A Baldrige Update and Q&A With Bob Fangmeyer

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program published the latest revisions to the Criteria for Performance Excellence in 2015–2016 Baldrige Excellence Framework: A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance. The program also recently released a brochure-length Criteria-based resource: Baldrige Excellence Builder. In this guest post, Baldrige Program Director Bob Fangmeyer responds to questions quality professionals may have about using these resources to help organizations improve their performance.

In 2013, Fangmeyer became the third director to lead the Baldrige Program since its establishment by Congress in 1987. In his tenure so far, Bob has worked to lead the expansion of product and service offerings, strengthen partnerships and collaborations, and focus on increasing use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework in all sectors.

If my organization is not applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, how can we still benefit from using the Criteria?

First, it is important to understand that the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, serves two purposes: as the standard of excellence that award applicants are evaluated against, and as an educational document designed to help any organization achieve better outcomes and results.

Second, it is important to understand that Baldrige is not a substitute for the quality and processes improvement tools you use, such as lean, Six Sigma, and ISO. We provide a framework that works in conjunction with such improvement tools to ensure that your organization is making appropriate improvements to the most important processes in order to achieve organization-wide goals and objectives. Complementary to quality or process improvement tools, the Baldrige Excellence Framework is a systems approach to leadership, management, and organizational performance improvement that ensures an integrated focus on the unique factors that drive success for your organization.

The many benefits to be gained by using the Criteria—or derivative products such as  Baldrige Excellence Builder (go here for a free sample) and Are We Making Progress? surveys—as a leadership guide and/or self-assessment tool include improved communication, understanding of customer requirements, organizational alignment, employee and customer engagement, and, of course, business and operational results. One easy first step is to see if you can answer the questions in the Organizational Profile (the prefatory section to the Criteria), and if others in your organization, including the leadership, would answer them the same way. We hear from organizations of all kinds that this simple exercise was one of the most important and impactful steps in getting their people and processes aligned, thereby enabling significant and rapid gains.

How is the new version of the Criteria different from previous versions?

The change to the title of the booklet aims to clarify that the contents are not only “criteria” for the Baldrige Award but also a framework for improving performance and achieving excellence based on a systems perspective.

The graphical depiction of the framework (see below) has changed to better highlight key attributes; as one example, the Organizational Profile more clearly shows that it’s the context for all performance areas. We also streamlined the Criteria’s format to make it more concise, readable, and user-friendly.

Last but not least, we have made revisions to the Criteria, as we do every two years, to ensure that the Baldrige framework represents what we call the leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice. Those revisions, centered around change management, climate change, and “big data,” are detailed in the “Changes from 2013-2014” section of the booklet.

There seem to have been a lot of other changes in Baldrige recently, including new products and services. Why is that?

The Baldrige Program’s purpose is to improve organizational performance, competitiveness, and sustainability. Our mission is to define, recognize, and foster organizational performance excellence in every sector of the economy.

If we are to accomplish our mission and purpose, we need to reach and engage with as many organizations as possible. Therefore, we have been developing new products and services that meet the needs of a broader audience, including establishing a highly regarded executive development program, in-depth training on the Baldrige framework and Criteria, and assessment services unrelated to the Baldrige Award.

I want every organization that is interested in achieving better results to think “Baldrige equals excellence” and “Baldrige can help us get better.” One of the best ways to do that happens to be getting an objective external assessment, either through the national Baldrige Award process, or through a local or regional program, but I want them to explore and use Baldrige even if they never apply for any award or recognition.

What if my organization’s leadership believes adopting the Baldrige approach isn’t easy enough?

One answer is that achieving excellence is not easy. If excellence were easy, it would be common, and there would be no need for Baldrige! But the good news is that an organization can get started with a Baldrige approach and achieve significant improvements without heavy investment, particularly with our new products and services.

The dramatic improvements and long-term success of organizations that have embraced the Baldrige framework prove that it is worth the investment. By making this commitment, organizations of any sector or size can achieve desired results despite an increasingly challenging environment.

