.  Positive exchanges are negated by confrontations, avoidance, defensiveness, and overt hostility leading to sabotage and disruptions.

3. Alignment with quality vision: This refers to the common understanding of the quality target.  For example, if a business had to prepare and provide 500 fresh cheeseburgers from a food cart within a 2 hour serving range, it would actually be detrimental if one of the line cooks spent 15 minutes shaping and seasoning each hamburger patty into sculpted perfection prior to placing it on the grill.  If team participants had different beliefs or impressions of adequate quality, the disconnect would create fervent and passionate disagreements which would create the risk of disrupting the otherwise harmonious interactions.

4. Containment within time and budget:  As with any enterprise, the employee who consistently exceeds time or budget constraints will be detrimental to the business.  This may be simply the effect of using an overqualified resource in a junior capacity (i.e. $75/hour heavy equipment mechanic to perform common car maintenance at a retail oil change shop).  Even if all other attributes are in place, the continued use of this resource will create additional cost needing to be borne by customers or stakeholders.

Common Causes

Having used the Special Causes to refine staff into "Chosen People", some Common Causes could be monitored to determine the positive receptiveness to quality programs.

1. Respect
An employee displays their respect or contempt through their attitudes and actions.  They show respect for their role and employer by their level of preparation and capability.  They show respect for their colleagues through their diligence, teamwork, and assistance when called upon.  They show respect for the customer or client by going beyond the contractual obligation to deliver a delightful and meaningful outcome.  Without respect, quality is still possible, but it will be delivered with defiant hostility and reluctance. In contrast, an employee without respect shows contempt for the work and customers, in extreme cases leading to worst-case scenarios of delivering overtly damaged products to market.

2. Pleasure
An employee serves at the pleasure of their employers and customers, making it a social contract exchanging goods and services by choice and selection.  To be competitive, the pleasure derived by the client or customer must be adequate to be sustained.  In turn, if the employee is performing in a suitable role which interests them, and which is appropriate for their skills, the pleasure will radiate.  Imagine a corporate trainer who is inspired by the subject material and enjoys his extroverted interactions with others, the work would be so natural as to generate joy and fulfillment.

3. Passion
When the pleasure escalates, there is a certain level of energy and enthusiasm that takes on a life of its own and compels people to voluntary actions that would normally be considered irrational (like remaing at home on a beautiful August evening to compose a blog post for ASQ Influential Voices).  How does an employee demonstrate passion for quality?  There are many ways: articles, innovative practices, facilitated discussions, independent studies and investigations (on personal time), research, improvement of personal capabilities, presentation, publications, voluntary service, to name a few.  This passion is contagious and when applied by a positive and competent person, can reflect well on an organization.  Passion aligns closely with ideals and convictions, so it is important that passionate people draw their motives from deeply-held virtues.

4. Accountability
People with accountability are truthful about their specific actions and outcomes, those who are not are expert at excuses and diversions.  The absence of accountability is reflected in denial, deflection, and deception.  The worst characteristics associated with political bureaucracies can be traced to the destructive desire to take full credit of accomplishments without absorbing the blame when trouble ensues.   As President John F. Kennedy claimed to quote "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan".   The lack of accountability, even in small matters of seemingly insignificant details, leads to a violation of integrity.  Once the accountability is lost, the very viability of the quality program is potentially compromised.  When a Quality Program is infused with deception, it becomes a tool of political bureaucracy or "Propaganda", which actually moves the organization further from the Quality ideal than when it first started.  From a practical viewpoint, organizations misuse quality metrics and key indicators to provide a false assurance.  This is often refuted when post-release problems are revealed, only to find that the quality program did not include common occurrences within the scope of control.  An example of this is an airline ticket ordering system which did not function when deployed to a real-life environment because it was never tested to handle more than 255 concurrent requests.  Or to circle back to the example of the American Automotive industry, the lack of accountability was demonstrated when the makers of the Chevrolet Corvair failed to recall the 1.1 million defective cars which were prone to spin out at low speeds when taking sharp curves, due to an unstable distribution of weight in the rear of the vehicle.

My concluding point is to reinforce that people need to be inspired and empowered so that when confronted with the choices, they are not micromanaged but draw from their personal motives and convictions.  If the choices prove incorrect, this can be rapidly revealed and corrected through accountability, and overcome with the continual improvement ethic that characterizes passionate employees.

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