The Value of Vulnerability

I’ve been thinking of the role vulnerability a lot in light of the current pandemic situation, and so I went back and re-read Professor Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead. In this book she lays out a framework for vulnerability, as a resource in leadership and within the workplace, which can impact the entire culture and creativity of a team.

Professor Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure and lays out how vulnerability is essential to enabling collaboration. Leaders need to be transparent about their own challenges and encourage others to share their challenges with the group. Sharing vulnerability creates group cohesion.

At the same time I’m reading this book, I also started a new job and I’ve been in a lot of conversations about how we get folks comfortable with sharing their difficulties in their implementation around quality 4.0 initiatives.

Here’s the thing I want to stress, we can make vulnerability an organizational habit by instituting standard processes like after-action reviews and lessons learned. Building these processes into project lifecycle and our very culture provides a clear, designated space for sharing and vulnerability. By ensuring consistent application of lessons earned we can build this habit honesty, vulnerability, openness, and sharing of information. And through that we can help drive a culture of excellence.

Vulnerability can create space for “productive failure”, as Professor Brown terms it. A tricky thing for people to buy into but a way of thinking and working that turns failure into an opportunity to learn. When you know productive failure is a possibility you may be more inclined to be courageous and try and create something bigger and better despite the risks. When a workforce sees vulnerability named and shared by their leaders, and where they also acknowledge risks of failure but see it as an opportunity for learning they are likely to believe they can mirror some of that themselves.

There are a lot of reasons why organizations are bad at doing lessons learned, but I think at the core there is this unmovable idea that vulnerability is a weakness. It is probably for this reason that we see folks very willing to share their successes in case studies and at conferences, but not so willing to shares misses and failures. Even though we have a lot to learn from that vulnerability.

I’m curious. How is vulnerability expressed in your organization?

Now is a good time to be active in a professional organization

Many of us are wondering just how we are going to get through the next few months of self-isolation. I’d like to recommend getting active in a professional organization.

Amazingly enough this can be a good time to strengthen your network, further your career or maybe even build some friendships. Professional organizations can enhance your personal and professional development and provide endless networking opportunities. Look around your community—there are bound to be a plethora of organizations (from small local start-ups to national chapters) for you to join.

A professional association can your professional home. It is the place where people in the same field will come to know you, support you, and nurture your growth and development. Especially now for those of us who are self-isolating, our professional associations can mitigate the potential isolation and loneliness of our work. There’s nothing quite like sharing in the excitement of learning about new understandings and techniques with others who share the challenges and the joys of the profession. There’s nothing quite as supportive as a group of people who have “been there and done that”. There is nothing quite like sharing your own experiences and hard-won lessons.

Like I said above, there are a lot of professional associations out there. I belong to a plethora of industry (PDA, RAPS), subject area (ACMP, PPA) and domain (ASQ). Right now my heart is certainly fully committed to the ASQ and the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum, but you do you and find the organizations that work for you. But if you need help navigating the ASQ, or are looking for opportunities to get involved, let me know.

So what can you be doing right now to leverage a professional organization? Especially right now? I think there are four major areas to look at:

Colleagueship: Associations are the primary way that people do face-time networking with people who share our professional interests. Most organizations are offering a lot of online options to make it possible to network with people all over the world. Get your face out there and build those connections. And when we can all get together again, keep at it.

Education: We’re in a rapidly changing field. It can take years for good research to make it into print. Now is a great time to catch up and then stay up to date and knowledgeable about new trends in the field. Take an online course. Ask questions.

Information: Association journals, bulletins and newsletters, websites and mailing lists are often the first place that new developments in the field are published. Many associations use their media to alert their members to more than research. Articles and news items also inform us about changes in governmental policies, new trends and other issues that impact the field.

Career Development: Engage in education offerings. Now is a good time to work on that certification. Eventually there will be opportunities again to attend conferences and present a poster or workshop, but right now heavily use the forums and other tools to get that experience of sharing your work and develop your credentials. Further, associations often have listings of job opportunities that are only available to members.

Above all, Stay Inspired and Stay Motivated.  Love what you do! It is important to be proactive about things you discover on the journey. Get out there, post, ask questions, answer questions, read and then share what you are reading.

In the routine of remote working you are building, now is a great time to make a habit of blocking off a little time in your calendar to go online and contribute. For fellow ASQ members I hope to see you at my.ASQ.

Amazon’s lack of safety culture

Time after time, internal documents and interviews with company insiders show, Amazon officials have ignored or overlooked signs that the company was overloading its fast-growing delivery network while eschewing the expansive sort of training and oversight provided by a legacy carrier like UPS.

Inside Documents Show How Amazon Chose Speed Over Safety in Building Its Delivery Network” by James BandlerPatricia Callahan and Doris Burke, ProPublica, Ken Bensinger and Caroline O’Donovan, BuzzFeed News
 Dec. 23, 3 p.m. EST

Great reporting on the purposeful decisions that led to an unsafe culture. I recommend everyone reading this.

“Those interviews, as well as internal documents, reveal how executives at a company that prides itself on starting every meeting with a safety tip repeatedly quashed or delayed safety initiatives out of concern that they could jeopardize its mission of satisfying customers with ever-faster delivery.”

It all starts with leaders walking-the-walk and paying more than lip service to principles. “delighting the customer” is a great goal, but there are other stakeholders, and employee safety is a higher principle.

This article really reinforces my opinion that while there may be useful tools we can learn from FAANG companies, by-and-large their cultures do not appear ones truly dedicated to safety, quality and excellence.

