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Weaving habits of the heart into quality management.


Everybody's Doing it

Quality management has gone from being an interesting if unusual concept dreamt up by the Japanese (assisted by such odd-men-out as Deming) to being a household word in the corporate sense. Everyone is DOING quality. Your quality program probably looks something like Table 1.
Table 1: Typical Stages In A Quality Management Process
Executive Awareness: The Executive Group of the company
begins to get its collective head around the meaning of quality.
Executive Commitment: The Executive Group and particularly
the CEO make a commitment to implement a quality
management approach throughout the company. This manifests
itself in a vision of the company and its values, among
which service or quality number. It is typical for the importance
of human resources to be highlighted.
Middle Management Commitment: Middle managers are
informed of the commitment and (sometimes) active steps are
taken to ensure their commitment. The role of middle (actually
all) managers as coaches and mentors is outlined.
Training of Staff: All staff are trained on implementing the new
quality process. They are |empowered' to do a quality job.
Process/Systems Streamlining: Systems and processes of all
kinds, product or service driven, internal or customer focused
are reviewed to improve their quality and responsiveness to
their customers' needs.
Continuous Improvement: The expectation of continuous
improvement is stated and (sometimes) systems are put into
place which will encourage this. These systems might include
quality awards, etc.

Most companies, at the early planning stages, project a time line for implementing the change from 18 months to two years, with the understanding that improvement is continuous. The quality process in most companies looks like any other project, with achievable deadlines and tangible results. It could be graphed as in Table 2.


Things Don't Always Go As

Smoothly As Projected

However, somewhere about 12 to 18 months into the process, odd things start to happen. Let met give you some examples.

EXAMPLE 1: Recently, a middle manager in a large high tech company was anxious to discuss a request to participate in identifying his company's problems and their solutions.

"Ah, ha," I said. "Classic Quality Management. Great."

"But how do I tell them it's month-end figures not people they care about, despite what they say?" the manager demanded.

"You don't think that's possible?" The manager laughed. "Are you crazy? What's my boss going to say? He's going to think I'm criticizing him. Which is true, actually."

The manager had consulted a few peers even though he doubted they were frank about their approach to this. In the end, he decided to tell them what he thought they wanted to hear and save what he really thought for a beer with the guys.

EXAMPLE 2: Another CEO decided to follow IBM in trying a percentage of a manager's salary to performance on a work climate survey. Again, a quality management principle: Employees provide outstanding service to customers only when they are well served and well led internally. The CEO had the Board of Directors link her own compensation to the VP's view of her. This modelling was publicized with some success to the whole organization. The process was rolled out to other levels of management. With disastrous results. The CEO faced a major revolt, not just from more junior managers, but from her own VPs.

EXAMPLE 3: One company I know understands that good quality management needs ideas from the bottom and that power to implement them should be at as junior a level as possible. So, each manager will be presenting quality management ideas to the executive committee for immediate ruling.

The manager I am working with agonized over the ideas to present. "If I don't come up with something," she reasons, "they'll think I'm not on board. But..." she continues, "If I come up with too much, won't the question be what I've done in the last four years if they're such dynamite ideas? It's heads, you win, tails, I lose."

What Are We To Think?

What's wrong here? Why are managers so worried about reaction to their ideas? Isn't the high tech company right to involve staff in its future direction? How can it if people won't tell the truth? Shouldn't a company insist the manager, who has the greatest influence on employee satisfaction, be held accountable? Isn't this service excellence as practiced by all the BEST companies? Doesn't Tom Peters say so somewhere?

Or, are these managers part of the 10-20% of people who cannot or will not make the transition to a service culture? Should CEOs conclude, "Right, they have to get on or get out," and wash their hands of the matter?

That answer, while it has the appeal of simplicity, is misleading. While there are people who, in the long-term, cannot fit into a service culture, most want to if led skillfully.

What's Missing Is Trust

In all these examples, lower levels in the organization were unsure of the motives of their seniors. They didn't trust THEM. They don't believe you really want to hear the bad news. They don't believe you will use a new performance system fairly. They don't believe you will reward good people management skills (have the past?). And they certainly don't believe that you are going to give away any power.

So, when most companies launch, a quality initiative, they face a formidable opponent. No, not resisting middle managers (although they exist); no, not militant unions (although they exist). The answer, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves. Employees do not trust managers. Managers do not trust executives.

