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 thet 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

A Quality Mindset leads to Abolishing the Police

As we watch the closing arguments of the Derek Chauvin trial, it is not difficult to see systemic problems with policing in America. One only need to look at stories like:

  • Patrick Rove, long-time police union president, accused of child abuse and with credible questions of how he was so thoroughly protected by the police hierarchy
  • Baltimore police planting toy guns on people they shot
  • The continued excuses of “human error” and “you need to walk in our shoes”, for example the recent killing of Daunte Wright

Read the Wikipedia entry on United States Police Brutality, which provides an excellent problem statement.

For root cause analysis, read the University of Chicago study that found that America’s biggest police forces lack legality, as they are not answerable to human rights compliant laws authorizing the use of lethal force.

It is impossible not to reach the conclusions that the culture is rotten, there are inherently bad actors, and institutional resistance to change is standing in way of improvement.

Given the continued failures in implementing change, it is time to shift the resistors out of police departments. The only way to effectively do that seems to radically restructure the police, breaking their responsibilities up and sending those responsibilities to organizations better suited for these duties.

This is why I stand for police abolition.

Accelerate for Cultural Change

Visualized by Rose Fastus

Building culture means change. There are a lot of models for change out there, but for the work we pursue around building a culture of quality and excellence I think there are few better than John Kotter’s model.

Kotter sets forth Eight Accelerators of Change which can be leveraged in cultural change:

AcceleratorFocus when building Culture
Create a Sense of Urgency around a
Big Opportunity
The urgency here is the strategic threats from having a less-than-robust quality culture and the opportunities it creates. This is the True North. With this accelerator working, large groups of people are committed to building and improving a culture of quality.

The translation of the sense of urgency from leadership down to the working level is a constant need. People must understand the argument laid out by leadership, but it needs to be linked with their own needs and less about the business need 5 years out. This is pretty fundamental, if folks don’t see how the culture vision will make immediate changes to their work then it will never be prioritized.

It is advantageous to have several different facets of this urgency that might appear to different segments in the organization. Manufacturing may be focused on human error reduction while research is excited around innovation. Both are moving forward in a similar direction.
Build and evolve a guiding coalitionYou need a coalition throughout the organization deeply committed to a culture of quality and the benefits it will bring. Culture will never happen when it is viewed as a quality initiative only. Ideally there will be lots of branches and initiatives moving in the same direction. Communicating between these elements of the change initiatives and leveraging between initiatives is vital.

This is about fostering an environment that turns around the big opportunity and gives the member the opportunity to be different and creative. As a result, the participants of the coalition will find ways to work together different from their ordinary habits. This will increase the speed of decision-making and enables the organization to be more agile.
Form a change vision and strategic initiativesArticulating the vision of culture shows a fit to strategic opportunities can move you with speed and agility to that vision. By choosing a few strategic opportunities around culture you can move quickly to them.
Enlist a volunteer armyCommunicate in ways that lead large numbers of people to buy into the vision and want to help. You want to excite and mobilize as many active and passive members of the organization as possible.
Enable action by removing barriersWork swiftly to achieve initiatives and continue to find new ones that are strategically relevant. Identify barriers that are slowing down the growth of a quality culture and remove them.
Generate (and celebrate) short-term winsLook for wins big and most specially small and celebrate them. These wins, and their celebration, have psychological power and play a crucial role in building and sustaining culture transformation. The created credibility helps to develop a certain standing for the network within the organization and can also convince people, who did not have a positive attitude towards the network before.
Sustain accelerationDon’t let a few wins slow you down. Keep going, keep growing, keep doing and celebrating. This accelerator helps to keep the spirit within the employees up and motivates them further to strive for the big opportunity of developing and reaping the benefits of a quality culture.
Institute changeInstitutionalize the changes in process and procedure, in way of working and behavior.
Kotter’s 8 Accelerators of Change

Kotter also lists five principles:

PrincipleExplanation
Many people active in the change, not just the
usual few folks
The engagement of a large number of people for part-time involvement in the change, as opposed to relying on the same few people to work it full time.
A want-to and a get-to (not just a
have-to) mind-set
People need to want to be change agents and feel that as change agents they have the power to make the change happen. They need to have the ‘spirit of volunteerism” and there needs to be enthusiasm for quality and excellence.
Action that is head and heart drivenPeople need to be motivated to participate not only by logical arguments based on a business case. Rather there must be an emotional element that drives their engagement.

The Burning Platform element of Culture will undoubtedly speak to the head but also must speak to the heart. In the pharmaceutical industry the Heart elements of the burning platform could include getting medicines to market quicker for the patient as well as making workers lives better.

Sensemaking and storytelling are key.
Much more leadership, not just
more management
Leadership is about vision and inspired action and management is about project management and budget reviews. The secondary operating system needs more of the former.

Democratic leadership, utilizing reflection and feedback is critical for the leader to maintain behaviors that support the change idea and do not contradict it.
Two systems, one organizationThe network and the hierarchy must be inseparable and in constant communication. The idea of a network approach to change is critical here.. Change needs to sit next to traditional ways of working to truly be able to make a difference.

