Quality, Decision Making and Putting the Human First

Quality stands in a position, sometimes uniquely in an organization, of engaging with stakeholders to understand what objectives and unique positions the organization needs to assume, and the choices that are making in order to achieve such objectives and positions.

The effectiveness of the team in making good decisions by picking the right choices depends on their ability of analyzing a problem and generating alternatives. As I discussed in my post “Design Lifecycle within PDCA – Planning” experimentation plays a critical part of the decision making process. When designing the solution we always consider:

  • Always include a “do nothing” option: Not every decision or problem demands an action. Sometimes, the best way is to do nothing.
  • How do you know what you think you know? This should be a question everyone is comfortable asking. It allows people to check assumptions and to question claims that, while convenient, are not based on any kind of data, firsthand knowledge, or research.
  • Ask tough questions Be direct and honest. Push hard to get to the core of what the options look like.
  • Have a dissenting option. It is critical to include unpopular but reasonable options. Make sure to include opinions or choices you personally don’t like, but for which good arguments can be made. This keeps you honest and gives anyone who see the pros/cons list a chance to convince you into making a better decision than the one you might have arrived at on your own.
  • Consider hybrid choices. Sometimes it’s possible to take an attribute of one choice and add it to another. Like exploratory design, there are always interesting combinations in decision making. This can explode the number of choices, which can slow things down and create more complexity than you need. Watch for the zone of indifference (options that are not perceived as making any difference or adding any value) and don’t waste time in it.
  • Include all relevant perspectives. Consider if this decision impacts more than just the area the problem is identified in. How does it impact other processes? Systems?

A struggle every organization has is how to think through problems in a truly innovative way.  Installing new processes into an old bureaucracy will only replace one form of control with another. We need to rethink the very matter of control and what it looks like within an organization. It is not about change management, on it sown change management will just shift the patterns of the past. To truly transform we need a new way of thinking. 

One of my favorite books on just how to do this is Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini. In this book, the authors advocate that business must become more fundamentally human first.  The idea of human ability and how to cultivate and unleash it is an underlying premise of this book.

Visualized by Rose Fastus

it’s possible to capture the benefits of bureaucracy—control, consistency, and coordination—while avoiding the penalties—inflexibility, mediocrity, and apathy.

Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, Humanocracy, p. 15

The above quote really encapsulates the heart of this book, and why I think it is such a pivotal read for my peers. This books takes the core question of a bureaurcacy is “How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?”. The issue at the heart of humanocracy becomes: “What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?” Seems a simple swap, but the implications are profound.

Bureaucracy versus Humanocracy. Source: Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, Humanocracy, p. 48

I would hope you, like me, see the promise of many of the central tenets of Quality Management, not least Deming’s 8th point. The very real tendency of quality to devolve to pointless bureaucracy is something we should always be looking to combat.

Humanocracy’s central point is that by truly putting the employee first in our organizations we drive a human-centered organization that powers and thrives on innovation. Humanocracy is particularly relevant as organizations seek to be more resilient, agile, adaptive, innovative, customer centric etc. Leaders pursuing such goals seek to install systems like agile, devops, flexible teams etc.  They will fail, because people are not processes.  Resiliency, agility, efficiency, are not new programming codes for people.  These goals require more than new rules or a corporate initiative.  Agility, resilience, etc. are behaviors, attitudes, ways of thinking that can only work when you change the deep ‘systems and assumptions’ within an organization.  This book discusses those deeper changes.

Humanocracy lays out seven tips for success in experimentation. I find they align nicely with Kotter’s 8 change accelerators.

Humanocracy’s TipKotter’s Accelerator
Keep it SimpleGenerate (and celebrate) short-term wins
Use VolunteersEnlist a volunteer army
Make it FunSustain Acceleration
Start in your own backyardForm a change vision and strategic initiatives
Run the new parallel with the oldEnable action by removing barriers
Refine and RetestSustain acceleration
Stay loyal to the problemCreate a Sense of Urgency around a
Big Opportunity
Comparison to Kotter’s Eight Accelerators for Change

Teams reason better

Teams collaborate better than individuals on a wide range of problem-solving for two reason:

  • People are exposed to points of view different from their own. If the arguments are good enough, people can change their mind to adopt better beliefs. This requires structure, such as “Yes…but…and
  • The back-and-forth of a conversation allows people to address counterarguments, and thus to refine their arguments, making it more likely that the best argument carries the day.

Both of these work to reduce bias and subjectivity.

Principles of Team Collaboration

There are a few principles to make this team collaboration work.

  • Clear purpose: What is the reason for the collaboration? What’s the business case or business need? Without alignment on the purpose and its underlying importance to the organization, the collaboration will fail. The scope will start to change, or other priorities will take precedence. 
  • Clear process: How will the collaboration take place? What are the steps? What is the timing? Who is responsible for what?
  • Clear expectations: What is the specific goal or outcome we are striving for through this collaboration? 
  • Clear supportProblems will arise that the team cannot handle on their own. In those cases, what is the escalation process, including who and when? 

Ensure these are in your team ground rules, measure success and perform continuous improvement.

Indirect Accountability

The kind of accountability most of us are familiar with is direct accountability: a role is assigned a task and is directly accountable for their result. The role understands the quality, quantity, timeframe, and resource constraints of the deliverable and has the authority to implement plans to achieve it. When completing a RACI this is what we mean by accountability.