Posted in Baldrige, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

A Leader’s Roadmap to a Culture of Quality: Building on Forbes Insights-ASQ Leadership Research: Part 2 of 3

This is a guest post by Rob Lawton, an author, executive coach, and expert in creating rapid strategic alignment between enterprise objectives and customer priorities. He has directed strategic and operational improvement initiatives since 1985. Lawton coined the term “customer-centered culture” with his first book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and Speed (ASQ Quality Press, 1993). He has been published in Brazil, China, the U.K., and is referenced widely. Many of his articles are available at www.imtc3.com. Contact him at Robin.Lawton@icloud.com.

The Forbes Insights-ASQ white paper published in fall of 2014 distills several guidelines from interviewees that can be especially useful with more detail. My purpose in this three part blog series is to provide details and references to the missing specifics for successful action.

Part 1 in this blog series addressed the first of three research findings on what leaders must do to create a quality culture:
1.    All employees must apply the four key elements of any strategy for building a quality culture.  (Page 8: Boeing’s Ken Shead).
2.    Closely understand customer expectations so you can focus and give them what they want.  Study respondents overwhelmingly report low effectiveness by their organizations in doing so.  (Page 16: Intel’s Stan Miller and Rudy Hacker)
3.    Develop a formal quality policy, common language and leader behaviors as deployment mechanisms. (Pages 18-19, HP’s Rodney Donaville)

Part Two in this blog series spells out how to successfully address point #2, above.

CLOSELY UNDERSTAND CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS

“Duh! Well, of course!” would be the expected response by many leaders and quality practitioners to this exhortation.  The intent to understand what customers want is easily agreed with but not well executed.

Most culture change leaders do not have the time, patience or inclination sufficient to adequately understand and apply the many quality methods and tools available.  Abundance, complexity and competing priorities abound.  The voice of the customer (VOC), customer experience, QFD and other labels refer to organized ways of uncovering and satisfying what customers want.  They’re all valuable but not necessarily easy to apply or relevant to every organizational setting.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of information is aimed at widget-making enterprises.  Only 13% of us personally make widgets so we need another way.

There are two practical and easy-to-apply versions of the cultural transformation roadmap. For those leaders who prefer text and a step-by step recipe, follow the path of answers to questions 1-8 covered in the first blog in this series.  For those of us who like pictures, think in terms of relationships and systems, like a reference that applies to every aspect of excellence in every context, and want to be able to point to “we are here,” use the 8 Dimensions of Excellence  graphic below (more on this graphic).


A culture of quality must address all eight topics labeled in this graphic.  Attacking the Dimensions in the sequence shown by the numbers works best.  Traditional quality management practices put especially heavy emphasis on Dimension 8.  In fact, most initiative names (lean, Six Sigma, activity-based costing, business process improvement, etc.) explicitly work on processes to benefit the producer.  Dimension 4, the customer’s process for acquiring and using the product, generally gets far less attention.

Leaders who have defined and measured Dimensions 1-4, in that order, have effectively uncovered the VOC.  That defines the target to hit; it is what quality or excellence means to customers.  The mechanics of doing this in any context is described with some detail in “Voice of the Customer In a Widget-free World.”

An easy way to test whether what we have said we value is actually valued is to examine what gets measured regarding each of the 8 Dimensions.  Most healthcare organizations will admit that their customers (patients, let’s say) want to achieve, above all else,  “good health.”  This is the voice of the customer for Dimension 1, their ultimate desired outcome, and should not come as a surprise.  Yet the vast majority of healthcare providers have no written definition for good health (though the World Health Organization has had one since 1948), has no measure for it, and no numerical goals for improvement.  Other than that, everything is wonderful.

Happily, there will be many measures for other things, mostly regarding operations and compliance, but the most important customer outcome is not defined, measured or linked to compensation or performance reviews (but volume, cycle time and cost are).  Customer surveys ask many questions (on courtesy, cleanliness, wait times) but few to none regarding the good health outcome (not to be confused with the clinical outcome).  We assume high scores indicate satisfaction, but we have carefully chosen which questions to ask and which to avoid.  The power of customers is therefore diminished and staff behavior is not linked to what the strategic plan intends.

You can fix this situation by using the 8 Dimensions framework with the steps outlined in the article referenced above. You will have a practical sense for what it takes to “closely understand customer expectations.”

The third blog in this series will outline the specifics of taking action on the third major research finding: Develop policy, common language and leader behaviors for deployment.

