Discovering What Works

Effective change management focuses on the individual

by Roy Green

I didn’t set out to become a quality professional. In university I studied engineering physics because it covered a wide range of topics such as mechanics, electronics and thermodynamics, and I hoped one of the disciplines would grab my interest. After graduation, however, I still wasn’t enamored with any particular topic, so I took a job that interested me the most, which was in an electronics lab of ITT Telecommunications in London.

I was given a boring assignment that I disliked and was unrelated to any department project. I was eager for a change, so when I heard about a new quality department—which I knew nothing about—I immediately applied for a transfer. I didn’t know it at the time, but learning about quality on-the-job taught me a lot about change management practices.

Learning from a legend

In my new role, I was fortunate to learn about quality from our corporate quality vice president, Philip Crosby, whom I had the honor of meeting a few times. Crosby was such an influence because he was kind and patient. He would visit our department and speak to every employee.

Early in my career, he suggested I use a fishbone diagram to solve a manufacturing problem instead of the histogram I was trying to make. On another occasion, he offered some ideas about a presentation I was preparing. He suggested a line graph would be better than a pie chart to show an analysis of production data because I could visualize trends. These suggestions and Crosby’s one-on-one approach were inspiring to a young quality practitioner.

Throughout my career, I’ve applied this hands-on, explanatory approach to my managerial style. I have realized the desire to push performance must come from within the individual. It cannot be enforced from the outside.

Failure to recognize this is why many managers cannot establish a highly motivated work culture. Instead, these managers often receive "malicious compliance," meaning that employees first do as instructed, but revert to their old ways as soon as the manager’s back is turned.

Creating lasting change

On one occasion, a machine operator was allowing thousands of defective parts to be produced and no one had been able to change his unconcerned attitude. I took him to a telephone office where our switching equipment was deployed. It had mechanical, vertical and rotary switches. When someone dialed, for example, a three then a two, a lever moved up three notches and sideways two positions. This would continue for the entire 10-digit phone number, physically connecting the caller to the person whose number they dialed.

I showed the operator how his piece part was vital to this process and explained that he wouldn’t be able to call his family in an emergency if a defective part jammed the levers. The next day, he refused to work and my boss called me into his office to demand that I fix the trouble I caused. When I asked the machine operator why he stopped working, he insisted on first having a proper setup with samples and control charts to ensure his parts were good—procedures he had previously refused to implement.

Soon after immigrating to Toronto, I worked with another telecommunications organization, assisting each level of the workplace with various quality functions: From the shop floor to corporate headquarters and hardware to software. I learned that each department requires a slightly different approach to change management.

I worked with shop floor employees, teaching them to measure samples and control their processes by participating in quality circles to identify issues and find solutions. I taught engineers and managers how to use quality tools to find and eliminate the root cause of problems by facilitating problem-solving teams. I also held strategic planning sessions with senior management, and demonstrated how to define and measure key process indicators.

It is important for quality professionals to learn to relate to and influence people at all levels and functions in an organization, because our duties transcend typical workplace structures.

I was asked to troubleshoot a manufacturing line with a high defect rate. I conducted a statistical experiment and discovered that design tolerances made it impossible for assemblers to do any better. The union leader thanked me personally because it was the first time his workers had not been solely blamed for poor quality.

Surprisingly, the defect rate improved anyway, even though nothing had changed. I believe this was due to the famous and sometimes controversial Hawthorne Effect: The workers took steps to make things better because somebody paid attention to them.1

Navigating conflict

I also have developed negotiation and conflict resolution skills that help me implement quality in places where it is not always welcomed initially. For example, I met a new marketing manager and said, "Merry Christmas." He asked where I worked, and when I said "quality," he stood up and asked me to leave his office. He had a bad experience with the quality department in another organization, so I was painted with the same brush.

Instead of leaving, I sat down and asked for his business card. Surprised, he handed it over. I showed him my own card and said, "Oh, look. They have the same logo!" He sat down again and begrudgingly said, "OK, I’ll listen, but I don’t promise to cooperate."

I explained what must be done for quality compliance and suggested that first we agree on what we will actually do and how we will tell our respective bosses. After that, he was great to work with.

These experiences piqued my interest in researching what motivates people to produce good work. I studied various motivation theories and realized a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. In fact, I found no employee will fit completely into one theory at any given time.

I saw that sometimes a key obstacle was personal rather than work-related, but as long as that personal problem was foremost in an employee’s mind, he or she couldn’t focus on the job at hand. I developed a process to identify this obstacle, including using mediation skills to defuse a toxic situation without becoming negatively influenced.

This approach involved being consciously aware that, regardless of your own needs, everyone you talk to is thinking, to some extent, "What’s in it for me?" By understanding what drives an employee’s enthusiasm and relating it to the job at hand, you will motivate him or her to want to do a better job.


  1. "The Hawthorne Effect," The Economist, Nov. 3 2008, http://tinyurl.com/time-hawthorne-effect.

Roy Green is the quality manager at Forsythe Lubrication in Hamilton, Ontario. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Leeds University in the United Kingdom and is a senior member of ASQ.

--Angela B, 06-28-2017

The approach is priceless; the guidance provided is enough to allow the satisfaction of accomplishment and provide another notch in reliability. As once said was change is not mandatory; but then neither is survival. Misquoted but you get it.
--Joe Sullivan, 06-28-2017

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