Know No Bounds

Career transition achieved through ASQ training and certifications

by Craig Tingley

My awareness of the key role of human behavior in achieving organizational excellence emerged when I was a student at Ryerson University in Canada. The hands-on curriculum taught me not only the basics of industrial engineering, but also instilled in me an appreciation for operational systems, and showed me the importance and power of interpersonal relationships.

Early in my career, I worked as an industrial engineer at Steelcase and was charged with maintaining a piecework incentive system, in which employees who produced above what was considered 100% efficiency could boost their earnings. Spending time on the factory floor—going to gemba—I learned process waste was a result of counterproductive behaviors that often went unrecognized, as there were no formulas that took into account all factors contributing to waste.

By facilitating process-level problem-solving teams and using seven basic quality tools, sometimes called "The First Seven," front line employees gradually came to believe that their knowledge, experience and input were welcomed and valued. Their motivation soared, and they took ownership of the process, producing sustainable improvements that exceeded expectations.

Opening the doors of change

Leveraging academic and workplace lessons about relationship-building led me to advance in a variety of roles and industries. Although each new environment presented unique barriers to enacting change, I consistently practiced a people-oriented approach, helping others feel empowered in their role as change agents.

Along the way, I earned a bachelor’s degree and then an MBA with finance and leadership emphases. I knew that an advanced degree was critical to getting where I wanted to go professionally. Despite what I considered success in manufacturing, I began to question what kind of stability the evolving field would offer over time. Little did I know then that healthcare would be in my future.

For me, the common denominator in optimal job satisfaction and employment progression nearly always relates to an organization’s people focus—or lack thereof. I began to develop a strategic plan that would prepare me for a major transition.

Studying multiple sources about demographic trends revealed that because the U.S. population as a whole is aging, greater numbers of people will need increasingly complex care. Scientific advances in medical treatment and pharmacology are unfolding rapidly, and our healthcare delivery system is complicated, many times lacking coordination as patients move through facilities and stages of care. Broad consensus about lack of consistency and improvement potential made this field appealing.

I considered many of my skills and tools transferable, but there was one roadblock: I had no medical background.

No shortcuts to transition

I joined ASQ in the early 2000s, but my participation had waned. I rejoined in 2006 and became a certified quality auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt (BB) before the year’s end. From 2006-2009, I participated in many ASQ Section 0701 events.

As my transition contemplation evolved, I began to:

  1. Reflect on personal goals and analyze my options.
  2. Collect data through a personal skills inventory and evaluate it with various segments of healthcare in mind.
  3. Apply workplace problem-solving tools to my transition intentions.
  4. Accept all volunteer opportunities to optimize my exposure, add to my experience and meet my need for personal fulfillment.
  5. Network in multiple professional settings.
  6. Seek objective feedback and mentoring from two subject matter experts who understood and helped nurture my altruism and commitment to changing my career path.

None of these steps fully countered what I considered my greatest obstacle: a lack of healthcare experience. There were, however, encouraging signs. As I perused healthcare process improvement job postings, I learned that being a certified Six Sigma BB satisfied a common requirement I could meet.

While working in my last position, before entering the realm of healthcare, I met John Rubio, whom I consider my sensei and from whom I learned more than I would have ever thought possible. I shared with him my thoughts on a possible career transition. He taught me the A3’s Look-See-Know tool and reminded me of what really matters: people. I learned that I could apply his trademarked Simpler Business System model to my professional quest (see Figure 1).


The people element of Rubio’s approach emphasizes the continuous need to develop people, which had long before become a core personal value for me. From an inward-directed perspective, it reinforced my belief in and commitment to my own lifelong learning and self-investment.

The relevance of his process element emerged as I networked, and attended meetings and conferences. I learned what would be required to break into healthcare and met people who could facilitate additional professional connections. I began to see a path to my goal take shape.

For me, purpose was the most natural and direct link to Rubio’s system. Healthcare facilities must focus on patient care—on people—to be effective and successful. My longstanding belief and faith in other human beings was a snug fit for this element, signaling that I was headed in the right direction.

Fine-tuning my strategic plan brought into focus three healthcare options: clinical healthcare, medical device manufacturing and quality system audits.

