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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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Corporate Culture - Sunny Days vs. 11th Hour Critical Path

I was very impressed and delighted with the recent View from the Q post regarding Corporate Culture.

The analysis was relevant and I don't disagree with the diagnosis or conclusions.  The citation of Deming is always compelling, as his work is the foundation of a large portion of our profession.

In fact, I would like to approach this from two perspectives:
- emotional integrity
- sustainment of principles in difficult circumstances

If a leader of an organization is analogous to the parent of a family, then the mentality of that leader (maybe they were the founder or are currently the proprietors or primary investors) would match that of the parent.  When it comes to families, relationships and dynamics can be emotional and complicated.

If a well-intentioned individual volunteered their unsolicited parenting advice, this would be met with guarded reluctance by the parent.  Even in distressed circumstances, the emotions of the parent would be very defensive and at times irrational.  In the same way that a parent's identity is reflected in their children, the identity of the organization reflects personally on the senior executives.  Comments about deficient quality would be received as a personal attack.

When such information is shared or disclosed, communications should be sensitive and respectful, and objective as defined by actual events relative to expectations.  Quality practitioners need to be empathetic and apply their emotional intelligence to their solutions and outcomes.

The second perspective is to consider the company culture when difficult circumstances arise.  It is easy to advocate and promote enlightened practices during times of prosperity, when financial targets are being met and exceeded.

It is an entirely different matter when the company is experiencing losses, late deliveries, controversies, and antagonistic stakeholders.  The temptations are high to exert a command and control mentality where bad outcomes are suppressed and problems are deflected.  In this environment, the culture shifts to toxic and hostile work environments where quality is seen as an obstacle to rapid delivery.  These business models may have dramatic short-term improvements but history has shown that these results are impossible to sustain, largely because integrity is lacking.

Culture is defined by principles and dominated by the virtues and vices held by the senior leadership.  A company that praises and rewards employees for working during their personal time sends the message that a work-life balance is not a desired attribute.  The managers who abuse their staff to deliver on time are seen as leaders who can "kick asses" and make things happen.

Conversely when companies remain true to their principles and virtues even at great cost, this will resonate over time.  Two examples from the 1970s are still frequently mentioned.
- The automakers were aware of safety hazards of their respective models (GM - Corvair, Ford - Pinto), and deliberately chose to disregard this information, put the vehicles to market, and caused death and injury as a result of their hazardous products with known design flaws.
- Johnson and Johnson, in response to a packaging tampering issue, recalled their existing inventory and unilaterally, without regulatory requirement, took on the additional expense and commitment to design safer packaging that would protect against or reveal improper handling and tampering.

Culture may be defined in times of tranquility (sunny days), but how the company responds at the 11th hour, in the face of potentially conflicting priorities, will determine precedent for future decisions.  A culture that rewards proper behavior will entrench it, but when this is steamrolled in favor of urgent and questionable actions, the the culture will never recover.