Ideally, the individual with direct accountability has the context to understand the limits in which they must work and sufficient knowledge about all of the factors that must be considered to make good decisions. However, that’s not always the case, and for this reason, organizations need to establish lateral roles of indirect accountability to ensure these factors are brought to the attention of the role with direct accountability.

Indirect roles are responsible for initiating action toward directly accountable roles. Indirect roles may be responsible for:

  • Informing: being aware of the factors surrounding the direct and initiating contact to offer advice and recommendations.
  • Persuading: persuading the direct to adjust their actions when there is a risk of undermining process control or when multiple roles fail to work together effectively.
  • Instructing: ordering the direct to stop when working outside of limits and/or take prescribed action to mitigate a catastrophic event.
  • Responding: Provide the direct service and support

Often these indirects are accountable in a supporting process.

Who-What Matrix

Effective organizations assign people to particular roles, such as Process Owners, to solve problems better and make choices faster. Yet, it is frighteningly easy it is to exclude the right people in problem-solving. Who plays what role is not always clear in organizations. In organizations where specialized knowledge and expertise are distributed widely the different parts of an organization can see different problems in the same situation. Ensuring that the right people are at the whiteboard to solve the problem.

The Who-What Matrix is a great tool to ensure the right people are involved.

By including a wider set of people, the Who-What Matrix assists in creating trust, commitment, and a sense of procedural justice, and thus, enhance the likelihood of success. The matrix can also integrate people across functions, hierarchy, business units, locations, and partner organizations.

Once the need to problem-solve is identified, the matrix can be used to determine what people and organizations should be involved in which roles in problem-solving and whose interests should betaken into account in the deliberations. Players may provide input (information, ideas, resources); be part of the solving process(formulating problem, gathering data, doing analyses, generating solution options, supporting the work), be among those making choices or executing them. Considering the interests of all players during problem-solving can lead to better choices and outcomes.

The aim is to use the framework’s categories to think broadly but be selective in deciding which players play what role. A lengthy collection of players can be so overwhelming as to lead to neglect. The same player can play more than one role, and roles played can change over time. Players can come and go as problem-solving proceeds and circumstances change.

By deliberately bringing people into problem-solving, we are showing how to give people a meaningful role in the learning culture.

Who-What Matrix

The roles breakdown as:

  • Input: Provide input, provide data gathering, data sources
  • Recommend: Evaluate problem, recommend solutions and path forward
  • Decide: Make the final decision and commit the organization to action
  • Perform: Be accountable for making the decision happen once made
  • Agree: Formally approve a decision, implies veto power
  • Outcome: Accountable for the outcome of problem solving, results over time

Democratic Leadership Style

A building block of Quality culture is learning how to make decisions faster without impairing their quality. We do this by ensuring availability of the right knowledge so that the appropriate measures can be decided on and making the decision-making processes quicker.

Adopting a flexible but consistent approach to decision-making and giving people greater leeway creates the organizational framework for faster decision-making processes. In addition to creating the right framework, however, it is equally important for employees to have confidence in each other so that decisions are not only taken quickly but also implemented swiftly. Rather than merely seeing employees as resources, this requires management to value them as part of the community because of the competencies that they bring to the table. The underlying capability that makes this possible is a democratic leadership style.

Democratic leadership is a style where decision-making is decentralized and shared by all. This style of leadership proposes that decision-making should be shared by the leader and the group where criticisms and praises are objectively given and a feeling of responsibility is developed within the group. Leaders engage in dialogue that offers others the opportunity to use their initiative and make contributions. Once decisions are collectively taken, people are sure of what to do and how to do it with support from leaders to accomplish tasks successfully. It is the “Yes…but…and” style of leadership.

This style requires a high degree of effort in building organizational decision-making capabilities. You need to build a culture that ensures that everyone has an equal interest in an outcome and shared levels of expertise relative to decisions. But nothing provides better motivated employees.

For those keeping track on the leadership style bingo card, this requires mashing democratic and transformational leaders together (with a hefty flavoring of servant leadership). Just the democratic style is not enough, you need a few more aspects of a transformational leader to make it work.

Characteristics of a Democratic Leader

Idealized Influence means being the role model and being seen to be accountable to the culture. Part of this is doing Gemba walks as part of your standard work.

Inspirational Motivation means inspiring confidence, motivation and a sense of purpose. The leader must articulate a clear vision for the future, communicate expectations of the group and demonstrate a commitment to the goals that have been decided upon.

Through Intellectual Stimulation, the leader presents to the organization a number of challenging new ideas that are supposed to stimulate rethinking of new ways of doing things in the organization, thus seeking ideas, opinions and inputs from others to promote creativity, innovation and experimentation of new methods to replace the old ways. The leader articulates True North.

Decentralized decision-making around these new ways of doing are shared by all. Decisions are taken by both the leader and the group where criticisms and praises are objectively given and a feeling of responsibility is developed within the group, thus granting everyone the opportunity to use their initiative and make contributions. Decentralized decision-making ensures everyone empowered to take actions and are responsible for the implementation and effectiveness of these actions. This will drive adaptation and bring accountability.

Reading list

  • Arenas, F.J., Connelly, D.A. and Williams, M.D. (2018), Developing Your Full Range of Leadership, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB
  • Gastil, J. (1994), “A definition and illustration of democratic leadership”, Human Relations, Vol. 47 No. 8,pp. 953-975
  • Hayes, A.F. (2018), Introduction to Mediation, Moderation and Conditional Process Analysis, 2nd ed.,The Guilford Press, New York, N