Is Every Quality Professional a Leader?

Here at ASQ we’ve introduced a powerful idea that I think can and should help shape our future.

The idea is this: Every quality professional, a leader.

Like a lot of fundamentally important concepts, this sounds simple and straightforward but needs to be thought out a bit.  In short, we want, need, and expect every one of our members—and indeed,  every person in the quality community—to grow and develop as leaders.

We at ASQ understand and endorse this idea and accept the implicit responsibility to help our members do just that.  You may hear much about leadership, but some—or even many—quality professionals don’t get opportunities to participate in leadership training. For a lot of ASQ members, I am convinced that whatever we provide may be the only leadership training they get.

So what is this connection between leadership and quality, and why is it so important?  Simply put, the quality professional, wherever he or she may be and at whatever level of management, must be a leader to be effective.  The quality professional at work somewhere in the quality field is not an artist alone at the canvas. That professional is bringing insight, tools, principles, and personal example to someone—to some crew, team, or section; to a business unit; or to something even bigger, such as a hospital, a federal agency, or a school system.

This task is going to be bigger than the sole person, perhaps much bigger.  It will involve other people, with all of their complexities, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.  So whatever our quality professional is working on, it is going to take leadership to get the job done.

Some have made the case recently that quality professionals lack the business skills needed to connect with the C-suite. Others note that quality professionals sometimes lack the “soft skills” needed to make the case for quality outside the quality department. Leadership encompasses all of the above. Business savvy, people skills, and decisive action all are required to get results in the world.

Now I want to hear from you. Do you think you are a quality leader? What kind of leadership training did you receive and was it enough?

Charting A Strategy For Quality–And Beyond

Before joining ASQ, I spent my entire career in the U.S. Army. As you may guess, strategy was an essential part of my education.  I was fortunate to attend the British Army Staff College and the Naval War College, the Army having given up educating me at an early age. I had the chance to help develop and implement strategy at several stages in my career.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to work with the ASQ Strategic Planning Committee and see how the board and the staff work together to develop ASQ’s strategy.  I have been impressed by the passion, openness, and collaboration that characterized our process.

I am someone who loves the study of strategy and I firmly believe that the underlying principles of strategy apply to almost any field of endeavor, whether you’re working in a corporation, a nonprofit, a small business, an NGO, an educational institution, healthcare–you name it.

The purpose of strategy, after all, is to answer this question: How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?  What is your path?  How are you going to get there, what steps do you need to take, and in what order?

This month, I’d like to offer five key questions about strategy that you may find useful as you work on your own strategic planning. These principles served me well when I was in uniform, and I think they will serve ASQ well now.

One caveat: Determine how much time you have to spend on strategy and act accordingly. We all must get things done, so we must not fall to “paralysis by analysis.” We can only admire the problem for so long. A good rule of thumb many of us learned in the military is the one-third, two-thirds rule.  Each level of command (or management) takes one-third of the allotted planning time and leaves two-thirds to their subordinates.  If each level of command disciplines itself to that standard, there will be a fair allocation of planning time for everyone.

1.  What are your key facts and assumptions? All strategies are based on certain essential facts and assumptions. My suggestion: Write down your facts and assumptions.  Having them in your head isn’t enough. Expose them to the scrutiny of your boss and your colleagues.  If one of your key assumptions is the availability of a certain material, is it safe to assume it will be available to you at the price and in the quantity you need?  Finally, be especially aware of hidden assumptions—these are dangerous.   It’s an assumption you may take as a given, but, in fact, it may not be.

2.  What is your theory of victory? That is a way of saying,  okay, let’s say you can accomplish all the components of your strategy- will it get you to where you want to go?  There are many examples of both nations and corporations successfully accomplishing the vital aspects of their strategy only to find their theory about where it would get them was fundamentally flawed.

3. Can you actually accomplish each aspect of your strategy? I call this the feasibility test. Something in your strategy may sound good, “be first to market,” or “cut our price by 50%,” but can you actually do it?  If the honest answer is no, it cannot be part of your strategy.

4. Is your organization doing things that sit outside your strategy? These things may be good to do, but if they seem to be outside your strategy you should question them.  They are consuming resources – time, people, and money–, but you are not balancing their cost and benefit compared to the rest of your strategy.  I am very suspicious of activities that seem to be outside my strategic framework.

5. Have you left enough planning time to test your strategy? You must test your strategy before you deploy it.  The testing might be as sophisticated as thousands of computer-run simulations or it may be as simple as a bunch of your best staff people sitting around a table trying to poke holes in your strategy.  Ask others, especially other leaders, for feedback on your strategy before it’s finalized and presented.  I have learned that an 80% solution that has been tested can often be quickly improved and you will be far better off than a more polished product that is deployed with little or no testing.

That’s my approach to strategy. What’s your approach–in your organization, your business, your professional association, or even in your personal life?