Posted in Case Study, Management, Uncategorized, case for quality, culture | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Encourage the Next Generation of STEM Professionals

A version of this blog post was originally published by www.biztimes.com.

We all know how important it is to get students interested in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. But we also know that STEM doesn’t always have the best reputation among teens—with perceptions ranging from science being “hard” or boring. And yet, the news is not all bad.

Case in point. Every year ASQ surveys teenagers about various STEM topics. In our 2015 survey, 80 percent of teens said they admire engineers’ problem-solving abilities and 68 percent think engineers get paid a high salary. Only 38 percent, however, think that engineers can easily get a job.

To us at ASQ, the survey underscores that teens have at least some interest in STEM, but worry about the job market. Are their fears unwarranted? According to various sources, the U.S. may have a STEM skills shortage, and many such jobs are going unfilled. You can read more about the state of STEM jobs in the U.S. News and World Report and The Bayer Facts of Science Education XVI survey.

(And by the way, if you’re based outside of the U.S., I’m interested in the state of STEM in your country–are young people pursuing this field? Why or why not?)

So, what to do about this problem?  Note that unfilled STEM jobs slow down business growth, lower productivity, and lead to lower revenues–whether you’re a STEM business/employee or not. (Source is this infographic.) In ASQ’s 2014 Engineering Week survey, we asked our members to give engineering students some advice. I believe their advice is applicable nearly worldwide, and is also helpful to businesses that may be employing  students as interns or staff.

Be a mentor. Consider becoming a mentor, formally or informally.  For students, the “the best way to learn about leadership is by seeing it demonstrated in real life, not out of a book.”

Build relationships. Do you have a relationship with a local school, university, or STEM program? This can be a source of potential future interns, apprentices, and employees.

Consider STEM-related sponsorships. For example, a local doctor’s office might support students with a sponsorship to a Science Olympiad team or a small manufacturer might partner with students who are participating in a robotics club. You could also look into opportunities to speak about your own STEM-related field during career days at school.

Provide a business education. Students who go into STEM benefit from understanding business basics and how to communicate with the C-suite. Even if your business is not in the STEM field, any potential science student will gain from your knowledge and experience.

Educate yourself as a parent. Frequently, parents with no background in STEM fields are not aware of the opportunities in those areas, and consequently do not educate their kids in the vast career opportunities available. If your child shows interest in math or science, it’s time to read up on the different career paths available. Does your child want to be a mechanical or civil engineer? What about a career in nanotechnology, biomechanics, or astrophysics?  There are so many choices available and you should start educating yourself so that you can have informed conversations with your children.

Businesses can play an important role in helping to encourage the next generation of STEM professionals. It’s time to step up to the plate.

Posted in STEM, Uncategorized, career, culture, engineering, engineers | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

February Roundup: Is Quality “Global”?

Is quality a global phenomenon, or does it have a national identity? That was the question put to ASQ’s Influential Voices blogging group in January. At ASQ we often talk about “quality going global”—should it and does it? (We, of course, believe that it should.)  If so, how is quality knowledge best shared worldwide? Here’s what ASQ’s bloggers had to say:

Anshuman Tiwari makes the case that quality needs a better global presence. Manu Vora writes about the specifics of why, what, and how of making quality more global. Pam Schodt writes that globalization is a fact of life in many industries; so why not in quality? Nicole Radziwill states that it’s not a matter of quality “going global”–quality has always been global. Edwin Garro, too, writes that quality is universal and belongs to everyone.

Lotto Lai shares some perspectives on globalization from the Hong Kong Society of Quality. Luciana Paulise writes about the future of quality in Latin American small businesses. Jimena Calfa references ASQ’s own Global State of Quality research in her discussion.

Scott Rutherford writes about the importance of making the Quality Body of Knowledge® (QBoK) global and accessible to all. John Hunter also makes the case for making the QBoK open access. Sunk Kaushik asks if we need a social network specifically for quality professionals to share knowledge.

Jennifer Stepniowski writes about the challenges of making quality knowledge global and expanding ASQ’s global presence. Aimee Siegler, a former ASQ board member, remembers her role in helping ASQ “go global.” Dan Zrymiak also blogs about ASQ’s challenges of meeting global needs, arguing that quality is already global.

In the end, says Bob Mitchell, “Regardless where the the products are developed, fundamental quality principles are bedrock.”

