Thursday, December 11, 2014

Quality is Expectation, not Ambition

This month’s ASQ Influential Voices blog post has made my head ache.  I had a difficult time in linking the source of the original author’s discussion to Mr. Troy’s questions and back to blog title.  With that in mind, I am going to try to make my own sense of where all this is going. 

I have come to believe that quality in the general sense is a series of expectations based on capabilities and an organization’s desire for success.  The execution of those expectations drives an organization’s success.  Expectations are derived from a series of enforced standards.  The discipline in keeping to those standards drives execution. 
To me this explains how the quality profession has grown from just standards development and enforcement to also include performance improvement methodologies and tools as part of the umbrella.  Innovation and industry specific application is a natural offshoot of the desire to be always looking forward towards new challenges and applications of these concepts. 
To stretch things a bit, the field of accounting was developed as the first metric system of a success of an organization.  It had a simple premise:  success was based on how much money you made because the assumption was that if a customer was willing to continue to give your organization money for your product or service you were successful.   As someone whose first degree was in accounting I can safely say that the current field has pretty much strayed away from the original concept.   With the rise of taxing systems, the “pureness” of the accounting profession has developed into more a politicization exercise rather than good record keeping of an organization’s success.   Successful organizations always realized that money is not a driver but a by-product of a successful organization.   Successful organizations execute to standards that match customers’ expectations.   World class organizations were very good at execution; the challenge was keeping up with customer’s changing expectations. 
In 1970, economist Milton Friedman created the germ that developed into the concept that large corporations could be successful by maximizing shareholder value since shareholders were considered customers of corporations.  The metric used for public traded companies was stock value. This immediately took hold in Wall Street since stock price was their currency.   MBA programs naturally picked up on this concept and became personnel feeders into this system.   For the past 40 years we have seen good, well run, quality (by our definition) organizations be pushed to the sideline as a result of this immersive concept. 
Why now the change in perspective? Besides organizational performance plateaus, we are realizing that stockholders represent a smaller and smaller number of actual consumers of a product or service.  Today, the majority of holders of corporate stock are actually suppliers (of capital) and not customers of an organization’s product or service.  Stockholders are on the wrong side of the SIPOC map. 
The quality community that have had their “conversion” truly know in their hearts what is right about quality and understand  the value they provide to the organization.  Unfortunately, they are tired of fighting against the past 40 years of stupidity.  Quality is not attractive to the upcoming generation because it is seen as a dead end road requiring a lot of energy and no documented paths to future leadership, as reinforced by the current curricula norms.
Having a quality professional converse with the C-level about the goodness of quality is akin to asking a Christian layman to perform mission work in the Middle East.  You will get some success but it will be few and far between and you are liable to be faced with (career) death.  So, again, I call on the church (ASQ) to lay the groundwork.  Interact more with MBA academia to change their curriculum.  Show how maximizing shareholder value does significant damage in both a business and a community partner sense.  The members can’t preach the good word of quality without resources such that business will respect the message and not dismiss it.
 Below are some links that have been impactful in this blog post. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What is necessary for every quality professional to be a leader?

The November 2014 ASQ Influential Voices lead blog post posits an idea from the ASQ CEO: Every quality professional, a leader. My first reaction was that I have talked about the required education of leaders in the quality profession. The next piece of information that I found important was an IndustryWeek tweet advertising their 3-part, 1993 interview with Dr. Deming entitled, “Management today does not know what its job is.” Which led me to re-read Bill Troy’s post with the following question in mind: Is there enough information provided to make this idea executable?

I believe that leadership is a collection of behaviors. From the blog post I was looking for the expected behaviors that would make this idea actionable and I did not find many. I saw the proof of this with the number of varied responses from the community. Being a leader is personal to every professional. What follows are my thoughts on required leader behaviors.

A leader is not a persona that is turned on and off. The most important behavior is that you must be yourself. This is not a trained behavior. It comes down to how you share of yourself to your group. A leader does not have to be liked; they have to be clear in who they are. What you say and do have to be consistent in who you are. “It is not enough to talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.” These two things help build trust and a leader cannot be effective without the trust of the group. A book that brought this home to me is Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust.

