Culture Clash

Enabling the creativity culture to coexist with the execution culture

by Peter Merrill

When ISO 9001:2000 was first published, it was based on eight principles. The third principle was "People involvement," and reads: "People at all levels are the essence of the organization and their full involvement enables their abilities to the organization's benefit."1

That principle also tied back to the second principle, "Leadership," which includes the text: "Leaders should create and maintain an internal environment in which people can become fully involved in the organization's objectives."2

Soon, it became clear that the issue of people involvement was not really addressed at all in ISO 9001:2000, even though the standard was allegedly based on these eight principles of quality management. The principles were not especially new and had evolved from excellence models such as the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM).

At the time, some argued to justify the exclusion of "involvement" or "engagement" from the standard. Some said it was impossible to audit, and yet Baldrige assessments do it regularly. Others said that competence was all that was needed and people would automatically engage.

These arguments seem foolish and show a total misunderstanding of the issue. As a member of the strategic advisory group of ISO/Technical Committee (TC) 176 at the time, I pointed out this glaring deficiency. It took several years to convince some people, but finally it was agreed in 2007 to write a new standard on people involvement: ISO 10018—Quality management—Guidelines on people involvement and competence.3

Emphasis on people aspects

I will describe the approach we followed in developing ISO 10018. It was designed as a supporting standard for ISO 9001, so we went through each ISO 9001 clause and identified the obstacles to involving people. Of course, it is not just competence.

Next, we went through each obstacle and listed positive actions that could be taken to overcome the obstacle.

Here are some examples of the guidance texts that were provided in the nearly 10,000 words of guidance.

  • The recruitment process should be transparent to job candidates and emphasize the importance of their competence. It also should identify how well a person fits in an organization (for example, alignment with values and attitudes in an organization).
  • All people, including subcontractors, should be involved in identifying environmental deficiencies, and health and safety risks related to their roles. Everyone should be able to report and record hazards, and take corrective action.
  • In planning and carrying out production and service provision under controlled conditions, the organization should ensure people are involved in creating their own work instructions to ensure understanding. The organization also must ensure that work instructions are explained to new people and followed up with mentoring.

As convener of ISO/TC 176/WG15, I guided the development and the broader group in TC 176 started to understand and get excited. The initial group of six dedicated people grew to more than 20 by the end of the work.

What I describe is not great new insight. W. Edwards Deming and Philip B. Crosby heavily emphasized the people aspects of quality management. Deming said, "Drive out fear" and one of Crosby’s 14 steps to quality improvement (step 12—recognition) advocated, "Appreciate those who participate." Both quality pioneers recognized that without a culture of quality, an organization would always struggle.

Engagement and innovation

Quality engagement isn’t just about competency: It’s about people understanding the aims of their organizations, how they contribute to those aims and, most importantly, people becoming personally satisfied when they see their contribution make a difference.

Many organizations have degenerated the roles of manager and team lead into work planners. Those organizations have completely lost the coaching role that managers should perform. For example, good sports coaches do not just deal with game plans and player fitness: They engage each team member to ensure interaction between them works well and the team functions together as a whole. They congratulate people who are successful and encourage others who struggle.

Sadly, many organizations today say this is an HR function. HR creates the framework and provides the tools such as performance assessment, but managers and team leads must execute. They are responsible for ensuring their people are engaged.

Engagement starts with recruitment. Again, HR provides the framework and tools, and often will do the initial screening. But it’s the leader’s job to pick the right people. Unfortunately, this is often just based on competence and does not examine how a person will fit with other team members.

Innovators come in many shapes and sizes, and there’s a tendency to think that if a person is not creative, they cannot innovate. If you have read previous Innovation Imperative columns, you know I emphasize the different roles people play at the different stages of the innovation process. The process starts with people who are good at seeing opportunities. Not everybody excels at that. Without those people, your business will always be fishing in the dark.

There are those who mistakenly think that innovation starts with an idea. If the idea is not related to a good opportunity, it has no value. In the quality profession, we have a high proportion of problem solvers and those who find solutions. Unfortunately, we’re short on people who are good at seeing opportunity—and this directly points to the need for engagement to begin at the recruitment stage.

A word of caution in recruitment: You may have heard of the mirror effect, meaning a tendency to recruit people who mirror your own beliefs and behaviors, and hence your own culture. The key to the two innovation stages described earlier is diversity. These first stages are the creative phase of innovation, and creativity thrives on diversity.4

Different behaviors, different cultures

That brings us to how to strengthen engagement and how it differs with each phase of the innovation process you work with.

Creative people respond to recognition. They want their peers to see them as creative. It is also much easier to engage people in creative work.

Execution people develop working solutions and deliver them. They are numbers-driven and respond better to rewards. I’m generalizing, but these are important considerations.

I mentioned that Crosby stressed recognition—not just to engage people, but also to build a culture of quality. Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy famously described culture as "the way we do things around here."5 It’s about behavior.

  • In the creative phase, the behaviors we want to encourage are exploration, collaboration and experimentation.
  • In the execution phase, collaboration remains essential, but the primary new behaviors we must focus on are need for speed, being results driven and attention to detail.

What this says is that we are looking for two quite different sets of behavior and hence two different cultures that will coexist.

The three primary behaviors in the creative phase imply a high degree of freedom—especially in exploration and collaboration. This, in turn, indicates a lot of process variation, which is counterintuitive for the quality professional.

One of the most frequently asked questions from people interested in innovation is, "How do we create a culture of innovation?" What people are really asking is, "How do we create a culture of creativity?" The reason for the question is that, intuitively, they also understand that creativity flies in the face of the classic quality culture that aims to reduce process variation, increase process efficiency and produce highly predictable results.

