ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - May 2000

Issue Highlight - The Oversight Fallacy
---There is a persistent belief in this culture that when you have a problem, the way to solve it is to find blame, institute controls and watch it more closely...

In This Issue...
The Costs Of A New Economy
Behavior: It's Not Just For Sociologists Anymore
An Art In Museum Exhibits
Battle Over Stress

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street
Diary of a Shutdown

Behavior: It's Not Just For Sociologists Anymore
Start Thinking of Behavior as the Essential Next Step to Improve Quality at Your Company

-- Imagine the scene Kelly Flynn, Ph.D., senior consultant at Behavioral Science Technology Inc., Fort Worth, TX, frequently sees at the production facilities she visits: Monica, a new hire, is being introduced to the tasks of her job. She's also being indoctrinated into company behavior, as defined by her colleagues.

--Monica and Phil, her supervisor, leave the company front office and walk to Monica's new position on the production line.

--"Next we'll go down to where you'll be working," Phil explains, raising his voice over the rumble of heavy machinery. "You'll partner with Judy, your training buddy. She'll show you how it's done."


--"At this point the parts need to be tested for quality. Of course you're also making sure the right numbers are coming down the line, but you're checking to make sure they're straight, not defective. Judy, this is Monica. She'll train with you today."

--"Right. Hi."


--"Monica, your break's at 11. Don't forget to drop off your paperwork at the front office before you leave today. Judy, can you show her how to gauge the alignment?"

--"Sure thing."

--As Judy stands with Monica at the conveyor belt, she teaches Monica how to keep track of the parts and make sure they're the proper alignment. Judy shows her how to use the gauge. After a few times, Judy says, "Really, it's a pain. They don't give you any extra time to do it in, so the rest of the parts keep going by. If something goes wrong at another line, well, too bad, because I can't catch that while I'm measuring with this." Judy waves the gauge in her hand. "Anyway, I'm not responsible for the alignment, the guys running the casting machines are. But I do get grilled if the number of parts is too low or too high."

--"So what do you do?" Monica asks.

--"See this counter?" Judy points to a numbered dial on the gauge's side. "It's to tell how many parts you've gauged." Judy picks up a part from the line, inserts the gauge and comes up with a reading. The counter clicks over. Then she inserts the gauge three more times quickly and sets the part back on the conveyor belt. Judy gives Monica a smile.

--"Oh, I get it," Monica says.

--Monica has just learned a work-related behavior that, if she chooses to practice it, will affect the level of quality of her employer's product. Judy has just shown Monica how to gauge the same part four times in order to gauge fewer parts total during the day. In Monica's employer's fight to be competitive in a global economy, this transfer of behavior between employees can have major consequences. "Companies have to learn how to translate quality into specific behaviors," says Flynn. "In the 90s we've concentrated on yesterday's measurements, reliability, yield and defects. We have to get past this to the next level-using behavior as the leverage point for achieving higher quality."

--The process starts with a shift in how we think about the relationship between people and quality. Human behavior affects all different aspects of quality, whether it's the tools we use, the way we use them or the procedures we undertake. "Behavior is so universally present that we tend to overlook its central importance to workplace excellence," says Flynn.

Understanding Behavior
-- Flynn uses applied behavior analysis to break down the behavior of workers like Judy and Monica. Applied behavior analyzes antecedents (things that precede behavior), the behavior itself and consequences that follow behavior and reinforce it. All together, it's called ABC (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences) analysis. "Consequences hold the most power," says Flynn. "Antecedents are powerful only to the extent that they predict consequences. Consequences control behavior's re-occurrence."

--To utilize ABC analysis in Judy's company, Flynn applies a grading system she developed to pinpoint what kind of behavior is actually occurring: enabled, difficult or non-enabled. Enabled behavior is what all companies strive for. In the example of Judy's production line, Judy gauges the part at specific intervals when the speed of the line is mitigated, so that she has time to do so without impeding her other duties. Clearly, in Judy's case, it's not enabled behavior.

Handling Difficult Behavior
-- Difficult behavior occurs when minimal barriers to quality performance arise. For example, Judy has time to gauge parts at specified intervals, as long as there are no emergency situations, like too many parts coming down the line. The quality performance behavior in Judy's situation is somewhere close to difficult.

--A non-enabled behavior occurs when a worker faces insurmountable barriers to achieve the quality performance-either the system, machinery, procedures or materials make it impossible to accomplish the task. If Judy faced a non-enabled quality behavior environment, her gauge wouldn't provide an accurate measure of part alignment, her fellow line workers would never use the gauge, and line speed would be too fast to use the gauge and do her other job functions.

--Flynn goes about analyzing Judy's behavior. She lists the antecedents that trigger Judy's behavior and, this is important, Judy's perception of the behavior's consequences. Why Judy's perception, and not the company's? Take this example. The company may perceive that if Judy uses the gauge four times on the same part, Phil will see her and the consequences are she'll be punished. Judy's perception is that Phil is nowhere near her when she measures the part multiple times, so to Judy, a reprimand isn't a perceived consequence.

--Finally Flynn rates the consequences as to whether they occur early or late in the process and if they will occur at all. If the consequences are certain, are they positive or negative? Flynn's research shows positive consequences are more powerful in determining behavior than negative ones. Flynn will then address the problem of Judy's behavior by altering the antecedents and consequences to shift the balance of sooner, certain and positive consequences, as opposed to later, uncertain and negative ones.

Promoting the Right Behavior
-- While the conversation that took place between Judy and Monica may seem difficult to control, there are ways you can promote enabled quality behavior at your company. The first task is to identify the work-related behaviors that are critical to excellent quality, like the volume of parts coming down Monica's line and properly measuring the parts to make sure they're the right alignment.

--The next step is to gather data on variation in performance of the quality performance procedures. How many people are actually using repeat measurements to up the number of parts gauged each day? Flynn recommends providing performance feedback to workgroups and their supervisors to get this information. Finally, remove any system barriers that cause non-enabled quality performance. Once you've taken these steps, you'll need to evaluate your consequences. Are they constant? Are they positive and proactive as opposed to negative and reactive? Do they come at the beginning of the process, instead of later? Assure that consequences are sooner, certain and positive and watch quality performance behavior rise.


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