The blog post mentions the need to be effective as a leader. If the quality professional is enforcing standards or recommending change, there has to be an element of trust such that the standard is real or that the change is necessary. Both sources have to be grounded in tangible proof. Without that source there is a loss of leadership trust. Standards are often regulatory but can be expectations. Change may be mandated but also can be part of expectations. To me that is where the link to vision and planning are crucial. Business strategy makes the case for change and it allows the team a touchstone when things get chaotic. The leader has to be part of the strategy, its main enforcer and interpreter and its champion. If the leader does not believe in the strategy it does not get executed.

A behavior that is a crucial for leaders is communication. This is a HARD skill to master. For a leader, I believe, you have to be clear in what it is that you want to communicate such that the team interprets the message in the same manner as the leader. One behavior that I have found is necessary that is not widely mentioned is empathy. You have to understand the group and how the message will be received to ensure the message will be interpreted as the leader intends. Empathy requires understanding your team, their needs, their expectations, and the challenges that they will face. Empathy is tied to listening. A leader needs to listen more than talk.

The last required skill is self-confidence. The leader, when faced with a choice, always asks, is this the right choice? The leader must be committed to the choice which means clearing communicating the choice, working towards successful completion of the choice, and take ownership of the consequences.

The one thing that is missing, and it is the hardest leadership trait for me, is to SMILE. There are times when the dour expression is warranted but a team must enjoy their work to stay a team and the energy a leader brings with just a smile is often the energy necessary to get over a hurdle.

As for training, I have had my share of classroom training but I have found that the key leadership skills are not taught in formal training programs but mentored. My definition of mentoring involves, self-reflection, outside reinforcement from a trusted source, and the need to talk things through. A leader cannot be a loner. They have to share with someone those challenges and a “mentor” is a trusted friend or colleague that, as a leader, you can bounce off ideas and draw strength from. Effective leaders have someone that they rely on.

Proposing the idea that all quality professionals should strive to be leaders is a good goal. Although the blog post provides some behaviors, we need to see from ASQ more in desired expectations to make this actionable. Although we can do some self-reflection on how we can personally execute this idea, I would offer that the ASQ needs to place more emphasis on leadership in the Quality Body of Knowledge other than just stating that people need to be leaders.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An age old lament: How to recruit for new members

Bill Troy’s October 2014 blog post offers up a topic that has been around since ASQ was originally formed: how do we grow the membership? In the almost 20 years I have been a member what Bill presents in his blog has been the same offered solutions.  Yet, membership in ASQ has declined significantly since its highest level of 100,000+ members back in 2000. Do the currently offered strategies really address the issue if we want to grow membership?
I would offer a similar analogy faced by another institution:  the church.  There is a life cycle to churches, most often based on the vibrancy of the community that it supports.  Churches, like professional organizations, offer value to people; note the current successful ministries of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, or T.D. Jakes. You probably know of some very large “megachurches” in your area.  They offer relevancy to their flock.
I would argue that churches have two sources that draw members, community vibrancy and the pastor’s personal magnetism.  Churches that have been around for quite some time may have had a very dynamic minister as part of their history but what sustains the church in the community is the value that their programs continue to offer to the community.  A “living” church maintains its orthodoxy and offers the community relevant programs.   Without the programs, all you have left are religious tenets that can be assumed in other ways.    It is sad when historical church congregations, pillars of the community, die.  The church leadership failed to maintain their programs’ value to the community or the community found them in a better, more pleasing package elsewhere.  
Bringing it back to ASQ, our job is to continue to make our programs relevant to the world.   Although it is good to have a member model that makes it easy for people to join the greatest challenge that ASQ has faced is maintaining members.  We often get new members from our certification programs.   These programs are highly successful in that they offer huge value to members.  Yet, retention falls off just after the certifications expire because we have not offered value for members or businesses to invest in maintaining certification.
Section and division membership levels are often susceptible to the “magnetic personality” complex.  Usually there are about three dominant personalities that act as the “light” of the member unit and draw in membership.  Once those lights are extinguished, membership dries up.  The challenge is to acquire those “lights” out in the local work community because they can be sustained easier. The “light” is based on influence rather than personality.  Ask yourself; is the quality director of your largest enterprise a member of your local section or division?  If not, how hard is it to recruit new members from that business?
Where we all have failed, and it is a continuing lament of mine, is in making ASQ valued in our local communities. What have we done to show the local influencers that our member unit offers programs that enhance their workers, not just the quality ones, with skills deemed essential by them?  With their corporate programs what has ASQ done to provide new avenues, new applications of core quality concepts that make them essential success factors?
Pope Francis has signaled to the Catholic Church that it must become more relevant in today’s world.  I would argue that we need to do the same in ASQ. Rather than continuing to dole out the same tactics that address around the edges stuff we need to answer the basic question of “What value should ASQ provide to tomorrow’s working world?” and work towards fulfilling that value as our primary goal.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Does your strategic plan survive when it first contacts reality?

