I think a common challenge is how do we as a new quality professional joining an organization replicate the same success we have had in past roles
Quality requires a support structure, and I think it is easy to underestimate the impact of the absence, or the lack of, that structure. Just parachuting quality professionals into different organizations where they are left without the scaffolding they’ve implicitly grown to expect and depend on can lead to underperformance. Some adapt, of course, but others flounder, especially when hired with daunting short-term expectations, which can often be the case in organizations looking to remediate gaps in a fast way. I think this is only exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.
Culture can have a steep learning curve and being able to execute requires being very well-versed in the culture of an organization. You have to know how your organization works in order to get it to work diligently like a well-oiled machine to execute the higher-level quality vision.
Learning the culture doesn’t mean simply parroting the oft-repeated mantras received during orientation, but truly internalizing it to an extent where it informs every small decision and discussion. At the best of times, that’s difficult and takes time, particularly as there isn’t usually a single monolithic culture to learn, but myriad microcultures in various different parts of the organization. Doesn’t matter the size, this is a challenge.
In the worst case, where an organization has a culture diametrically opposite to that of the previous workplace, “learning the culture” also requires un-learning almost everything that led people to get to their current level in the first place. The humility to strive to turn themselves into the leader the organization truly needs, rather than the leader they’ve grown to be over the past years, is a hard one for many of us. Especially since we are usually brought on board to build and remediate and address deficiencies.
To be a successful agent of change one has to adapt to the current culture, try experiments to accelerate change, and do all the other aspects of our job.
This is hard stuff, and a part of the job I don’t think gets discussed enough.
Process Owner implementations require a lot of work, but when used can drive maturity in an organization. To ensure success, it is important to have clear deliverables. Below are a few recommendations:
Ensuring process objectives are met
Gap Assessment against relevant external (e.g. regulations, standards, benchmarks) and internal (e.g. policy, strategy) obligations Process Definition Document and Resource Requirements Plan
Developing, deploying, and managing process documentation
Quality as a profession is often put into the position of being the cop or gatekeeper. There are a set of regulations and standards that must be met, and it can be easy, especially early in one’s career and without proper mentoring, to start to see absolutes.
Compromise is not a weakness in a quality professional, it is a strength.
There are times when, instead of ramping up your argment fill fore to make a case, it is better to step back and think about where you can comprise and still convince the organization to implement most, if not all, of your ideas.
Pilot programs, soft launches, workshops. These tools will help you find your allies and facilitate a solution.
Part of comprise is knowing what you can and will settle for. These questions can help:
What is the first thing I am willing to cede? It may be the timeline or a small adoption of your solution, such as a pilot project.
What is my backup plan? If the stakeholders don’t adopt my plan but offer a counterproposal, what am I willing to accept and jump on board with?
What is fueling the stakeholders’ reluctance? Ask questions, engage in “yes…but…and” practice.
Can I rework my argument? Is there an opportunity to come back with a revised pitch? Can you simplify or emphasize specific parts of your argument? Can you break it down into smaller parts – such as building blocks – first gaining support for the concept, ten gaining support for the first step to test its success, and then building support for the next step or phase?
Compromise is negotiation, and it requires all your emotional intelligence skills – patience, active listening, respect for the stakeholders’ position.
Have a vision, a plan, can really help. You will never get to 100% of meeting a requirement but being able to articulate what great looks like and then showing a plan that builds at a good clip, that allows compromise, will allow you to make continued progress and adjust as you go. Your systems will be stronger as a result.
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.
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.
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.
Keep it Simple
Generate (and celebrate) short-term wins
Enlist a volunteer army
Make it Fun
Start in your own backyard
Form a change vision and strategic initiatives
Run the new parallel with the old
Enable action by removing barriers
Refine and Retest
Stay loyal to the problem
Create a Sense of Urgency around a Big Opportunity
Comparison to Kotter’s Eight Accelerators for Change
In the post “Quality Culture is Fundamental to Actually Providing Quality” I discussed some of the elements of organizational culture and how it fits into conceptualizing a quality culture. I think it is important to discuss some of the complexities and how these complexities need to be solved through iterative experiments.
John Traphagan in his 2017 HBR article “We’re Thinking about Organizational Culture All Wrong” discusses how that the study of organizational culture commonly conveys the idea of culture as a unifying force that brings people together to work productively toward the attainment of organizational goals. The approach implies that organizational culture is understood as a collective project able to create unity and cohesion in some simple steps. But reality presents a quite different picture because today culture is not only about cohesiveness and unity. It is also about disagreement, discrepancy and disparities constantly testing the capacity of people to work together and benefit advancing common and ethical organizational goals in spite of individual differences.
Traphagan ends his article with a powerful statement that should be kept front and center in any culture initiative: “The idea that unity can be generated among employees by fixing or creating an organizational culture relies on a naïve assumption that culture unambiguously brings people together. But the reality of culture is that it represents a tremendously complex variable that can both bring people together and pull them apart — or do both at the same time.”
Because of the reality Traphagan discusses, we need to realize that work on culture is really about experiments. I’ll point you to another article in HBR by Stefan Thomke “Building a Culture of Experimentations“. This article emphasizes that the main obstacles obstructing change are lodged in the culture, in deep shared behaviors, beliefs and values that shape a culture over time and perpetuate in place without periodic or effectiveness assessment and in spite of obsolescent outcomes. Thomke writes that a successful culture of experimentation is built on five critical elements: cultivation of people’s curiosity, insisting that data trump educated opinions (avoiding guessing), democratize experimentation across organizational divisions, promoting ethical sensitivity in all functions and embracing a humane and agile leadership model.
Culture is a complex problem and the only true path for addressing is small scale experimentation iteratively applied with the end-goal of transformation.