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?

Conference Attendance

Conference attendance is both an important way to make connections and to grow as a quality leader. I’m here in Phoenix for the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference, and in waiting for the event to begin I have a few thoughts on planning for conferences as part of development.

Plan your conference attendance 6-12 months out, and treat it as a rolling calendar.

Go and do some research on the conferences that make sense to you. It is easy to start with those of your professional organization, like the ASQ. Whenever you come across a conference and it seems to be in your wheel house, add it to the list. You want to pay attention to three key dates: When the conference is, when the registration deadlines tend to be, and when the call- for-speaker periods end. This last one is important because…

Speak at the Conference!

The best way to get value for a conference is to speak at it. Conferences compensate attendance, and that means your organization is much more willing to let you go (and pay for travel). Speaking allows you to talk about the work you, your team and your organization have done. This draws in people who are interested in the problems you are solving, which helps with networking. It serves as advertising, can help recruiting, and can build reputation.

Yes, you can speak at a conference. If you are new to it, speak at a local regional conference first. You get better by doing these, and I’m serious, the opportunity to discuss the issues important to you will be plentiful. Your team has solved problems. You have learned things. This is gold to others! There is nothing more popular than a good case study talk.

The people you meet at the conference will be more valuable then the talks you attend. Talks are usually fairly high level and are targeting a wide audience (yes, even mine). But they do help you identify people with problems similar to yours. And you will learn a lot. A few key tactics:

  1. Introduce yourself to each and every speaker you attend. Ask questions, follow-up, share. As a speaker I treasure these conversations
  2. Never sit by yourself. Sit by someone, introduce yourself and talk. Even we introverts can do this, and you will be amazed by what you learn this way.
  3. Engage in the hallway track – those impromptu conversations in the hall can often become the main event (well other than your presentation of course)

Make sure to take notes and share them. With your team back home, with the world. I will always take 3-4 key things I learned and do a lunch-and-learn or coffe klatch at work. I also like to do blog posts and share with the world. This will help solidify your key take aways and continue those excellent conversations.

Remember that conference attendance is part of your development. Do a retrospective and determine what went well, what was valuable, was it as valuable as missing those days of work would have been? Use that learning for the next conference. Take an iterative approach and plan for the next engagement.

Lessons Learned as a Developing Leader

My six years at Sanofi were really the transition from manager to leader. It wasn’t always easy, but this is where I started to truly apply self-awareness to my tasks and expanded my perspectives to move beyond the day-to-day and focus on the strategic needs of building a quality organization.

I came into the organization really focused on the immediate needs of building a serious change management and change control. This was a site under a consent decree and I felt pressured to have results fast.

Over time, as the consent decree moved to later stages I shifted focus to being less day-to-day and more about implementing continuous improvements and driving a vision of what quality and excellence really could be.

I made mistakes. I had successes. I’m leaving quite proud of what I’ve done and the relationships I’ve built. Relationships I am confident will continue.

I often joke with folks that I started this blog as a public form of journaling. That remains true, and will continue in the future. As I move into my next position, here are my key things to remember:

  1. Focus on outcomes not deliverables with the long term goal of building a quality culture through innovative digital solutions and thus helping shape not only my organization but others beyond it.
  2. Don’t just instruct but inspire. Strive toinspire, to motivate, and to communicate the overall quality philosophy at every opportunity. If my coworkers are truly inspired by and proud of the ideals and values that I help communicate, then they will drive even more improvements.
  3. Communicate Big Quality Ideas. In addition to setting a digital agenda, utilize the platform to create wider strategies for quality, and defining the tone for quality culture by crafting effective, clear, transparent, and consistent messaging that inspires the best.
  4. Slow down. Be humble. Understand that I do not need to prove myself as the smartest person in every room. Encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas. Breathe.

Finally, remember the relationships I have and lean into them.

Not sure if these two posts looking forward and back are useful to anyone else, but they certainly position me for starting my new position on Monday.

Burnout Needs a Systematic fix

It is more like being involved in a complicated love affair. One minute it’s thrilling, passionate, engaging. The next, it’s exhausting and overwhelming, and I feel like I need a break.
— Read on hbr.org/2019/07/when-passion-leads-to-burnout

Jennifer Moss, When Passion Leads to Burnout. HBR

It is the responsibility of leaders “to keep an eye on the well-being of their staff.”  Organizations whose staff feel unmotivated due to stress and burnout cannot aspire to achieve a culture of excellence. Our systems need to be designed to eliminate the root cause for stress and burnout.

Five mechanisms can be leveraged to improve organizational system design: 1) Eliminate organizational issues related to roles, responsibilities and authorities of employees, 2) establish a policy of transparency and effective “bottom-up” internal communication channel to permit employee contribution and recognition, 3) establish criteria for resource distribution, 4) establish a commitment to identify needed training and provide resources for the purpose and 5) establish a systemic feedback loop for analysis and improvement of employee motivation based on periodic measurement of employee motivational levels.

If employees know exactly what their tasks are, without sustained overload, with necessary resources and competence, and recognition for the task well performed, there will be no major system-induced reason for demotivation.

This gets to the heart of Deming’s use of psychology in his System of Profound Knowledge. Lean calls it Respect-for-People. This is all about ensuring our organizations are healthy places to work and thrive.

Change Leader Competency

Luigi Sille on sharequality answered the June 2019 ASQ Roundtable Topic asks: “How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?” I’m a big fan of both blog carnivals and change management so here goes my answer, which is pretty similar to Luigi’s, and I would guess many other’s – just with my own spin.

A few things immediately come to mind.

Change management (and this is another great example of really meaning people change management) should be a competency on the ladder for any quality professional. It certainly needs to be a core area for anyone in a quality leadership position.

There are a lot of competency models out there for change management. Instead of pointing to just one, let’s try to find what they actually have in common. To do so it is important to set out the critical activities of change management:

  1. Define the change
  2. Ensure change delivers value
  3. Stakeholder strategy
  4. Communication and engagement
  5. Assess change impact
  6. Project management

In order to do these it is important to be able to provide education and learning support, facilitation, team effectiveness and understand how to sustain systems.

Change Management requires the seven skills we should all be developing: communication, content, context, emotional competence, teaching, connections, and an ethical compass

Change Management is part of the core for any quality leader, together with continuous improvement and knowledge management.