This is typically the point where some managers puff up their chests and harrumph, "Wait a minute. I'm a trustworthy person. Haven't I always shown that? Don't the pay cheques come out every two weeks?"

Yes to all of the above. However, this is where it starts to become clear why Quality Management truly is a revolution in the workplace. What you have done up to now has given you a certain level of trust with your employees. They believe that you won't fire them arbitrarily; they believe you care about their physical safety.

But do they believe that you will risk a bad quarter or a bad year to give them the long-term systems (automation, training, whatever) so they can serve customers better? Do they believe that you would allow them to make costly decisions without checking first? Do they believe that you are open to discussing how your actions inhibit good service? Do they believe that you believe quality is the most important goal, more important than making this month's numbers?

In most companies, the best answer you would get would be a qualified Hmmm. That's not surprising. The old rules did not require these actions. Quite the contrary. Pre-quality days automatically assumed that tightening belts meant shutting down staff training and development and reverting to even tighter financial controls.

This is not to say that these were the wrong decisions at the time. However, if you look at this from the employee's point of view, you can see the source of the cynicism when you talk the good service line.

There are of course exceptions to this gloomy picture. Trust, often to a very high degree, exists between some individual managers and some individual subordinates. But this is case by case. What a quality process requires is a generally high level of trust among all levels in an organization. That is quite a different thing from the careful nurturing or a one-to-one relationship.

Why Trust Is Important

Why this emphasis on trust?

Let's continue with the dilemma of our friend who wants to tell the company that all this about caring about people is so much smoke, mirrors and foo-foo dust. It is clear this manager felt he would be taking a risk and decided against it. Why? Presumably, because he assumed he would be punished.

Yet inviting everyone to help solve the company's problems, placing a high value on good leadership and continually striving for a better service or product are activities critical to a successful quality process. And all depend, at least to get them off the ground, on someone taking a risk.

But who is foolish enough to do that when there is a high probability that this is a career limiting move? Risk taking will only occur and only continue in an environment where the risk-taker, at best, assumes that he will be rewarded. At very worst, the risktaker must expect not to be punished. The risk-taker, in other words, must trust those who control his career and rewards to welcome even the bad news.

Therefore, trust among all levels of the organization becomes one of the cornerstones of a quality management program.

How Trust Interacts

With Quality Process

Look back at Table 1, outlining the typical quality process.

When you examine carefully the quality process steps, you will see that each one involves a significant and increasing level of trust in the more senior managers in the company, of one's peers and subordinates.

The stage of EXECUTIVE AWARENESS requires a moderate amount of trust among the executive team so that they listen to the quality idea with an open mind. It requires no testing of trust from the employees as they typically have not heard of it yet.

EXECUTIVE COMMITMENT demands a certain trust among the senior people. The CEO needs to believe that his subordinates are not just paying lip service to the ideal. His senior managers need to trust he is really serious and will champion the change.

MIDDLE MANAGEMENT COMMITMENT requires, as a base, all of the trust already outlined. In addition, however, middle managers have to believe that their bosses will support them in their new coaching role, that this isn't just a fancy way of getting rid of them, that they are going to eventually win by completely revamping (for some) the old habits of managing.

TRAINING OF STAFF ratchets the requirements for trust up a notch. Everyone one the staff has to believe that they will be rewarded, actually rewarded, for sticking to the values, even if that means a rule is broken. They have to believe that management will follow through on the rhetoric and make changes which will allow them to serve customers better.

PROCESS/SYSTEMS STREAMLINING can be a major disruptive force. The whole point is to rethink the old, sacred ways of doing things. Everything, from how pay cheques are produced to how products are marketed, needs to be scrutinized for a better, shorter, more service-oriented way. However, when you tear apart a system, you ultimately attack a person, either the one who set it up or who runs it. ("Look, if we hadn't had these analyses in 1981, we wouldn't have survived the recession. If it was good enough then, it's good enough now."). You may be advocating the dismantling or revamp of a system which worked superbly when it was designed but is no longer as relevant. Questioning the way we do business can be unsetting and will be successful only to the extent that people believe that streamlining their jobs will not streamline them out of a job.(1)

In addition, the period between the old system and its revision can be a time uncertainty. You might not have liked the old recruitment methods, but at least you knew the rules. All of a sudden, you don't even have that. A smooth transition, even a rough one, requires staff which believe they are going to come out the other end better off, that the disruption will be worth the end result. They are taking a leap of faith. They can't or won't do it unless they have some trust in their managers.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT is predicated on having a workforce which regularly comes up with new improvements and innovations because they believe they will be rewarded for them, they believe that their ideas will be taken seriously, they believe they are important to the success of the company. Constant repetition of the pure-minded motives of management will not accomplish this, nor will hoopla over one big innovation. Belief in continuous improvement will only come when employees see, day after day, ideas and people being treated respectfully and everyone delivering on the commitment, both psychological and actual, promised by the quality process.