ASQ CEO Bill Troy’s September 2014 post on strategy 101 was his take on what is being taught in both the military and in most MBA programs regarding strategy.  I did not do a literature search but there are probably a number of Harvard Business Review articles that echo Mr. Troy’s thoughts.  
Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke is often considered to be one of the world’s finest military strategists.  Paraphrasing Wikipedia, “…Moltke regarded strategy as a practical art of adapting means to ends…”  Von Moltke is attributed to the following: “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.” What organizations and people find is that the best laid plans often fail at the first contact with reality. 
Which drives my thought of, if your strategic plan is going to diverge once it is exercised, what is the value in expending energy in its development?  Which of Mr. Troy’s five elements are the ones we need to concentrate our efforts?
So why plan?  I have two reasons.  The first comes from a popular quote of Dr. George Box attributed to statistical models:  “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  You may never have perfect knowledge of the future but 80% accuracy is better than 50% accuracy (fair coin flip).  When those times require prognostication of the future, definitely develop a plan.  There are situations where developing a plan may not be the best use of time, for example, personal development.  Please consider the following question:   Twenty years ago, did you predict that you would be in your current career position? Question is a little tongue in cheek, but it goes to timing.  What is the proper time horizon for the future that you are trying to plan for?
My second reason for developing strategy is focus and clarity.  Plans often involve more than one person and for its efficient execution there needs to be a plan to communicate the strategy.  If the strategic plan is the script what are the required communication channels?  At the senior leader level there is a lot of energy expended on strategic plan development; the communication strategy is often assumed.  Communication drives clarity and plan refinement.   Strategy often fails because of poor communication planning.
Which leads to the second question I proposed--which five of Mr. Troy’s elements should we concentrate on?   The first two points (key facts & assumptions, and theory of victory) are crucial because it states the map, the route, the start and the finish point of your journey.  It also describes necessary resources and time frames.   Without these details, your plan does not offer the necessary flexibility of surviving reality.  Von Moltke stressed flexibility and adaptability and without a firm understanding of where you are starting, where you want to finish up, and what you have on hand to accomplish it, your chance of success is diminished.  
Communication drives Troy’s elements 3 and 4.  Senior leaders do not have perfect knowledge and they need lower level input to develop alternatives and test them against the current reality.  The best people to do that are those closest to the front lines. Successful military planning often involve small unit leadership in sandbox sessions to understand nuances and the commander’s intent.  Along with reconnaissance, these elements form the basis for element 3.  The sandbox sessions will also talk to capabilities which drive to element 4 and determine if the units have what is needed to execute plan.
Businesses consider element 5 a luxury but the military have integrated this concept as part of their training strategy.  In the 1980’s, the Army realized element 5 was crucial for success so they created a realistic training environment that tests strategy with the reopening of the Fort Irwin training center.   The Army improved leaps and bounds, which led to other training centers being built in Fort Polk and Fort Carson. Technology can drive increased use of element 5 for business. With the latest concentration on “big data,” sophisticated models that better reflect reality can be developed.  Again, it all circle’s back to Dr. Box.  Don’t rely on these models as the absolute truth. 
So how do we improve our chances that strategic planning can survive first contact with reality?  Expend most of your efforts on the basics (Troy’s elements 1 & 2) and COMMUNICATE, communicate, communicate the plan.  The more that people understand the intent and their own capabilities at execution time, it will increase their ability to be able to respond to contact (reality) and execute the tactics necessary to drive towards success.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Do conditions exist for a Quality Revolution?