The benefits of volunteering

I sought volunteer opportunities at every turn, aligning them with my goals and deriving great satisfaction from the contributions I was making:

  • At a 2009 Section 0701 monthly dinner, longtime ASQ member Dale Becker invited me to help conduct volunteer quality management system audits for small ISO-registered southern California firms. During the year I participated, I developed additional skills and experience, and gained exposure to a multitude of companies in that region’s hotbed of medical device manufacturers.
  • After joining a local FDA-sponsored regulatory affairs discussion group in 2009 and volunteering to serve on its program committee, I was invited to moderate a global supply chain session at the organization’s annual conference. Drawing on expertise from my manufacturing experience highlighted my skills and heightened my visibility with medical device manufacturers.
  • Helping judge the California Team Excellence Awards enabled me to examine the quality improvement achievements of some of the best teams in the state. The winner advanced to a national ASQ competition. My participation in the Boeing-hosted event widened my circle of professional acquaintances and taught me more about analyzing and evaluating team performance.
  • ASQ Fellow Jack B. ReVelle delivered a series of topical educational clinics I organized for my ASQ section in Orange County, CA, the Orange Empire. This led to the opportunity to assist ReVelle by contributing to the ASQ body of knowledge (BoK). I researched a variety of quality concepts and tools, deepening my understanding while producing material on lean Six Sigma that ReVelle used for recording a series of eight webinars.

During the months ReVelle and I worked together, I gleaned valuable information from the recent Shainin Medalist, boosting my self-confidence and compelling me to fine-tune my communication skills so I could clearly and convincingly convey technical information on a multitude of quality-related topics.

Although these activities required time, energy and, in some cases, money—especially travel and accommodation expenses for conferences—I held to my core belief in lifelong learning and investing in myself. 

Connection yields results

My efforts, ASQ connections and new certifications have paid off. In 2010, I became director of process improvement at Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) in California. As champion of the institution’s strategic process improvement program, I led routine tasks, such as developing a library of project work, as well as more dynamic people-focused efforts, including improving overall patient flow and serving as a mentor to management interns and medical students.

In July, I joined Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Modesto, CA, where my role is lean facilitator. I am part of a team responsible for process improvement and culture change at all levels of this nonprofit, multispecialty organization. Our overall goal is to improve quality and affordability for patients.

Although my route to what I consider an enviable level of professional satisfaction, personal fulfillment and relative job security has been long and winding, my journey has taught me lessons that might help others in their career evolution, whether within their current sector or across sectors:

  • Principles for enacting positive, sustained change in organizations also apply to personal scenarios.
  • Expanding your human network multiplies opportunities for learning, heightens visibility and provides ways to contribute through volunteerism.
  • Many skills and tools are transferable across sectors.
  • Time and money invested in self-development yields a positive return on investment.

ASQ training and certifications have played a pivotal role in my transition from manufacturing to healthcare, and the organization continues to provide opportunities. I was a member of the 2012 Quality Institute for Healthcare’s conference organizing committee, I mentor up and coming ASQ professionals, and I teach quality and process improvement courses based on ASQ’s BoK. LLUMC purchased an ASQ site membership, facilitating access to information for all hospital staff.

Through advanced education, additional certifications, volunteerism, participation in training events and conferences—as a learner and sharer of knowledge—and being open to mentoring and sensei relationships, I have boosted my credibility, polished my image and enhanced my brand.

I get tremendous satisfaction in helping to nurture a culture of positive change in an organization. One of my greatest rewards is achieving a level of staff involvement in which ideas for improvement come spontaneously from throughout the ranks. It’s gratifying when people get inspired and come to me with improvement ideas.

Stones left unturned

I also have some tips for anyone considering a change to the dynamic field of healthcare. I wish I had:

  • Learned to communicate on a professional level by taking a class that helped me understand medical technology and jargon.
  • Raised my visibility and increased my contacts by joining a hospital auxiliary and volunteering to serve on committees or at events.
  • Expanded my general information and potential professional role by studying state and federal healthcare regulations.

Those who specialize in organizational change can stumble when it comes to making changes in their own lives. It has been a long journey for me, but I have found that the process is the same: Define goals, develop a strategic plan and execute it, step by step.

Craig Tingley is a lean facilitator with Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Modesto, CA. A senior member of ASQ who earned an MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, Tingley is an ASQ-certified quality auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt. He also mentors other ASQ professionals, teaching quality and process improvement courses based on ASQ’s body of knowledge.

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