The network has a start-up character, which allows working flexible and agile on the change process and taking fast decisions.
Kotter’s Five Principles for Change

Creating the Movement

A central element of Kotter’s Accelerators is the secondary operating system which relies on a volunteer group of people who are there to propagate the change. These people don’t just magically appear, they are somehow motivated to get involved. How does an organization create the spirit of volunteerism, especially when most employees are disengaged from their organizations?

People will volunteer because they either want to do something for themselves or they want to do something for others.

Self-Enhancement

If someone wants to do something for themselves they are seeking self-enhancement. Self-Enhancement is the desire or observed reality of seeing oneself and by extension one’s actions, traits, and attitudes in the most positive light which can be an attempt to increase status and relationships with the leaders within the organization. This is a primary driver of engagement and behavior change.

Another element of the self-enhancement motive which plays into the formation of the volunteer army is whether we see this group as being part of the inner circle or a favorable group in the eyes of other high status people in the organization. This can be a driver to join the group and once joined we invariably see the group in a positive light and others not in the group are ‘black sheep’. Having the right leadership champions who talk about the efforts is critical.

Pro-Social and Intrinsic Motivation

Pro-social motivation means that the employee sees how their contributions have a positive impact. The underlying driver of this motivation can be because the employee feels it’s the right thing, because they care about the people who would benefit, and because it helps them maintain membership in a group

Intrinsic motivation, as the name suggests, comes from the areas of interest that people have within themselves and the desire to pursue those interests. When someone is intrinsically motivated they are more creative, motivated, and show greater persistence towards complex problems.

We want to be at the intersection of intrinsic motivation and pro-social motivation. Prosocial motivation strengthens and directs intrinsic motivation to be more useful.

Perspective taking, the cognitive process in which individuals adopt others’ viewpoints in an attempt to understand their preferences, values and needs, is a key element in developing pro-social motivation Perspective taking gives a framework to decide what ideas are more useful. If functionally diverse groups of employees can be given opportunities to discuss the strategic imperatives together and with immediate customers they can then find those areas which interest them at the same time they see the possible benefits. This may motivate them to get involved.

Kotter’s Eight Accelerators of change tell us to develop as many change agents and to do this people have to want to get involved and wanting to get involved is both a cognitive and emotional process. This ‘wanting to’ is really our intrinsic and pro-social motivations. Those motivations are stoked in several ways, such as by leadership and the vision they put forth. This vision may be better assimilated if employees have contact with its beneficiaries both internal and external, to see and hear their needs and how elements of the vision may have had a positive effect. This enhances leadership’s credibility with respect to their vision and also plays on the availability bias we all have towards strong examples. Additionally motivations are developed by perspective taking of others, so if employees know the needs of others this helps them filter creative ideas generated via their intrinsic motivation towards useful ideas that they will act on. These motivations must override our natural human tendency to be loss averse and to overweigh unlikely outcomes.

Leadership

The leadership of this volunteer army should be democratic. This style is critical to provide credibility to the vision of transforming culture, otherwise employees just hear new rhetoric which isn’t backed up by action.

There is a great opportunity here to shape the culture transformation as a development opportunity for people, allowing them the time to pursue it and coaching them through the process.

Leaders need to avoid extremely negative or extremely positive language, instead using vocabulary that is more neutral and does not try to seduce people by just manipulating the language.

Storytelling should be used but with the intention of reframing messages about the change and the organization.

Sources

  • Ackoff, R. L., Magidson, J., & Addison, H. J. (2006). Idealized Design: Creating an Organization’s Future. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Grant, A. M. (2012). Leading with Meaning: Beneficiary Contact, Prosocial Impact, and the Performance Effects of Transformational Leadership. Academy of Management, 458-476.
  • Grant, A. M., & Berry, J. W. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Instrinsic and Prosocial Motiviations, Perspective Taking and Creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 73-96.
  • Kotter, John P. (2002). The Heart of Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Kotter, John P. (2016). That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall–and Can Rise Again. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

A Titanic Mix-Up — What’s HuP?

We’ve all seen by now the latest NYT reporting about Emergent and the mix-up that cost between 13 and 15 million doses of the J&J Covid-19 vaccine. As a human performance practitioner, my hair lit on fire when reading this statement: “An investigation is now underway, but federal and former company officials suspect the lot […]

A Titanic Mix-Up — What’s HuP?

My friend and colleague Dakota Stad writes on what recent reporting tells us about Emergent’s culture. Dakota’s points are spot-on – these issues start with senior leadership and are not on indicative of any sort of “rogue actors”.

It would be an easy narrative to blame the workers, but as always we should stay focused on building a just culture.

Whiteboards as Artifacts

In “An Ode to the Whiteboard, Corporate America’s Least Appreciated Office Tool” Rob Walker says “And even for more workaday whiteboards, there’s an additional factor that the pandemic era has actually underscored: the value and appeal of whiteboarding as an analog, tactile experience.”

He then goes on to compare the whiteboard to a campfire, a gathering place that drives collaboration and creativity.

Whiteboards are a great visual artifact of quality culture.

Whiteboard are shared spaces for problem-solving and innovation.

They form an important part of visual management.

Share your thoughts on whiteboards in the comments!