Posted in Global, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Leader’s Roadmap to a Culture of Quality: Building on Forbes Insights-ASQ Leadership Research: Part 1 of 3

This is a guest post by Rob Lawton, an author, executive coach, and expert in creating rapid strategic alignment between enterprise objectives and customer priorities. He has directed strategic and operational improvement initiatives since 1985. Lawton coined the term “customer-centered culture” with his first book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and Speed (ASQ Quality Press, 1993). He has been published in Brazil, China, the U.K., and is referenced widely. Many of his articles are available at www.imtc3.com. Contact him at Robin.Lawton@icloud.com.

Survey findings in the Forbes Insights-ASQ white paper published in fall of 2014 offer tantalizing insights from leaders and quality professionals.  The report, “Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise,” distills several guidelines from interviewees that can be especially useful with more detail. My purpose in this three-part blog series is to provide the missing and necessary specifics for successful action.

Three research findings rise to the top and are strongly interrelated (report page numbers are shown in parenthesis):
1.    All employees must apply the four key elements of any strategy for building a quality culture.  (Page 8: Boeing’s Ken Shead).
2.    Closely understand customer expectations so you can focus and give them what they want.  Study respondents overwhelmingly report low effectiveness by their organizations in doing so.  (Page 16: Intel’s Stan Miller and Rudy Hacker)
3.    Develop a formal quality policy, common language and leader behaviors as deployment mechanisms. (Pages 18-19, HP’s Rodney Donaville)

Part One in this blog series spells out how to successfully address point #1, above.  Each of the other blogs in the series will cover the practical steps for points 2 and 3.

APPLY FOUR ELEMENTS OF STRATEGY
Ken Shead, vice president of integrated quality, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, says a culture of quality requires and ensures that all employees know:

  • Their product or deliverable
  • Their customer
  • Their customer’s quality expectations
  • How to measure that quality

These four elements look like simple common sense and, therefore, could mistakenly be perceived as not particularly enlightening.  Readers are tempted to say to themselves, “So what?  I already know this.”  Therein lies the problem for anyone wishing to actually assure this is done.  It is absolutely not as easy as it would first appear. Let’s work to close that gap.

The real-life obstacles the change leader and practitioner will encounter when seeking to follow Mr. Shead’s strategy without the rest of the story include the following:
1.    Is the employee to focus on “their product” at the enterprise, business unit, functional group, or personal level?
2.    Is “their product” singular or are there many products an employee might have?  If there are many, how does one prioritize which are most important?
3.    How does someone who does not create widgets such as airplanes, who views their work in terms of service or knowledge (roughly 87% of the post-industrial workforce), define their product?
4.    If the product could refer to something produced at one of four levels (suggested in question #1 above), would “the customer” be the same party for each product?
5.    Once we identify a specific product, are we to focus on the end-users for that product, the brokers (who pass the product to others), or fixers (who modify or correct the product for the benefit of end-users)?  Does it matter if we don’t differentiate them?
6.    Are all end-users equally important?
7.    Are customer expectations the same as requirements and needs?  If not, is it possible to meet all the agreed upon requirements but still end up with unhappy customers?
8.    When seeking to understand customer priorities, is it important to differentiate expectations related to their subjective perception of the product, the product’s objective performance, the process for acquiring and using the product, or the outcome produced by using the product?  How would one do easily this?
9.    Quality is often defined in terms of defects and deficiencies.  If we eliminate things gone wrong, is the result a strong quality culture?
10.    How would one create quality metrics for squishy expectations customers may insist upon such as easy to use, cool, and innovative?

(It turns out Mr. Shead’s elements of strategy match the topics in the first four chapters of my book written more than twenty years ago, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation and SpeedYou can see Quality Progress article providing a book synopsis here, item #4. Practical answers to the ten questions above are answered there.

Concrete and easily applied answers to questions 1-4 are provided in Chapter 1 of the referenced book.  All other questions can only be answered successfully when that chapter is understood and applied.  Chapter 2 answers questions 5 and 6, Chapter 3 answers questions 7-9,  Chapter 4 answers question 10.   You’ve now got the key to the rest of the story, thanks to Mr. Shead’s introduction.)

The second blog in this series will outline the specifics of how to take action on the second major research finding:  Closely understand customer expectations.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Should Quality “Go Global”?

