School of Hard Knocks

Applying lessons learned from promoting risk management

by Greg Hutchins

The first thing that came to mind as I was thinking about this column was that I’d share my experiences in launching a new product and some of the hard lessons I’ve learned on pitching—almost daily—projects and solutions to customers.

As you’ve probably gathered from reading my recent columns, I’m concerned about the future of the quality profession. If I had to distill it, the prevailing quality query has been: "Everyone is responsible for quality, and if everyone’s responsible for the quality of their work, what’s the role of today’s and tomorrow’s quality professional?"

It’s a tough question with no easy answer. My crystal ball shows some form of risk management becoming the core of quality management, and with that comes good news and bad news.

First, the bad. I’ve been advocating this theme for more than six years, and I have often heard boos from many quality naysayers. The good news is that during the last six months, the evangelizing push has become a pull. Quality professionals are much more responsive and accepting of risk management.

Here are some of the difficult lessons I’ve learned from being a risk management evangelist that can be applied to any career or job.

Develop a unique value proposition. My firm’s is: "Risk management is the future of quality. Period." It’s simple, clear and direct. It says risk management is critical to the livelihood and career advancement of today’s professional. What’s your unique value proposition?

Love your cause. My colleagues and I got into quality because we wanted our clients to be more competitive through continuous improvement. It was a great mission that worked for many years. Now, our cause and mission is enterprise risk management. Our clients want to capitalize on upside risk and mitigate downside risk. This is where we think you should go to add value and kickstart your career.

Accentuate the positive. I pitch risk management daily, and my mission is to create a cause and generate energy around the subject. Often, I’m tired of saying the same things over and over again. At the end of the day, I can hear fatigue in my voice or, even worse, in the reaction—or lack of reaction—from potential supporters. I realize I need to maintain my enthusiasm. People don’t respond well to negativity. They want to hire and retain positive employees and consultants.

See problems from the employer’s side. Work is getting tougher for all of us, but look at the challenges from the employer’s point of view: margins are razor thin, sales are flat, costs continue to rise, and employers are passing the pain to employees.

Is it fair for us? No, but we’re still seeing the effects. Promotions and salary increases aren’t as prevalent, and some employers are asking for furloughs or givebacks in salary, perks or benefits.

It’s tough out there for all employers and employees, so before you say anything about your boss or employer, take a moment and see it through his or her eyes.

Be overly courteous and thankful. If you have decent-paying job, be thankful. If you’re looking for a job, be overly courteous and thankful. As an employer, we look for folks who are courteous and have character. Unfortunately, there are still folks who react to the market like it is time to party, as was the case five years ago. This attitude is especially toxic in these times and will kill career and job opportunities.

Focus on your boss’s needs or your client’s expectations. Your boss or client has never seen or experienced this type of economic downturn. He or she is wondering what to do and is looking to employees for support and to consultants for solutions. If you can’t give it to your boss or client, they don’t need you and someone else will fill your spot.

These are just some of the difficult lessons I’ve learned. Being optimistic and accentuating the positive may be the toughest thing to do in today’s economic climate. People don’t want grumps—having a good, even great, attitude may be one of the most important things a person needs to survive, prosper and excel in today’s workplace.

Greg Hutchins is the principal engineer with Quality Plus Engineering, a critical infrastructure protection firm headquartered in Portland, OR. He is a member of ASQ.

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