ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum


Online Edition - July 2001

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Issue Highlight — Turnabout Is Fair Play
- Take a look back at one of Peter Block's best columns as he helps bridge the gap between employee and manager and offers his invaluable "Employee Manifesto."

 In This Issue...
Getting Back To Basics
Change Of Space
Banking On Quality
Is Your Quality Process "Running On Empty?"

Recommended By A Friend


 Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Brief Cases


Return to NFC Index



Is Your Quality Process "Running On Empty?"
Understanding Human Behavior Can Help Managers Motivate Change

by Davis Balestracci

“Culture eats strategic plans for lunch.”
—William Rupp, MD & CEO Luther/Midelfort-Mayo Health System

Has your organization become enamored with Jack Welch and begun flirting with jumping on the Six Sigma bandwagon? Well, it may be the fad du jour, but it is also the right thing to do...at least in theory.

Statistics...Again?
Despite publicity and massive training, statistics isn’t driving many alleged Six Sigma miracles—as much as 20 years as a master’s degreed industrial and healthcare quality statistician would want me to think otherwise. Behind all of the ninja-like mystique lies an unrelentingly focused management attention on key results. This very lack of attention is what doomed most Total Quality Management (TQM) efforts to failure. Now, like TQM, Six Sigma as panacea is being used to justify thinly disguised cost-cutting programs driven by undercurrents of fear.

   Six Sigma made a serendipitous appearance as the economic-reality chickens were finally coming home to roost. Many early results came from processes generating levels of waste that could literally no longer be tolerated. Such stellar results are best described paraphrasing the late curmudgeon W. Edwards Deming, “All you’ve done is get your processes to where they should have been in the first place. That is not improvement! What took you so long?”

Why Should Stressed Humans Be Logical?
Regardless of intentions or desired results, work processes are currently perfectly designed to get the results they are already getting and will continue to get. Any work culture predictably sees a threat lurking in any proposed change and must, instinctively, somehow evaluate this perceived threat. Fear will manifest. Never underestimate frightened humans’ ingenuity to stonewall an effort or create unintended consequences—while seeming to obtain the desired results. True success and real results will depend on formally managing this natural resistance, with much patience, as part of the process—neither personalizing nor punishing it.

   TQM and Six Sigma emphasize: 1. work processes; 2. thinking and decision-making tools and 3. quality of decision-making information. These design and infrastructure elements are an engine. They are necessary, but hardly sufficient. Engines need fuel, resulting from the quality of: 4. personal feedback given to workers; 5. relationships transmitting organizational information; 6. perceptions and feelings influencing these relationships and 7. each individual’s mindset.

   Think of these elements as a seven-level pyramid, progressively widening and getting more fundamental from level one to seven.
An uncertain economy, job insecurity and societal and technological upheavals have created unprecedented life stress. Managers who consider this motivating should beware: Emotional issues previously invisible in the workplace now lurk to create toxic coworker and customer relationships.
  Like it or not, we are all just “People being people.” People do not mind change, they just hate being changed. We need more humanity in the workplace—call it “10 percent ‘jerk time’ allowance”—and organizations should resolve conflict by focusing on the needs of the business.

Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI) appeared 5-6 years ago. All the “profundity” is simply five skills:

• Self-awareness: Observing one’s self and recognizing a feeling as it happens,

• Managing emotions: Handling feelings so they are appropriate; realizing what is behind a feeling; finding ways to handle fears, anxieties, anger and sadness,

• Self-motivation: Channeling emotions in the service of a goal, emotional self control, delaying gratification and stifling impulses,

• Empathy: Sensitivity to others’ feelings and concerns and taking their perspective, appreciating differences in how people feel about things,

• Handling relationships: Managing emotions in others, social competence and social skills.

   These address the most fundamental element of the quality pyramid—an individual’s mindset. Getting people to understand and insulate hot buttons to depersonalize issues while channeling this energy towards business results is the most efficient way to improve pyramid levels four through six.

   “Of course! Train ‘em!” you say. Ah, but change would be so easy if it weren’t for all the people...

Individual Mindset—“You are What You Were When...”
Individual work behaviors result from values absorbed before age 20. Values develop in reaction to getting four basic needs consistently satisfied: survival, love and be loved, feeling important and variety. Values subconsciously filter all life situations to get these needs met and create reflex-like rules, resulting in unconscious behavior patterns. After age 20, values virtually lock and tend to change only by jolts of significant life events such as birth, death, marriage, illness, layoff, middle age, etc.

   With needs in balance, one feels a sense of control. Perceived threats to one’s personal needs upset this balance and divert all energy to the need in danger. Irrational, usually alienating, predictable defensive patterns result, which betray the values driving them and the needs not being met. Unrelated, deep-seated issues have unwittingly sabotaged communication!

   Unfortunately, today’s workplace has become fertile ground for breeding such threats—you name it...somebody’s mad! Defensive behaviors must be depersonalized, appropriately confronted and treated in respectful, non-judgmental manners genuinely committed to the person’s success. Non-threatening descriptions help people develop needed maturity to see defensive behaviors as unintended patterns that are barriers to business results and employment security.

   A cultural value of, “Oops...10 percent jerk time! Help me learn from it,” encourages open discussions of needed replacement values. Unless a value changes, behavior will not change long term. Subsequent behavior observed by peers will be the true test and fodder for additional feedback, if needed.

Business Mindset
The four needs have organizational counterparts: survival, respect, market niche and innovation. Their interaction with individuals’ needs creates the organizational culture of communication, which is also threatened by change. Expecting change via “spray and pray” intensive seminars and annual “Kumbaya” retreats is naïve.

   A powerful signal addressing these issues would be immediate expectation and ongoing experiences of zero cultural tolerance for blatant blame and “victim” behaviors. Additionally, what values do hirings, promotions and terminations signal? The culture is watching and looking for excuses!

   Unfortunately, you won’t find the “46 Steps” book or audiotape for implementing this difficult transition. Bottomline for management: Do your behaviors and organizational culture balance their needs with employees’ needs to motivate a choice to change?

Important Lessons I’ve Learned
• People are already doing the best they can.

• The only person I can change and speak for is myself.

• How do I change to get people to volunteer to change?

• I must learn to swallow my ego 10 times before breakfast and
another dozen times before lunch.

• Most human problems are permanent. My ever-present mantra needs to be, “Those darn humans—God bless ‘em!”

Davis Balestracci, independent consultant, is a master’s-degreed statistician with a 20-year career spanning manufacturing and health care. Known nationally and internationally for innovative statistical teaching and applications, Davis is also a passionate, provocative, challenging, yet down-to-earth speaker on the daily realities of being a “change agent”—including the inherent frustrations of dealing with “those darn humans!”


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