We were privileged last week to have with us at ASQ Headquarters in Milwaukee representatives from our global offices in India, Mexico, and China, and our partner organization in Brazil, Quali.  It is a rare treat to get nearly the entire global team together– we also have an office in the United Arab Emirates serving the Middle East and North Africa region–and it is cause for a few minutes of reflection on our global posture.

The first question that may occur to some is, why?  Until our rebranding in 2010, we were the American Society for Quality.  Why do we need to be spread out around the world?  Today I want to discuss ASQ’s reasoning for “going global,” but also to note the importance of making information about quality global in scope and available to all.

First, before we did the first thing to be global, we already were.  Some may consider quality as proprietary—that is, knowledge used by a nation to increase its competitiveness in the world. However, at ASQ, we have had many members all over the world years before we opened offices outside the U.S.  In fact, I suspect from almost the very start ASQ had members who lived outside of North America.

The ideas, the passion for quality, the networking, and the tools were attractive to those who found themselves seeking like-minded quality professionals from many different industries and businesses.  So even if we had NO plans to expand our membership globally, we would still be global.  Given that, we have an obligation to serve our global members. We want them to feel welcome, supported, and listened to.  In some cases that meant we needed a presence on the ground to better understand and serve their needs.

Second, the quality knowledge our members want and need cannot be bounded by borders.  If the Quality Body of Knowledge® is to have any value to our members, it must transcend national borders.  Where is quality making the biggest impact in the healthcare world today?  The U.S.?  India? Canada?  Wherever it is, members of the quality community are hard at work, using quality in ways tried and true and ways new and innovative, and our members want to learn from them, wherever they are.

The QBoK® is not a fixed, stagnant resource.  It is constantly growing and changing, and that evolution is happening from the auto industry in the Czech Republic to the energy industry in China and dozens of different fields in a hundred different countries.  To grow that knowledge, to give our members access to ways quality is making the world a better place, we have to be out in the world.

Third, ASQ is like any other business in one important respect: grow or perish. It’s that simple.  There is no such thing as a benign status quo.  We have to grow means, influence, and members.  Our members themselves demand it, our board demands it, and the quality community throughout the world demands it.  Our global partners don’t fear our growth–most of them welcome it because they grow along with us.

If we are to thrive for the next fifty years, we must achieve an acceptable degree of growth and the evidence is very clear that a significant portion of that growth must come from global markets. (Note that globalization is the one force that has appeared in every edition of ASQ’s Future of Quality study since 1996.)  We know we must attract more young professionals to quality, and to an ever-increasing degree, demographics tell us those young professionals will come from outside the U.S.

This month my question to you is: ASQ’s mission statement talks about increasing the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world.  Are we doing enough, throughout the world, to accomplish that mission?

Posted in Futures Study, case for quality | Tagged , | 11 Comments

January Roundup: Quality Inspirations

Do you have a quality role model or inspiration? This was the topic for ASQ’s blogging group, the Influential Voices, in February.  A quality role model could be anyone from a guru to a mentor to a person who is not “in quality” at all, but still embodies quality principles. Here are the main inspirations for ASQ’s Influential Voices:

Family: John Hunter was deeply inspired by his father, a statistician, as well as statistician George P.E. Box. Jimena Calfa writes about being inspired by and learning about quality from her kids. Luciana Paulise remembers the quality lessons she learned from her mother.

Professional mentors: Manu Vora remembers various mentors and thought leaders he encountered during his career.  Lotto Lai blogs about first research supervisor.  Bob Mitchell found inspiration from leaders at 3M. Chad Walters is inspired by fellow lean blogger and onetime ASQ Influential Voice Mark Graban, while Nicole Radziwill is inspired by a psychologist and an activist. Aimee Siegler finds quality inspiration in both her professional and personal life. Rajan Thiyagarajan learned four lessons in quality from his inspiration, a professor.

Icons and beyond: Jennifer Stepniowski is inspired by Steve Jobs.  Edwin Garro writes about quality lessons learned from a famous pediatric surgeon. Sunil Kaushik blogs about finding quality inspiration in an anonymous online forum and TED talk.  And Pam Schodt wrote the intriguingly titled post 5 Keys to Quality Problem Solving I learned in a Pizza Delivery Store.

