Friday, June 1, 2012

Solving the Government / Quality Puzzle: Long-Term

As my fellow Influential Voice bloggers have stated, government has many challenges to infusing quality.  Paul Borawski thinks we can do better.  I don't disagree.  Many of the fellow bloggers have talked about either their challenges and successes and there are numerous successes at federal, state, and local levels.

One challenge that seems to be the "ten ton elephant in the room" is politics.  John Hunter eloquently talked about this great challenge. Unfortunately, politics also is a force is any industry that we work in.  The Lean community calls it a "monument." It is something we have to work around.

Which means that the problems of infusing quality, whether it is in government, academia, or private industry are the same. The majority of quality professionals cite that management is the great stumbling block to infusing quality. Which means we, as in the ASQ community, need to address that issue. ASQ has developed many outreach programs with limited success because in my mind we have only been dealing with symptoms.  Let's take a look.

Rather than talking about quality in the aspect of lttle q and Big Q, let's focus our discussions of quality on the general aspect of satisfying the customer.  My first encounter with this aspect was as a 14 year old delivering the Philadelphia Inquirer in my neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware (Philadelphia is only about 25 miles from where I grew up). Wilmington, at that time, had a morning (Morning News) and afternoon newspaper (Evening Journal) and I directly competed with them.  I started out with a small route of delivering 15 papers over 2 mile radius. I put a lot of miles on my bike.  No one told me how to deliver papers, so I just watched how others did it and followed suit. When I began to collect payment for my services, I got lots of complaints because of wet papers, blowing papers all over their lawn, or lack of paper. I asked them how they liked their papers delivered. My customers told me. When I started to respond, I got happier customers.  Long story short, after 3.5 years on the job, my Sunday delivery was larger than the local paper and I had doubled the size of the daily route, just by listening to the customer and having them be my marketing force.

How do leaders learn about quality?  What are the sources of learning?  There are 3 avenues:  academia, family, experience. Let's talk about experience first.   My first quality story is an example of this.  How do leaders first experience quality?  I would contend that the opportunities for leaders to have that first hand experience are dwindling.  Teenagers have fewer opportunities to run their own opportunities.   Can your boss today talk about their first experience with quality and did it have an impact?  Without direct experience of not satisfying the customer leaders will not accept the message that quality is paramount to their success.

Opportunities of family impacting quality are shrinking even faster than the experiential opportunities. In the past two generations, in the United States, we have seen a major decline in direct sales of goods and services by family operated businesses. As a team, the family is the strongest unit.  It will more quickly go into survival mode when the team is threatened. Future leaders have little experience of what the Navy calls "the burning platform."  If you are on a burning platform at sea, how quickly do you assess and act versus be consumed by the fire. If the family's success is based on the business, the entire family pitches in to survive.  Future leaders have little opportunity to feel that stress of customers not wanting their product or service.

Finally, academia is a hindrance, not a help.  Current management curricula rarely address quality. Curricula is designed to be stove-piped (learning individual nuggets) with some form of case study capstone course that focus on enablers and not practical aspects of problem solving.  In short, the academic model is broken and ASQ needs to intervene to help get it back on course.

So, what we are seeing are leaders that have had little to no direct experience in quality,less of the family team working together for success, and an academic model that has no clue where quality fits in organizational success. Can you understand why quality programs more often than not fail?

How do we resolve this?  Change the culture, change the message. Work on changing the focus from financial success to customer satisfaction.  Work at developing relationships one person at time.  Insist on better preparation from our academic institutions.  Get involved!  For my colleagues who just left the ASQ World Conference I would suggest that if you want to impact change direct your renewed "Voice of Quality" passion towards talking to your bosses to understand their tale of quality and show them yours.  Maybe you will start to make them quality converts.  Maybe one day you will be that organizational leader and you can put these things into place.
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