In his August 2014 blog post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks if quality’s future is evolutionary or revolutionary. The majority of my fellow Influential Voice bloggers state that quality’s future can be both evolutionary and revolutionary.  So rather than a post on stating the same thing, let’s dig a bit and try to decide if we indeed have the necessary elements for a quality revolution. 
Merriam-Webster defines revolutionary as, “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.”  In order for that to happen, there must exist conditions necessary for this type of change. In business, usually it means a “life or death” event is going to cause this type of change to occur. 
Fellow Influential Voice Bob Mitchell talks about three conditions that “could” lead to revolutionary change: 1) the rate of change is exponential, 2) The aging population and Workforce of the future, 3) Globalization and Social Responsibility.  Bob discusses that the first and the last are more evolutionary while training the future workforce is evolutionary based on the new education model of the “Flipped Classroom” where knowledge familiarization is done at the student’s own pace in their own environment and the knowledge transfer (practice) occurs under supervision in the classroom.    I really don’t see this Flipped Classroom model as revolutionary.  Shipyards with apprentice programs have been practicing that model for quite some time.  The theory is taught in classrooms and the experience is learned through practice away from the classroom, under supervision.  For me, this is just a repurposing of a common practice and not revolutionary; more evolutionary (repurposing to another industry).
John Hunter in his post gets closer to my truth.  Survey any quality professional and they will tell you that the biggest barrier or assist to managing change is top-level management support.  Bill Troy alludes to this when he mentions getting C-level leadership to see quality as valuable.  For me, that is the most important condition for revolutionary change.  How do we get senior management to appreciate quality as an integral part of leadership and not a bolt-on or nice to have feature?
For me, the answer lies in education.  I have stated in previous blog posts here and here that the biggest impact that ASQ can make is to go the university system and convince them that quality concepts are just as important as finance, marketing, or accounting.  Very few major universities have quality as a major.  My point is quality is taught as either a one day class, one course in a major, and not as the building block for leadership success.  Once businesses see quality behaviors as a required characteristic of top leadership will we start to see the quality revolution.
Mr. Troy, I do agree with my colleagues that quality’s future can be evolutionary AND revolutionary.  My prediction is that we will see much more change that is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What IS the vision of ASQ?