Posted in Uncategorized, Young Professionals, career, case for quality | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Top 8 Books Every Quality Professional Should Read

What books should be on every quality professional’s reading list? This can be a controversial question—ask ten quality professionals and you may get ten different answers. However, there are certain classics and thought leaders that stand the test of time. ASQ staff compiled a list of the top books on quality tools, concepts, and ideas ever published.

Now, it’s your turn. Which of these books have you read? What additions or suggestions do you have for the list?

1. The Quality Toolbox, Second Edition, by Nancy R. Tague

This is a classic reference and instruction book for new and seasoned quality professionals alike. It includes a variety of methods, tools, and techniques, from the basics to those created by the author. If there’s just one book everyone in quality should read, it’s probably Quality Toolbox.

2. Juran’s Quality Handbook, Sixth Edition, by Joseph M. Juran and Joseph A. De Feo

This is the quality management and engineering guide by one of the best known thinkers in quality.

3. Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action by Duke Okes

The focus of the book is not on statistics but on the logic of finding causes. It describes how to solve problems via the analytical process through figures, diagrams, and tools useful for helping make our thinking visible. The primary focus is on solving repetitive problems.

4. Making Change Work by Brien Palmer

They say the only thing constant is change. This is a solid guide to helping organizations prepare for and implement change.

5. The Essential Deming, edited by Joyce Nilsson Orsini PhD

The title says it all. In this book, Fordham University professor and Deming expert Joyce Orsini presents Deming’s most important management principles. The book is a wealth of articles, papers, lectures, and notes on a wide range of topics, but the focus is on Deming’s main message: quality and operations are all about systems, not individual performance; the system has to be designed so that the worker can perform well.

6. Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar H. Schein

This updated edition focuses on the contemporary business environment and demonstrates how leaders must apply principles of culture to achieve organizational goals.

7. Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product by Walter A. Shewhart

This classic by quality giant Walter A. Shewhart laid the foundation for the modern quality control discipline, beginning as an attempt to develop a scientific basis for attaining economic control of quality. In his search for better knowledge of economy in manufacturing, Shewhart touches upon all aspects of statistical quality control.

8. Practical Engineering, Process, and Reliability Statistics by Mark Allen Durivage

This book aims to provide quality professionals in any industry a quick and comprehensive guide to using statistics efficiently.

Posted in Deming, Juran, Management, Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Finding Inspiration From Quality Leaders

In December I had the privilege of spending time listening to and learning from Paul O’Neill, a quality thought leader, 2013 Juran Medalist, and  former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

It was one of the most profound engagements I have ever had.  As some of you know, Secretary O’Neill was chairman and CEO of Alcoa from 1987 to 1999, where he retired as chairman at the end of 2000.  He was indisputably and famously successful increasing both the market value and the revenue of Alcoa many times over.  He is now immersed in taking the principles of quality and using them to fix the enormous problems the U.S. faces in healthcare.  As an acknowledged expert in healthcare economics, he uses the same quality principles he espoused and enforced at Alcoa to help healthcare executives and providers cut waste and increase effectiveness and safety.

Secretary O’Neill was gracious, welcoming and fascinating.  He was interested in me as an individual and interested in what we are doing at ASQ.  I asked him to help me understand what he did at Alcoa to be so successful and what I might glean from his current work in the healthcare industry.  I can’t possibly do justice to all he told me, but I will highlight three points that made an enormous impression on me.

