Empathy and Feedback as part of Quality Culture

Many of us have had, or given, a talk about how we can learn from children in how to communicate, whether it is being thoughtful in our relationships or learning to adapt and be resilient, or some other point.

Zach Weinersmith, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

What we are really talking about how communicating empathetically is essential, including to building a quality culture and it is a key part of change management.
People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative, and committed to their work and to appropriately engage in quality culture.

I am not going to pretend to be an expert on empathy. I think it is fair to say that is still (always) one of my key development areas. That said, I think a core skill of any quality leader is that of giving feedback.

People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative, and committed to their work.

To provide good feedback focus on doing the following:

  • Focus on facts.
  • Respect and support others. Even when people aren’t performing their best, they need to feel your support and to know that they’re valued.
  • Clarify motives. Don’t jump to conclusions. Keep others’ self-esteem in mind, and you’ll be more likely to ask, “What can you tell me about this error?” instead of, “Don’t you care about quality?”

When someone has done a good job, succeeded at a task, or made a contribution, you want to enhance that person’s self-esteem. Some ways to do that are to:

  • Acknowledge good thinking and ideas. Demonstrations of appreciation encourage people to think and contribute, and they support innovation and intellectual risk taking.
  • Recognize accomplishments. People need to hear specifically what they’ve done to contribute to the team’s or organization’s success. This encourages them to sustain or exceed expectations.
  • Express and show confidence. Voicing your trust and then calling on people to show what they can do boosts their confidence and their feelings of self-worth.
  • Be specific and sincere. When you describe in detail what people do well and why it’s effective, they know exactly what you’re recognizing.

Nothing can deflate people’s confidence faster than telling them they’re responsible for something, and then doing it yourself. Conversely, when you provide support without removing responsibility, you build people’s sense of ownership of the task or assignment as well as the confidence that they can accomplish it. When you use this Key Principle, remember to:

  • Help others think and do. Provide your support in two ways: Help others think of ideas, alternatives, and solutions, then support them so that they can execute the plan.
  • Be realistic about what you can do and keep your commitments. Remember that you don’t have to do it all, but be sure to do whatever you agree to.
  • Resist the temptation to take over—keep responsibility where it belongs.

Many quality individuals tend to be action oriented and task driven, so keeping responsibility where it belongs can take resolve, even courage. You might have to overcome the protests of a team member who is reluctant to stretch into new areas or even brave objections from a key manager about your decision to support others rather than take over.

Feedback Conversation Structure

Open

In the OPEN step you ensure that the discussion has a clear purpose and that everyone understands the importance of accomplishing it.

  • Always state purpose and importance clearly in the discussion opening.
  • If you initiate the discussion, explain what you would like to accomplish and why.
  • If someone else is leading the discussion, ask questions if necessary to pinpoint the purpose and importance.
  • Cite how accomplishing the purpose would benefit others in the discussion.
  • Ask if there are any related topics to discuss.

Clarify

There are two types of information to seek and share in this step: facts and figures and issues and concerns. Both are essential to building a complete picture of the situation.

  • Facts and figures are the basic data and background information that people need to understand the situation and make informed decisions.
  • Exploring issues and concerns provides insight into potential barriers to achieving your purpose. It also helps reveal people’s feelings about the situation, which is valid, important information to gather.

Develop

When developing ideas, it’s important to ask questions and include others in the process. Most likely, you’ll have ideas about what to do, and you should share them. However, you should put equal emphasis on seeking others’ ideas. Involving people in thinking about alternative approaches can:

  • Spark their creative energy.
  • Result in more and better ideas than you alone could generate.
  • Build commitment to turning ideas into action.

Agree

It’s important that you and the people involved agree on a plan for following through on the ideas that were developed and for supporting those who will take action. During this step:

  • Specify what will be done, who will do it, and by when.
  • Agree on any follow-up actions needed to track progress in carrying out the plan.
  • Be sure to agree on needed resources or support.

Close

This is the final chance to make sure that everyone is clear on agreements and next steps and committed to following through. Closing discussions involves a summary of actions and agreements as well as a check on the person’s or team’s commitment to carrying them out.

Bystander Effect, Open Communication a​nd Quality Culture

Our research suggests that the bystander effect can be real and strong in organizations, especially when problems linger out in the open to everyone’s knowledge. 

Insiya Hussain and Subra Tangirala (January 2019) “Why Open Secrets Exist in Organizations” Harvard Business Review

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. When individuals relinquish responsibility for addressing a problem, the potential negative outcomes are wide-ranging. While a great deal of the research focuses on helping victims, the overcoming the bystander effect is very relevant to building a quality culture.