On its webpage masthead, ASQ announces, “ASQ is a global community of people passionate about quality, who use the tools, their ideas and expertise to make our world better.  ASQ: The Global Voice of Quality.”
As a fairly active member of the community I would agree that just about every ASQ member I have come in contact with is passionate about the job they do, seeking ideas and answers to make their own corner of the world that much better.   So is the masthead statement a mission statement, vision statement, or values statement?  I would argue it is more a descriptor of today; is it a descriptor of perfection—more akin to a vision statement? 
I had to really dig into the site, but I finally found the current ASQ Vision Statement, which is buried on page 6 of the FY14 Business Plan and it is self-proclaimed as aspirational:  “By making quality a global priority, an organizational imperative, and a personal ethic, ASQ will become the community of choice for everyone who seeks quality concepts, technology, and tools to improve themselves and their world.” ASQ CEO Bill Troy is preaching vision clarity while HQ goes through its strategic planning process in preparation for FY15.  Let’s be a help and, using the FY14 Business Plan, talk about vision clarity by breaking down the vision statement.
”By making quality a global priority…”  This is a tough one to grapple with because there is an expectation that quality is pervasive and expected.  Again, from page 6 of the Business Plan, “The quality profession envisions the day when quality rightly becomes everyone’s job. That phrase, “Quality is everyone’s job,” was a popular quality cliché of the 1980s. ASQ expanded its mission to support the realization of that vision. As you see in ASQ’s vision, we strive to be the community for EVERYONE who seeks quality.“ OK, it is lofty but I am struggling how ASQ is executing to this piece of the vision.  I will agree that they have done great things in the global side of things, what should ASQ do to combine global into priority?  Is participating in ISO development enough?  In your organization, gentle reader, is quality a global priority?  What else needs to be done?
“…an organizational imperative,…”  Again, going back to page 6, “we also have a role to play in serving the needs of organizations, and even groups of organizations. ASQ’s Enterprise Quality Roundtable Memberships and other organizational approaches help support quality as a strategic advantage and tool for innovation and change, and supports the vision in helping make quality an organizational imperative.”  This is where things fall apart.  ASQ is very good at participating in business wide studies as well as being involved in these types of “organizational” packages.  But I would argue we are a LONG way off in making quality an organizational imperative.  We have made great strides but in one place I believe ASQ has failed, miserably.  We have not won the hearts and minds of educators.   Current leaders are not putting quality ahead of financial performance, ethical behavior, or personal accountability.  Quality has not been mainstreamed as a required leadership trait.  Mr. Troy, if I were king this would be my most important aspect to work on.
“…and a personal ethic…”   From the business plan, “There is a third dimension of ASQ’s vision that sets us apart from a traditional professional association, and that is the knowledge of the profession—that quality concepts, technologies, and tools can be taken out of an organizational context and used to make the world a better place.”  I believe we are just starting on this journey.   In the past 5 years, the ASQ Learning Institute has done wondrous things to provide the professional knowledge described in the vision statement.  The folks that work in this group would also say they have a long way to go.  
Unfortunately, to drive revenue, ASQ own actions in promoting industry applications of learning offerings goes against the above business plan statement.   In the 2013 ASQ Global State of Quality Research, I found in the Insights and Continuing Conversations section, an identified challenge (top of page 7). “As the educational and training needs are diverse, to fit one or the other ‘already packaged’ programs to everyone is tough.  We need to work on altering the perception that ‘we are unique and we are special,’ and collectively understand that there is still so much benefit to derive from standardized… systems.”
Quality concepts are timeless, generic, and pervasive IF quality practitioners are willing to be patient to bring along the quality neophytes. The application of quality in manufacturing can also be done in the financial world, health care industry, or government ONCE YOU HAVE PROCESS KNOWLEDGE.  Without process knowledge we get all of these specialized flavors.  Seeking profound knowledge gives us the necessary skills to adapt the concepts to new problems. 
Mr. Troy, you have a challenge.  I believe the Society lacks clarity of vision.  Some of it because the Society fights for revenue survival, other times the Society acts selfishly rather than for the greater good.  I believe your challenge is to be the minder of the vision and clarify those areas where things are murky.
Oh, one little nit:  Can you make the mission/vision/values of the Society a little easier to find on the ASQ website?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Organizational Excellence starts with Self-Assessment

This month, ASQ’s new CEO announced that ASQ has achieved the Excellence level in the Wisconsin state Quality program.  The program, like most state programs, uses the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) criteria.  These state programs are rigorous and any organization that undertakes them should be recognized for the journey.  The challenge, once met, is to continue the journey because it is the right thing to do and not just to win an award. 
This past year I spoke on four occasions at ASQ sponsored meetings (2 section meetings, a regional quality conference, and the ASQ Lean & Six Sigma conference) on this very topic and how the SIPOC tool (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers) can be used as the basis for organizational self-assessment.  This model is currently being used by US Navy Shipyards. It is interesting how you can repurpose an “improvement” tool as a self-assessment tool.  But the SIPOC’s specific purpose in process improvement is to establish the macro look of today.  This macro look is an excellent basis for determining what IS your organization and how do you keep track of it. 


The graphic above provides a hierarchy that organizational leadership needs to embrace. The organization should rise through this hierarchy to achieve organizational excellence.  If the purpose of your leadership is to just deal with the everyday problems, an organization never improves.  The self-assessment acts as a stepping stone to improvement. Self-assessments provide hard data for monitoring current state and are a source for future improvement ideas. 
Self-assessments come in variety of flavors, ranging from the MBNQA and other national quality awards, local, state, and regional quality recognition awards as well as organizational and informal self-assessments.  Self-assessments act like thermometers by taking the temperature of current situations.   Self-assessments are not perfect.  Like thermometers we often have to check to make sure that the thermometer is reading accurately which means that there needs to be a touchstone by which the self-assessment is based.  We have to revisit the premise that the self-assessment is performing the purpose it was established to do. 
That is why a SIPOC is so important.  Just like a Mission/Vision/Values statement keeps an organization on course, revisiting the SIPOC helps an organization ensure that the organization is looking and measuring the right pieces.  Self-assessments lose their effectiveness if they no longer do what they are purposed to do.
Again, congratulations to ASQ for achieving this award.  It has been an arduous journey and one that has brought a lot of knowledge through this self-assessment process.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What is “Quality in Education?”

