ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

March 1998


Teaching An Organization To Learn

Scenario Planning

The Sinking Of The Titanic

Through Rain, Sleet And New Quality Initiatives

Striving To Deliver Excellence

Not Your Typical Oil Change


Reality: What A Concept
by Peter Block

Reflections On The Baldrige Winners
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

John Runyan Responds

I like this question and its thoughtful challenge for three reasons. First, its wording calls for a philosophic, even artistic response. Secondly, it allows me to comment on some existential organizational issues that I often face but rarely get a chance to discuss with my colleagues and clients. Finally, you imply that you are approaching the achievement of significant success in your change efforts - you're not mired in the early stages of these initiatives.

Obviously, one set of answers to these questions lies in the quantitative and analytic arena. "You're done when you have reached your specific targets and your overall goal. You're done when your performance is best in class against benchmarks that have been established in your industry. You're done when you've earned 100 percent of your possible bonus." And so on....

However, the master painter frame for your inquiry suggests that you are looking for something more difficult to measure and capture. To join you in your search, I need to start from a strongly held point of view, and then work my way in a personal fashion back to your bottom-line questions. I take this approach because I face the same real-life difficulties in my own working life.

I start with the premise that the first and greatest challenge in business today is to know and act on what really matters at the point of initiating any change effort. I believe that all of us, ranging from executives to managers to front-line staff to professional change agents, are faced with the dilemma of sorting out what really matters from an ever-increasing swirl of opportunities, problems, activities and distractions. Every day brings a greater clamor of information, input, data and debate. In the midst of this highly charged environment, my colleagues and I do well to keep our heads on our shoulders and above water, most of the time.

As a result, I spend more and more time in a triage process. Ever in search of what may better inform me, guide me and eventually focus my efforts toward what really matters, I sift and sift through voice-mail, e-mail, regular mail, mail from the press and the pundits and a myriad of publications, not to mention my own thoughts, feelings and aspirations.

It Ain't Easy
So when I hear your question about what and when is enough or at least the best that we can do, my initial reaction is a twinge of jealousy. I don't know many leaders, managers or workers who are close to the end of their major change efforts. Perhaps my role as a consultant distorts my perspective, but I am acquainted with many people who are struggling to simply make straight-ahead progress at the early and middle stages of their most basic practical and cultural change projects. In many businesses, I watch change programs multiply in geometric fashion as the competition and problems of the marketplace increase. Due to factors and initiatives beyond their control, workers rarely get a chance to really sink their teeth into one effort before they are pulled into the next change project. The result is often a rising frustration followed by confusion and, at times, a deepening cynicism about all efforts to manage change.

For you who are approaching "the most efficient processes and systems," what ever your particular masterpiece may be, I salute you. Sorting through degrees of success and satisfaction in today's organizational world is an enviable position.

While the criteria for saying, "we're done" may be primarily quantitative, I also suggest listening to your feelings, energy and spirit to hear what they say about your progress. These are harder things to assess and measure, but I believe that they are equally important drivers of your actions and contributors to your best decision making.
As I grow older and, hopefully, wiser in this field, I think more and more that these intangibles are the real qualities of the working world. As the clamor and chaos of the marketplace increase, fewer people have the sheer intellect and radar-like insight to see far ahead and know exactly what to do to achieve success. Therefore, the rest of us have to rely on our instincts, intuitions, and intrinsic motivations to keep us moving in the right directions in marketplaces and workplaces where unrelenting change is the norm.

Whether we acknowledge them or not, our energy, spirit and emotions produce these very personal, human and unique guiding systems. Monitoring the flows of these intangibles may seem unusual, awkward, and perplexing, especially in business contexts where thought and logic hold sway. However, "reading" ourselves is crucial to making wise judgements about how and where to invest our finite resources.
In various past work settings, I often discounted or ignored the energy level that I felt in my body, the rise and fall of my spirit and the rhythms of my emotions. I subordinated these intangibles to a powerful work ethic and the belief that somebody higher up in the organization knew where to go, what to do and when we were done.
I know now from observation, shared experiences and many successes and failures that I need to bring all of myself to the judgements that I make about where to invest my time and effort. Taking my energy, spirit and emotion fully into account provides me with vital information when my intellect and logic are not enough to make me a master of my own world. I definitely do not want to leave important decisions about the direction and degree of investment in my working life exclusively to others, even my best boss or my respected colleagues.
To answer your questions, I suggest you begin with the quantitative and move to the qualitative. First, use the building blocks of benchmarking, process analysis and the sophisticated measurement tools available in the marketplace. Then, turn to internal experiences that you and your colleagues have had with the work you are doing.

Ask yourselves:
o Are you still motivated and energized in the change efforts that you are making?
o What happens to your spirit and your pride as you contemplate declaring that what you've done is enough?
o What feelings flow through you as you come to closure on the processes and systems that you have chosen?

When your answers to these questions are factored into the judgement that you have to make about "what is enough," you'll have the best chance of coming to a wise choice for yourself and those around you.

H. James Harrington Responds

March '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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