Change the Way People Think

The use of quotes can influence the way employees view new quality initiatives

by Stephen P. Roach

In 1997, I was asked to be the quality manager for my department. My organization had just launched a Six Sigma quality initiative and was struggling to get employees on board.

As a manager involved in the quality initiative program, I quickly realized how broad the problem was. Changing the organization's culture wasn't simply about issuing some memoranda from senior management or using some new buzz words in the next plan document. It meant changing the way everyone in the organization, from senior management to the processing clerks, thought about what he or she did every day.

I needed a way for everyone to get the message at a level relevant to his or her daily job. In effect, I needed a way to talk with each person every day so these new concepts could be discussed and made relevant no matter what position the person held.

The idea

It struck me that the best way to do this was by e-mail. I decided to break the concepts down into bite sized pieces and engage everyone in an e-mail dialogue. First, I listed a quote to capture the concept, and then I added a comment to explain the quote's relevance to our organization. I started by e-mailing the following quote and comment to 40 people who reported to me:

Quote 1, Oct. 10, 1997: "A quality process addresses two separate, intertwined questions: 'Are we doing the right things?' and 'Are we doing things right?'"

--Patrick L. Townsend and Joan E. Gebhardt in Quality Quotes by Hélio Gomes (Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, 1996).

Comment 1: It is important to take a moment each day to think about quality. Think about what it is, what it means to your job, how we can integrate it, who our customers are and how well we understand and service our customers' needs. This quote is something for you to ponder. I hope you read it and, moreover, I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to take a moment to comment on it.

I continued this process on a daily basis, with the list of recipients growing to over 550 people globally, until May 14, 1998, when my management responsibility shifted. In my new job, I started over with Quote 1, but I changed the comment so it related to my new role.

I kept this up until May 1999 when I became manager of information security administration at Citigroup. Again, I started over with Quote 1 and a new set of comments.

Some examples

The following will give you an idea of the types of quotes and comments I used to get certain ideas across to my employees:

Quote 4 discusses a general concept: "The world-class organization exists to delight customers."

--Y.S. Chang, George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky in Quality Quotes by Hélio Gomes (Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, 1996).

Comment 4: But who is the customer? Senior management? Business management? Technology management? Contractual partners? Regulators? End users? Truly understanding the customer is a critical first step to delivering the quality processes and services needed to delight the customer.

Quote 130 refers to a specific topic--training: "If your company is doing well, double your training budget; if your company is not doing well, quadruple it."

--Thomas J. Peters in Quality Quotes by Hélio Gomes (Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, 1996).

Comment 130: If we just hand people new tools or responsibilities, we leave them with the frustration that accompanies change. We must be sure each employee can properly use the new power and execute the new tasks. We must also be certain each employee is electrified with the empowerment of his or her new environment. Training is not a task that can simply be marked off on a checklist.

Quote 289 says thanks for all the effort: "We are not going around in circles, we are going upward. The path is a spiral."

--Hermann Hesse in Random House Webster's Quotationary (New York: Random House, 1998).

Comment 289: Sometimes it appears we keep going over and over the same things: customer involvement, data integrity, workplace environment, technology use and financial understanding. However, each time we start from a higher position.

For example, we just came back from a building fire drill, and not one phone was ringing. But when we came back from a similar drill last year, every phone was ringing off the hook. So congratulate yourselves, and think about how we can move up that spiral one more time.

Demonstrate your passion

I find quotes on the backs of candy wrappers and in books, magazines, newspapers and the movies. It doesn't matter where the quotes come from. What matters is that you take 10 minutes each day to demonstrate your passion for a topic in a way that is relevant to everyone. The dialogue that will ensue will be its own reward--trust me.

STEPHEN P. ROACH is vice president and director of process automation for global information security administration at Citigroup in Long Island City, NY. He received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Roach is a certified quality manager and a member of ASQ.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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