The literature on this often follows after social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané who identified the concept in the late ’60s. They defined five characteristics bystanders go through:

  1. Notice that something is going on
  2. Interpret the situation as being an emergency
  3. Degree of responsibility felt
  4. Form of assistance
  5. Implement the action choice

This is very similar to the 5 Cs of trouble-shooting: Concern (Notice), Cause (Interpret), Countermeasure (Form of Assistance and Implement), Check results.

What is critical here is that degree of responsibility felt. Without it we see people looking at a problem and shrugging, and then the problem goes on and on. It is also possible for people to just be so busy that the degree of responsibility is felt to the wrong aspect, such as “get the task done” or “do not slow down operations” and it leads to the wrong form of assistance – the wrong troubleshooting.

When building a quality culture, and making sure troubleshooting is an ingrained activity, it is important to work with employees so they understand that their voices are not redundant and that they need to share their opinions even if others have the same information. As the HBR article says: “If you see something, say something (even if others see the same thing).”

Building a quality culture is all about building norms which encourage detection of potential threats or problems and norms which encouraged improvements and innovation.

Conference Speaking

Conference proposals are a different writing beast than articles or columns or papers. Don’t be coy. Don’t give us a promise.  Tell us the problems and what we will learn.

Johanna Rothman “Writing Advice for Conference Proposals”

Good advice from Johanna Rothman on conference proposal writing.

Giving back to the profession, sharing best practices and lessons is an important part of being an ethical practioner, and also a great way to build your career. Preparing and speaking at a conference is also a great way to build connections with the material and to stretch in order to build expertise.

In 2019 I’m speaking at 4 conferences:

In addition, I tend to speak at a variety of internal events and provide a ton of training.

I hope to run into some of you at these events next year.

Don’t Just Tell Employees Organizational Changes Are Coming — Explain Why

To be successful, your story needs to start with the company’s core mission and then offer a compelling and inspiring future vision. You want to answer: How are the changes you make today helping you achieve your vision for tomorrow?
Don’t Just Tell Employees Organizational Changes Are Coming — Explain Why by Morgan Galbraith

I can’t stress enough the importance of proper communication around all changes, from the large transformations on down. Effective communication is effective change management.

I’ve discussed the need to be able to identify changes to strategic plans and use that to inspire, inform, empower, and engage.

changing business environment

Always spend the time on a good communication plan:

Information to Communicate
(What)
Objective
(Why)
Target Audience
(Who to)
Frequency
(When)
Start Date
(When)
End Date
(When)
Media
(How)
Responsible
(Who from)
Deliverable Comments
What to people need to know o Determine site readiness to start the project

o Define resource needs and availability

Tailor the communication to specific audiences. The same information is sometimes presented different ways How often? Start date End Date From face-to-face to all the other communication tools available in the modern workplace. Be creative Who is responsible for completing the communication What will execution look like  

 

What is in a title

Recently I’ve seen a few inspection observations that have provided an observation on the title of quality record (e.g. deviation, CAPA, change control).

The title might seem the most basic part of a quality system record – a simple task – but instead it should receive some serious thought. This is any inspector’s first interaction, it serves as a historical flag that generations of readers will use to become familiar. And everyone falls prey to “judging a book by its cover.” This cognitive bias tends to make readers considerably susceptible to allowing the quality systems title to function as the sole factor influencing their decision of whether to read or skip a record. A bad title could shape an inspection or deprive an important historical record from being evaluated in the future. We can do better.

A good quality systems record title:

  • Condenses the record’s content in a few words
  • Differentiates the record from other records of the same subject area

Some general tips:

  1. Keep it simple and brief: The primary function of a title is to provide a precise summary of the record’s content. So keep the title brief and clear. Use active verbs instead of complex noun-based phrases, and avoid unnecessary details. Moreover, a good title for a record is typically around 10 to 12 words long. A lengthy title may seem unfocused and take the readers’ attention away from an important point.
  2. Avoid: Wrong label issued

    Better: Sample ABCD was issued label 1234 instead of label X4572

  3. Use appropriate descriptive words: A record title should contain key words used in the record and should define the nature of the quality systems event. Think about terms people would use to search for your record and include them in your title.
  4. Avoid: No LIMS label for batch ABDC

    Better: Batch ABDC was missing label Y457 as required by procedure LAB-123

  5. Avoid abbreviations and jargon: Known abbreviations can be used in the title. However, other lesser-known or specific abbreviations and jargon that would not be immediately familiar to the readers should be left out.

It sometimes surprises folks how simple things can have ripple effects. But they do, so plan accordingly and ensure your users are trained on writing a good title. Trust me; it will make things easier in the long run.