The May 2014 “View from the Q” topic raises the voice of closing keynote of the 2014 World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI) regarding our title.  Michelle Rhee communicates the thesis that poor quality in education leads to a future of mediocrity.  Jennifer Stepniowski turns the message to a more personal aspect as her follow-on blog post describes her personal observations of the education system and what defines “quality in education” for her. 
I want to take a different perspective.  What is quality in education?  If quality is tied to purpose (education output), what are the characteristics of good quality in education?  Is it standard test achievement?  Is it dollars spent per student?  Is it the number of Ph.D’s produced?  Given these traditional metrics of educational quality (they are all trending higher) and the state of our world (the press seems to think we are stagnating or trending downward, sorry Honda) are we measuring the right things?
I would argue that quality in education needs to be defined as enhancing the young’s desire to learn.  As part of being human, we are born with a curious streak.  At a young age, a child has a long inquisitive streak that for most parents never seem to be satisfied.  For most parents, the number of why-questions in a child’s first five years of life borders on the thousands.   That number rapidly degenerates once they hit the formal education process.  Why?  The current education system is based on conformity—the antithesis of a questioning mind.  Our public schools are taking on the appearance of warehouses and prisons as education systems are more worried sometimes about litigation fallout rather than graduation dropout.
I would argue that a quality education system manifests itself as a person ages.  Valued workers possess initiative, willingness to take calculated risks, and are willing to learn new skills.  Does our current education system support nurturing these characteristics? 
Initial studies on extending a person’s physical and mental health include mental exercises (puzzles and the like) but also learning new things.   The continual remapping of brain neural pathways is an important part of life once we retire from active work.  Again, how does our education system support this?
To me, the question for the quality community should not address quality in education but how to redesign the education system to support our current world and to build in design flexibility such that the education system is able to change as our world changes.  As quality experts we should be helping design the next education system.  As part of that we need to consider what roles quality plays in developing those inquisitive characteristics of life-long learning such that they will exist for future generations.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Making Time for {insert here}

There is an interesting discussion thread going around in the Lean community that originated with Michael Ballé’s “The Lean Edge” blogsite.   Here is the “conversation starter”
The Lean Edge: How do you make time for improvements?
As CEO of my company I have a grasp of lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I'm CEO, I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work. They’re already completely busy doing their regular work. Moreover, this company is in the outdoor sports industry, and many people join these companies because they want time to climb, backpack, canoe, etc., and I'm reluctant to ask them to work more hours and sacrifice time for these activities. Any advice?
I would suggest you read the responses here.  My response deals directly with the behaviors of the CEO.  My first question asked of the CEO would be, “How are you creating time in your day for improving your work?” and the second question would be, “What resources are you providing your charges to allow the improvements you desire?”
Roger Hoerl and Ron Snee in their text, Statistical Thinking: Improving Business Performance, state that we used to have just one job—work.  However, to keep up with the speed of the current world we need to have two jobs; do the work and improve the work.  Hoerl & Snee use baseball spring training as the analogy to why this model works.  Baseball players cannot be at their best during the regular season if they are not doing the things necessary to improve their skills both in spring training and in regular season practice.  So the follow-on question to this CEO is, “What kind of ‘spring training’ are you offering your players to practice and improve their skills?”
Karen Martin’s response was interesting in that:
 “In the end – it’s a matter of priorities. As Deming said (I’m paraphrasing), funny how we don’t have time to make improvements, but we have plenty of time to perform work inefficiently and keep resolving the same problems over and over. Ultimately, I believe it’s a matter of choice, will, and belief in a better tomorrow.”
When I served as a Quality Manager in the packaging industry I lived this every day.  There is the business push to “break into the schedule” to push a hot job at the expense of quality.  I often found that the organization thought it was OK to do a job over at a later time rather than delay a bit and do the job right and once. That is not an improvement behavior; it is a bad behavior often disguised as “satisfying the customer.” 