A culture of creativity allows time and space for people to explore, collaborate and experiment. The creative phase of innovation needs an open network and a loose process for new ideas to emerge, and the freedom to change direction as new knowledge emerges. Unfortunately, the search for speed and efficiency has driven this out of organizations.

As the discipline of knowledge management emerged in the late 1990s, it became recognized that typically only 20% of an organization’s knowledge can be documented. The majority of knowledge is the tacit and subconscious knowledge in people’s minds.

The behaviors that will release and develop this knowledge start with exploration and interaction with new people, and having new experiences. You repeatedly hear the expression, "Step outside of the box." Today, we work in a box, have lunch in a box and think in a box. People want to be released from this mental prison.

Giving people time and space is the first step to a creative culture. It is this release from prison that makes it so easy to engage people in creative thinking.

Wanted: Diversity

Interacting with people who are different from ourselves is the next step, which isn’t easy. The mirror effect often draws us to people of similar backgrounds and experience. Diversity creates tension, but this tension creates new knowledge.

Research by Scott Page, a Caltech professor, showed how a group of ordinary but diverse people had far greater collective knowledge than a group of Mensa-level, or high IQ, people. The ordinary guys consistently outperformed the Mensa people at problem solving because of their collective knowledge.6

Collaborating with people who are different is not easy, so we must discover and respect their strengths. As Stephen Covey said, "Seek to understand before you seek to be understood."7

The third key behavior in a creative culture is experimentation—that is, a willingness to try things and not be afraid to fail. Capturing the learning from failure is how we grow knowledge. Willingness to take risk has been suppressed over the last decade.

Perhaps one of the best stories of celebrating learning from failure is the popular household product, WD-40. When Norman Larsen finally found his solution back in 1953, he recognized the learning from 39 previous failures by naming his product WD (water displacement) No. 40.8

This creative culture gets us to a radical concept solution that can potentially beat the competition. However, as Thomas Edison said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."9 The execution phase of innovation demands the process efficiency and speed to market of quality management, which is vital for delivery of innovative solutions.

The challenge is how to enable the creativity culture to coexist with the execution culture and the speed of quality management. You can be sure that someone else has a similar or the same idea. The execution culture requires sharp focus on the finish line. An effective quality management system becomes imperative.

A quality culture reduces process variation, increases process efficiency and produces highly predictable results. It starts with the need for focus on today’s customer. With innovation, the focus is on tomorrow's customer. The job of quality leadership is to set direction and engage the people—which is the same in both cultures. We see divergence in the approach to managing processes, as already mentioned.

Measurement also will be different: Measurement in quality management is more granular. In both cases, improvement is driven by measurement, and business partners are an essential part of the business ecosystem. The challenge, therefore, is to deal with the areas of difference, which are primarily in process management. The solution lies in organization structure.

Structure for coexistence

There are different structural frameworks that can be used to allow these two cultures to coexist, and we must find the one that works best for us. As organizations grow, they become less agile, and flexibility is essential to allow creativity.

To allow creativity, we need the organization to reduce hierarchy, encourage diversity and be independent. If an organization has grown too large, a spin-off may be needed. And it may be best for a spin-off to develop its own IT and HR to encourage new knowledge and new behavior. The leader of the spin-off also may need to report to a higher level to bypass roadblocks.10

You must recognize new behaviors, not results. Recognize participation in innovation and not heroic defenses of the old. Reinforcing new behaviors builds trust, especially when they are based on the new values that they imply.

A culture of quality and a platform of quality management are essential for delivering innovative offerings. Innovative new offerings only develop when a creativity culture coexists with the quality culture in an organization that is structured to allow for that coexistence.

References and Notes

  1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 9001:2000—Quality management systems—Requirements, www.iso.org/standard/21823.html.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ISO, ISO 10018—Quality management—Guidelines on people involvement and competence, www.iso.org/standard/46233.html.
  4. If you want to know where you will engage best in the innovation process, visit ASQ’s Innovation Division website (http://asq.org/innovation-group) and do the self-assessment. Find out whether you fit in one of the two creative steps, or maybe you can engage better in one of the execution steps of development and delivery that follow.
  5. Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy, Corporate Cultures, Addison-Wesley, 1982.
  6. Scott Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  7. Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  8. WD-40, "Fascinating Facts You Never Learned in School," https://wd40.com/cool-stuff/history.
  9. Thomas Edison’s direct quote is "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Wikiquote, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Alva_Edison.
  10. For more examples, see Peter Merrill’s Innovation Imperative column "Coordinating Coexistence," from July 2017’s Quality Progress at http://asq.org/quality-progress/2017/07/innovation-imperative/coordinating-coexistence.html.

Peter Merrill is president of Quest Management Inc., an innovation consultancy based in Burlington, Ontario. Merrill is the author of several ASQ Quality Press books, including Innovation Never Stops (2015), Do It Right the Second Time, second edition (2009), and Innovation Generation (2008). He is a member of ASQ, previous chair of the ASQ Innovation Division and current chair of the ASQ Innovation Think Tank. Merrill is also head of delegation for his country to ISO/TC 279 Innovation Management.

Once again Peter stated the obvious that eludes most management. One have to state ahead of the curve to stay head...
--Alex Lau, 03-18-2018

After reading the article I obtained a copy of ISO 10018. It is generally redundant to what is already in ISO 9001. That being said, it also mainly addresses product, with the word service sprinkled in here and there. The service industry, and government services, will never improve when the quality standards are so product oriented. Just adding the word service to a production standard that uses production language does not adequately cover services. Also, this standard is badly in need of an update.
--Chris, 03-13-2018

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