The only way for continuous improvement to take hold is for one person to stick his or her neck out and take a risk. You automatically increase the frequency, number and quickness of the risk-taking when you increase the safety or trustworthiness of the environment.

So, you can see that the model in Table 2 does not reflect the whole picture. The Quality Process interacts with the development of trust (Table 3).

How Trust Develops

Buildings trust, like quitting smoking or getting fit, has the frustrating quality of the Dow Jones average. Even though the trend may be in one direction or the other, there are plenty of bumps and dips along the way.

In Table 3, the jagged line represents how trust develops in organizations. The progress (the bumps) might be because management came through on the dental plan promised, or an employee is promoted who is seen by his peers as service-oriented.

Progress might be results of both regular management practices, perhaps agreeing a grievance is warranted, as well as an extraordinary effort, like declaring a no-lay-offs policy.

The dips might be the refusal to hire a new receptionist because of budget restraints ("We can't do a good job with out customers if we have to run after each other's phones!"); a decision to release a new product without the last and to your mind, unnecessary, focus group test; or a promise forgotten or delayed. Incidents unrelated to your actions can affect the trust level: a rumour that the company will be sold when management has made no announcement; a sector-wide union issue; a bungled quality "Moment of Trust" by another manager in your industry.

When hitting a dip, people tend to revert to the old patterns and beliefs. It is human to use the one lapse as proof that the old suspicions were true ("You really only care about the bottom line...all this service stuff is camouflage"). It is unfortunately also human to ignore the 19 other times when the decision consistent with your values was taken. Given that, it is not hard to see why building trust to the next level can take consistent and sustained effort.

However, the higher the trust level, the less critical an unintended lapse will be. For example, I was planning to bring a person in temporarily at no cost to my organization. My subordinate managers challenged me, "Look, we just spent half an hour on computer acquisition but we haven't spent 10 minutes on this new staff member. You aren't living the values." Since teamwork was one of our values, a natural fallout was a concern about the composition of the team, however temporary. An excellent discussion ensued on our roles in recruitment decisions. A year earlier, the issue either would have been avoided (but talked about plenty over coffee) or confronted with everyone trying to prove he or she was right. Because our level of trust had heightened over the year, the incident left no scars and in fact, increased the trust within the team.

The development of trust is a windy road. It will often be in a canyon when you particularly wanted it to be on the crest of a hill. But sometimes it will surprise you by getting to a peak faster than hoped for. It cannot be planned, cannot be directed, cannot be organized and cannot be controlled ("be still, my managerial heart").

This is where the essential difference between leadership and management comes into play. If you are leading a quality process, you can't manage your way through it. You must lead. It's as if you were going to war. You would want to have the management skills which will ensure your troops are where the fighting is, that there is food, that replacement equipment is available. But at the critical moment, when you yell "charge" (or today's equivalent), it's your leadership skills, their trust in your ability, which will put the whole thing into action. While leadership without management is a fighting force with elan but no ammunition, management without leadership has perfect supply lines but no will to win.

Both trust development and the quality process are dependent on time but they don't follow the same schedule. In fact, because trust has this quality of needing leaders, and by implication, followers who want to follow, it is resistant to being scheduled. Trust development is almost invariably more volatile, more easily put off track, less predictable than we would have it. And yet, all of the steps on the path to Quality Improvement requirement increasingly more trust among levels of the organization and between individuals. The incidents discussed at the beginning of this article were problems, not because the Quality process was being badly managed, but because the require to lead by building trust had been ignored. The quality process is dependent on this erratic but essential element being strong enough to support the next step on the quality journey. The trick of making sure that balance is struck is the hallmark of every successful quality process.

(1.) This is not to say that jobs won't eventually be eliminated. This may well be th result of SYSTEMS/PROCESSING STREAMLINING. But if you are going to lay off people who tell you how to make their jobs redundant, don't expect a flood of suggestions.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 1
Author:Horibe, Frances
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1991
Previous Article:Increase productivity: it's simple - dare to dream.
Next Article:It's the little things that count.

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