It also manifests in leadership maturity.  A common behavior for a leader moving into a new position is to fall back on the behaviors that made them successful in the past.  Yet, as leaders rise in responsibility, they have to change their perspective and behaviors which require different skills.  How does a new leader acquire these skills?  Usually in the middle of a firefight where they learn that the current toolkit is not effective in handing the problem they are facing.  More reason to concentrate on improving their own skills to handle the problems they have yet to face.

As a leader, the most precious resource is time. As a leader rises in rank often time is a very scarce resource.  Often senior leaders complain that their time is not their own when in reality they do not balance the “doing work/improving work” effectively.  In closing, senior leaders need to reflect.  How are they spending their time?  Are they just “doing work” and sacrificing the improving part? If so, I would argue they are in “do-loop” with no way out.  Until the leader decides to “make time” personally for improvement, an organization will never significantly improve.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Open Letter to the new ASQ CEO

I know that I have been on a hiatus from blog posts; work, personal life changes, plus my “muse” seemed to take a warm weather vacation during this cold Virginia winter dampened my desire to write. On February 28, ASQ announced the hiring of Paul Borawski’s replacement as ASQ CEO, retired Army Lieutenant General William (Bill) Troy.    Like myself, the new CEO is an ex-Army officer and I thought a letter from a new “colleague” may bring a different perspective to the learning curve he is now experiencing. Please note that my comments are my own based on observation and do not reflect any stated positions of any existing ASQ community or member other than myself.

General:  Welcome!
As you are finding, ASQ is a very diverse organization with many similarities and differences from your last post as Director of the Army Staff as well as your previous chief of staff assignments.  ASQ is an “all volunteer force” just like the Army.  There is a command and control structure; accountability away from the flagpole is a major challenge. I have been members of other professional organizations and I find ASQ members to be the most interesting, engaging and passionate people.  They come from all walks of life and freely participate in the opportunities that ASQ provides them. In the past, as an Ordnance officer, I was a member of AUSA, ADPA, and MORS.  I participated in some of their conferences but you will find that the feel of an ASQ gathering is very much different than the military associations you may have participated in.

However, US membership in ASQ is declining and small field activities are struggling to sustain operations based on a number of variables; mostly relevancy to a younger professional workforce.  The incentive to participate is not there, our inability to show how ASQ fits in their professional lives, and continued insistence on using pre-2000 member models as success metrics is killing the soul of the society.  As much as the community has a focus on innovation and creativity there is a strong cadre of members who wish to hold onto the past.  What these folks have forgotten as they hold onto their past ways is that success is based on practiced concepts and how we apply those concepts to a changing world is the proof that we are innovative and will be the beacon for new members to follow.  We need to decide to root out the nay-sayers or expend energy in their conversion.

Speaking of headquarters, you have a highly talented group of direct reports.  I have had the privilege of working with a number of them and I find them very willing to listen to my ideas, share their time both at conferences and in the field, and push back on me to engage in change rather than report it.  There are some issues requiring your time.  There is a high turnover in staff, especially those directly facing the troops. Right now, community development is perilously short-staffed. Customer expectations are not well-managed and this can drive long time staff-members crazy.  Obviously, declining membership revenues are a contributor to this condition.  I would consider this an important aspect of change that needs to be addressed.

Another challenge will be the breaking of organizational silos and better communication and coordination of ASQ activities.  We still have segments of ASQ more inwardly focused and not concerned with Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline concept of “systems thinking.”  ASQ has improved in this area; the Ideas to Action Gathering (ITAG) of member leaders was one of the first activities to start to address silo-busting.  We still have a long way to go. 

But not all is doom and gloom.  When you speak to members at this year's ASQ World Conference in Dallas you will get a better feel of the vibrant community, the desire for excellence, and the willingness, for the most part, to move ASQ forward. If you ask for help most members will ask you, when do you need it?  You won’t find a group more willing to participate in change.  Leverage that desire for the good of the society. I look forward to working with you in moving our society forward.
Best regards,
Scott Rutherford