As the World Flattens
by Hank Lindborg
In 2005, we are struggling with the uncomfortable results of the world’s having been very rapidly “flattened” by technology harnessed to eliminate barriers of space and time. This technology revolution has converged with other forces of change.
“If the prospect of this flattening—and all of the pressures, dislocations and opportunities accompanying it—causes you unease about the future, you are neither alone nor wrong,” writes Thomas L. Friedman.1
Since 1996, ASQ has tracked trends in its future studies. Paul Borawski, ASQ executive director, discussed the latest study, conducted earlier this year, at the recent World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Seattle. (Watch for a full report on the future study in an upcoming issue of QP.)
Borawski identified six significant trends affecting the quality movement:
- Consumer sophistication.
- Value creation.
- Changes in the quality profession.
Each of these factors suggests important career possibilities, but none more than globalization.
Over the last five years, anyone tracking managerial job openings has noted a spike in ones for which Mandarin is a desired language dialect. Increasingly, those who can build and manage Chinese plants and businesses from the ground up for U.S., European and Asian firms are in demand. Quality managers are no exception. ASQ itself has established a presence in Asia.
Greg Weiler, senior project leader and general manager of ASQ China LLC, finds that with the opening of its Beijing office, the Society is getting new attention from multinational corporations seeking training and certification.
“There are currently some marvelous opportunities for ASQ members in Asia, particularly China,” Weiler says. “Many of these organizations, as well as Chinese domestic companies, are looking for quality professionals to assist them. With China’s becoming a member of the World Trade Organization, it is experiencing a great need to improve the quality of its products for export.”
The situation is similar in India, where, according to Weiler, “ASQ has just signed an agreement with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to provide our training and certification programs for delivery by quality experts in the FICCI Quality Forum.”
To find out what skills and orientations U.S. quality professionals need for global assignments, I interviewed Kalim Saiyed, manager-supplier quality, at Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, WI. A division of Brunswick Corp., Mercury recently opened a $45 million facility in China as it simultaneously introduced new high-tech manufacturing and increasingly sophisticated lean Six Sigma methodologies in Wisconsin.
“To be truly low cost and high quality, you need an aligned organization applying disciplines like lean Six Sigma,” Saiyed said. “You can’t develop supplier quality here or around the world without keeping the customer in mind at every step.”
In China, there are some world-class suppliers, but others need significant work in risk assessment, management development and process control, Saiyed continued. “It may be necessary to look at training further down the supply chain than you are accustomed—because you need to think about your final product and your brand.”
How do those charged with pioneering quality in other parts of the world learn their jobs? “There is no single place to go,” Saiyed said. “We have to learn by doing.”
Those with high levels of responsibility are tasked by cultural, technical and regulatory challenges. So, how do you get started?
First, do a cost/benefit analysis. “Sometimes corporations seek volunteers for assignments. Before you volunteer, though, consider that, in addition to learning a lot and improving your career prospects, you’ll be making sacrifices—especially in family life,” Saiyed warned.
Though e-mail and telephone help, you may miss the special occasions and the ordinary rhythms of interactions with family and friends. Some corporations provide orientations to families as well as employees, special recognition and even arrangements for family travel. Check out how the organization will give support should you take on an overseas assignment.
How do you adapt? Sometimes making initial visits with a team that can learn together and provide mutual support is beneficial. But Saiyed says you have to judge your own adaptability.
“Leave your cultural paradigms at home. Be flexible and open-minded,” Saiyed advised. “World-class and Third World may co-exist side by side. There are challenges in language, food and understanding of management. Take nothing for granted.”
What professional skills do you need? Saiyed suggests you need a real toolbox that is complete and up-to-date. “If you like theory, fine. But you must know and do—and teach. Practical application is critical.”
So, if you know your organization is committed to quality at home and wherever it does business, are willing to make some sacrifices, are an adaptable learner comfortable in new circumstances and are confident of the full range of your competencies, think about a global future.
- Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat—A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
HENRY J. LINDBORG is executive director and CEO of the National Institute for Quality Improvement, which provides consulting in strategic planning, organizational development and assessment. He holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches in a leadership and quality graduate program. Lindborg is past chair of ASQ’s Education Division and currently serves on the Education and Training Board.-