  • First, when he went to Alcoa, he surprised everyone by what he made his top priority.  It was not increasing shareholder value, capturing market share, or increasing profits.  It was worker safety.  His board and his top management team were incredulous.  Sure, safety on the job was important, but the most important thing we do?  The CEO’s top priority?  Yes, because, as Secretary O’Neill explained to me, your people are the most precious asset you have.  When they are injured, you don’t have just an interruption in the work, you have real human suffering.  No profit is worth that. Furthermore, on-the-job injuries are enormously expensive and produce absolutely nothing.  Workplace injuries violate the trust between the workers and the company.  The workers count on management to keep them safe even while they do hazardous work.  Finally, if an enterprise cannot instill and enforce the discipline to keep workers safe, what other forms of indiscipline are tolerated?  Sloppy work?  Tardiness and absenteeism?  Low standards tend to breed more low standards.
  • The second point I took away resonated with me as much as the first.  It is simply to treat everyone with dignity and respect.  As CEO Paul O’Neill spoke to everyone as equals and he did not let the trappings of being CEO get in the way of honest, respectful, authentic person-to-person interactions.  This sounded very familiar to me.  In my military career, one of the first things drilled into our heads was called “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline” from General John Schofield (1879).  It expresses a similar theme, “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment… He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
  • The third point sounds simple, but its implications are unforgiving and pervasive.  It is that your aim must be to be the best in the world at everything you do.  This is a radical departure from what most of us think of as improvement. It does not say be better than last year or be better than the guy down the street.  It says you must drive to be the best in the world and he meant exactly that.  When I pressed him on this point, he explained you have to figure out theoretical perfection, measure yourself against that standard, and then figure out how to get there.  You then start systematically eliminating everything that is keeping you from attaining that theoretical level of perfection, keep measuring, and don’t stop until you get there.  My guess is that’s where even a leader as good as Paul O’Neill will lose a lot of potential followers. If you really mean it, this part is very, very tough.  But, as Secretary O’Neill told me, it is also a lot of fun!  I intend to find out.

Keeping all this in mind, my question to you is: Have you met someone whose teachings on quality influenced you or inspired you? What were these lessons? You might name a famous quality guru, but I would encourage you to think of those outside the quality field who nevertheless can teach us key lessons about quality.

Postscript: On a related note about leaders who value quality, I’d like to mention the passing of the former New York State Government Mario Cuomo last week. You may not know of Cuomo or support his politics if you did, but I think it’s worth pointing out how a government leader can be a champion of quality, even if we don’t consider him or her a “quality professional” per se.

For example, Governor Cuomo helped transform New York State’s local motor vehicle departments, reducing wait times and increasing efficiency. He also paved the way for New York’s version of the Baldrige award (then called the Governor’s Excelsior Award and now part of Partners in Performance Excellence). This award led the way in areas beyond traditional quality, including education, health care and not-for-profits. Governor Cuomo made it clear that quality was the standard, and this standard was recognized and aspired to throughout New York State government.

The takeaway: No matter where you’re located, leadership counts.

Posted in Uncategorized, case for quality | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

December Roundup: What Does Ambition Look Like in Quality?

The word “ambition” can be a loaded one. To some, ambition means striving above and beyond for excellence. To others, ambition can mean overstepping defined goals or boundaries. In December, ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers talked about what ambition means to quality.

Not surprisingly, this became a somewhat contentious topic among the group. Does quality need more ambition, or is ambition the wrong goal for the field? Which side do you take?

Pursuing ambition: Pam Schodt writes about how to encourage the quality message at work. Quality thinking is not just about ambition–it could be the key to putting all aspects of a business together, says Luciana Paulise. Babette Ten Haken encourages us to have an ambitious conversation about quality. Rajan Thiyagarajan talks of importance of collaboration when pursuing quality ambitions. John Priebe writes that ambition means solving problems.

Lotto Lai writes about what ambition means to quality organizations in Asia. Tim McMahon says that an organization’s executives must have high ambitions for quality before we an ask for ambition in others.

And Edwin Garro looks to the famous Latin American comic strip “Mafalda” for a lesson in quality and ambition.

Quality lacks ambition: Sunil Kaushik argues that quality isn’t ambitious beyond the scope of a particular project. Manu Vora agrees, listing ways that quality can improveQuality on the whole is not ambitious enough, and that’s fine, argues Anshuman Tiwari.

What do we mean by ambition? Michael Noble reflects on the definition of quality put forth in Robert Pirsig’s cult classic novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Dan Zrymiak has an epiphany of value, purpose, and function in terms of quality. John Hunter looks to Deming to define and set goals for ambition. Nicole Radziwill responds by discussing Deming’s 14 points in a different context.

To Bob Mitchell, ambition means that “we must increase our agility, become ‘comfortable being uncomfortable,’ and think globally in today’s flattened world.” To Jennifer Stepniowski, ambition in quality is more of a matter of marketing quality, a challenge that she addresses in her post.

Scott Rutherford finds the original question misplaced, arguing that quality is expectation, not ambition.  And Jimena Calfa writes that ambition in quality must be a passion for quality on the part of the individual.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments