Something Worth Catching
Don’t let failure prevention tactics limit your career growth
by Russ Westcott
Don’t be confused by the acronym CAGS. It’s not a disease. But if it were, it’s one you would want to catch.
CAGS stands for capability + adaptability + growthability + sustainability. It’s a formula for success in any field.
As quality professionals, we strive to achieve failure prevention. Failure avoidance is a deep-seated measure of success—of being acknowledged for reducing costs, increasing production, ensuring quality and satisfying customers.
From childhood we have been told "don’t do that" much more often than we received positive encouragement to take initiative.
When we enter the workforce, this emphasis is reinforced. We develop the capability to make incremental improvements in processes to achieve greater efficiency. But do we learn how to adapt ourselves and the processes we are responsible for to growth opportunities? No. Instead we learn to apply the career-limiting constraints of failure prevention.
Remove barriers to growth
Stay with me—I’m not suggesting failure prevention is a bad thing. I am suggesting this orientation can limit growth opportunities.
For your organization to catch CAGS, a paradigm shift is necessary. Consider these actions:
- Change your thinking from "How do we prevent this situation?" to "How do we achieve our organizational goal?" The first orientation might reduce expenditures, but the second can increase the top line and reduce the bottom line, and allow you to apply your capability and adaptability.
- Add to this your capability to create a work environment that supports individual and organizational growth. This focus is on removing barriers that can inhibit the ability to grow individually as well as organizationally.
- With capability established, adaptability employed and growthability occurring, the next concern is sustaining the gains. This focus is on what and how you measure. If you react to an orientation based entirely on metrics pertaining to failures, you will ultimately achieve some level of failure avoidance. These metrics are OK as far as they go, but they do not lead toward growth and sustaining growth. Ask whether at least one metric on your organization’s balanced scorecard reflects achievement of growth.
Donuts and dollars
Think about this: Your organization makes great donuts. That’s all it makes. It has the most sophisticated and efficient lean operation for producing top-quality donuts. But are the number of customers and the value of their purchases increasing? Are donuts a viable product in this weight-loss conscious market? Can your organization shift its thinking to other potential opportunities and adapt to change?
Without a concern for the larger goal beyond internal efficiency and failure reduction, the organization can still falter and fail. The preceding sentence was written for career-minded professionals. Let’s see how the concept of CAGS fits personal development. First, consider my system for career growth and professional development:
- Try to obtain a position that best fits your current abilities and your development goals.
- Learn to do the job to the very best of your ability, within applicable constraints.
- Document how the job is done (typically little or no documentation exists). Use your knowledge and skills applying quality tools such as process mapping, data gathering and analysis.
- Look for ways the processes could be improved. Develop some feasible approaches to improving the job.
- Using the time you have saved by working more effectively, explore other functions and positions within the organization to seek potential opportunities for enhancing your professional development.
- Identify the next position you think is appropriate for further enhancing your capability. And, if possible, identify one or more individuals who could be considered as your replacement.
- Build an economic case for your movement into a job with further opportunities for growth.
- You have demonstrated mastery of your job, documented the job and identified potential improvements. You have identified the next best opportunity for your development, identified your potential replacement and developed the economic feasibility of accepting your plan. Make an appointment to discuss your proposal with your supervisor.
- Sell your proposal and seek a commitment of support for your approach.
- Offer to train your replacement.
Does this approach work? It has for me several times. Of course, much depends on the culture of your organization and the relationships you have developed. And, some would add that it is always prudent to keep your résumé updated.
Assess your capability and its match with your position. Adapt your capability to improve your job. Adapt to your developmental goal of new and expanded capability. Identify opportunities and create an approach that will lead you to greater professional growth. Establish the means and metrics that will enable you to measure and sustain the gains made while you strive for the next goal.
Go catch CAGS.
Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ fellow, certified manager of quality/organizational excellence and certified quality auditor. He is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition; co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook; and author of Simplified Project Management for Quality Professionals and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000. Westcott also is an instructor of the ASQ CMQ/OE refresher course. Based in Old Saybrook, CT, he consults on strategic planning, project management, lean practices, quality management systems and career development; and is active in ASQ’s Thames Valley Section.