It bears repeating. If we made pharmaceuticals the same way Amazon or Facebook operated, we’d all be dead. Every-time I read about Alphabet getting involved in healthcare I become petrified. One only has to look at the safety record of Tesla (both in the factory and the safety of it’s automobile) to start feeling worried on what happens when you take the bad culture from Silicon Valley and apply it to other endeavors..

Overcoming Subjectivity in Risk Management and Decision Making Requires a Culture of Quality and Excellence

Risk assessments, problem solving and making good decisions need teams, but any team has challenges in group think it must overcome. Ensuring your facilitators, team leaders and sponsors are aware and trained on these biases will help lead to deal with subjectivity, understand uncertainty and drive to better outcomes. But no matter how much work you do there, it won’t make enough of a difference until you’ve built a culture of quality and excellence.

The mindsets we are trying to build into our culture will strive to overcome a few biases in our teams that lead to subjectivity.

Bias Toward Fitting In

We have a natural desire to want to fit in. This tendency leads to two challenges:

Challenge #1: Believing we need to conform. Early in life, we realize that there are tangible benefits to be gained from following social and organizational norms and rules. As a result, we make a significant effort to learn and adhere to written and unwritten codes of behavior at work. But here’s the catch: Doing so limits what we bring to the organization.

Challenge #2: Failure to use one’s strengths. When employees conform to what they think the organization wants, they are less likely to be themselves and to draw on their strengths. When people feel free to stand apart from the crowd, they can exercise their signature strengths (such as curiosity, love for learning, and perseverance), identify opportunities for improvement, and suggest ways to exploit them. But all too often, individuals are afraid of rocking the boat.

We need to use several methods to combat the bias toward fitting in. These need to start at the cultural level. Risk management, problem solving and decision making only overcome biases when embedded in a wider, effective culture.

Encourage people to cultivate their strengths. To motivate and support employees, some companies allow them to spend a certain portion of their time doing work of their own choosing. Although this is a great idea, we need to build our organization to help individuals apply their strengths every day as a normal part of their jobs.

Managers need to help individuals identify and develop their fortes—and not just by discussing them in annual performance reviews. Annual performance reviews are horribly ineffective. Just by using “appreciation jolt”, positive feedback., can start to improve the culture. It’s particularly potent when friends, family, mentors, and coworkers share stories about how the person excels. These stories trigger positive emotions, cause us to realize the impact that we have on others, and make us more likely to continue capitalizing on our signature strengths rather than just trying to fit in.

Managers should ask themselves the following questions: Do I know what my employees’ talents and passions are? Am I talking to them about what they do well and where they can improve? Do our goals and objectives include making maximum use of employees’ strengths?

Increase awareness and engage workers. If people don’t see an issue, you can’t expect them to speak up about it.  

Model good behavior. Employees take their cues from the managers who lead them.

Bias Toward Experts

This is going to sound counter-intuitive, especially since expertise is so critical. Yet our biases about experts can cause a few challenges.

Challenge #1: An overly narrow view of expertise. Organizations tend to define “expert” too narrowly, relying on indicators such as titles, degrees, and years of experience. However, experience is a multidimensional construct. Different types of experience—including time spent on the front line, with a customer or working with particular people—contribute to understanding a problem in detail and creating a solution.

A bias toward experts can also lead people to misunderstand the potential drawbacks that come with increased time and practice in the job. Though experience improves efficiency and effectiveness, it can also make people more resistant to change and more likely to dismiss information that conflicts with their views.

Challenge #2: Inadequate frontline involvement. Frontline employees—the people directly involved in creating, selling, delivering, and servicing offerings and interacting with customers—are frequently in the best position to spot and solve problems. Too often, though, they aren’t empowered to do so.

The following tactics can help organizations overcome weaknesses of the expert bias.

Encourage workers to own problems that affect them. Make sure that your organization is adhering to the principle that the person who experiences a problem should fix it when and where it occurs. This prevents workers from relying too heavily on experts and helps them avoid making the same mistakes again. Tackling the problem immediately, when the relevant information is still fresh, increases the chances that it will be successfully resolved. Build a culture rich with problem-solving and risk management skills and behaviors.

Give workers different kinds of experience. Recognize that both doing the same task repeatedly (“specialized experience”) and switching between different tasks (“varied experience”) have benefits. Yes, Over the course of a single day, a specialized approach is usually fastest. But over time, switching activities across days promotes learning and kept workers more engaged. Both specialization and variety are important to continuous learning.

Empower employees to use their experience. Organizations should aggressively seek to identify and remove barriers that prevent individuals from using their expertise. Solving the customer’s problems in innovative, value-creating ways—not navigating organizational impediments— should be the challenging part of one’s job.

In short we need to build the capability to leverage all level of experts, and not just a few in their ivory tower.

These two biases can be overcome and through that we can start building the mindsets to deal effectively with subjectivity and uncertainty. Going further, build the following as part of our team activities as sort of a quality control checklist:

  1. Check for self-interest bias
  2. Check for the affect heuristic. Has the team fallen in love with its own output?
  3. Check for group think. Were dissenting views explored adequately?
  4. Check for saliency bias. Is this routed in past successes?
  5. Check for confirmation bias.
  6. Check for availability bias
  7. Check for anchoring bias
  8. Check for halo effect
  9. Check for sunk cost fallacy and endowment effect
  10. Check for overconfidence, planning fallacy, optimistic biases, competitor neglect
  11. Check for disaster neglect. Have the team conduct a post-mortem: Imagine that the worst has happened and develop a story about its causes.
  12. Check for loss aversion