Friday, May 10, 2013

Quality and the C-Suite: ASQ promoting a dichotomy?

From the 2013 ASQ World Conference on Quality and Innovation:  midday Monday keynote Karen Martin talked about the disconnect of quality professionals and their inability to communicate, or even rise, to the corporate level.  Paul Borawski has blogged here and here about this issue. The major question is, what are we doing about it?  How are we educating corporate leaders about the value that a quality professional provides as a way to improve the organization?

What really set me off (yes, this post is a minor rant) was a recent tweet:
From the ASQ side of the house, IMO, we promote way too much of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers. Academia is doing us a disservice if it is our desire to get quality professionals to understand and speak "organization."  If you look at typical university engineering curricula it is all about process. Now there is nothing wrong with that if we understand that if we want STEM careerists to eventually rise to the corporate level, there has to be an outlet that will allow STEM careerists to understand business.  Just because a STEM Black Belt or Lean practitioner can use a SIPOC does not mean that they truly understand what goes into acquiring the inputs or appreciate the melting pot of legal, contractual, financial, and human resources skills needed to manage a business.

What's strange is that there are BUSINESS programs that do just that.  They teach both process and business aspects of work.  It usually comes under the framework of Operations Management.  These people are trained to go into work as shift supervisors and learn about working with people.  Engineers get little training early in their career about how to deal with people and manage resources.  If they do get supervisory training it is often leading engineers (read similar backgrounds), and not people possessing different technical skills.

So, ASQ, which certification covers the business aspect of work?  It is not the certified Quality Manager. It is none of the Six Sigma belt certifications.  Where is it?

OK, I am biased.  My first degree was accounting, my second degree in Operations Research. Besides my current career work in a naval shipyard (huge engineering organization) I have very little contact with engineers other than asking them for answers and often I get the, "Oh you are the quality manager, you don't understand the problem" look.  The funny thing is that the skills I learned being a quality manager, teacher, Master Black Belt, all provided a huge foundation to lead a calibration facility.  My organization is in a sorry state if I have to go down to the bench and do calibration work.  But I better know the business processes, the talent acquisition process, organizational control processes, and a good read of the parent organization's culture in order for me to be successful for my organization.

BUSINESS people have the skills to be excellent quality practitioners.  There are FINE ARTS majors that have the skills to be dynamite Black Belts.  If we truly want quality practitioners to rise to corporate leadership than ASQ needs to provide these tools to ALL majors not just STEM.  Otherwise, STEM becomes just another quota.

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