ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2001


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

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

Getting Back To Basics
Lessons Learned in Childhood to Shape the Future

His early childhood memories create images of a small, rural town where as a young boy he spent his days working with his siblings on a farm. It was there that Doug Stark first recognized the impact cooperation has in keeping an environment alive. His first peer performance appraisals were conducted with his family members in “Pow-Wow” sessions where each person shared their thoughts with one another about strengths and opportunities. The country schoolhouse, with one teacher and six grades in a single room, helped him understand the differences between leadership and management, the importance of mentoring and the power of teamwork. His upbringing instilled in him strong beliefs in people’s capacity to change, the equal importance of all individual contributions in achieving a goal and the lasting influence of strong leadership.

  Today, Doug Stark, Director of Organization Training and Development for the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, is actively practicing the lessons he learned on the farm and in the schoolhouse. He is a dedicated leader, a dynamic manager, trainer and facilitator and a selfless board member and volunteer. He has over 25 years of experience in organizational development and training, and over 20 years in quality and employee involvement. He has worked for companies such as Friedkin Business Services, Houston Lighting and Power and Curtin Matheson Scientific.

  Stark also conducts training sessions teaching effective facilitation skills. Sit in a meeting that he is facilitating and you will see his ideals, skills and charisma come to life. He has a natural way of practicing what he preaches and inspiring others to do the same. His unique style facilitates progression and accomplishment and his care for others creates commitment and energy in all those around him.

  Here, Stark shares the lessons he learned as a child and how they impact our workplace. His reflections on the past 20 years in the quality field tell us what has changed and what we can do about it.

NFC: You have over 25 years of experience in organizational development and training, and over 20 years in quality and employee involvement. How did you get started? What changes have you seen and where do you see the future heading?

Stark: I once worked for a great retail organization. My time in the stores taught me that the only way to get the job done and satisfy the customer was to set a strong pace, be clear on the direction and value each team member for what he or she brings to the table. I loved the teamwork in the stores which made me realize that if you treat people with respect and ask them for their ideas that they work well for you.
  The biggest disconnect I found in the stores was that because of how I treated people and the success of our department, other people wanted to transfer into my areas. This caused a problem with other managers that were, as we said, “my way or the highway” type leaders. Some said what I was doing was inappropriate and that the people were running the department, not me. They started to open their eyes as the results of my department kept coming in as one of the top in the whole chain.
  The changes I have seen have come through many downsizings, right sizings and outsourcings. We have had to become much more team-based to survive for several reasons. We work at a much faster pace than we did 20 years ago. Fax machines, e-mail, cell phones and computers have helped us work faster and smarter, while becoming progressively less kind to each other. Our expectations are that we have to be able to reach each other anytime, anyplace. It seems to me that people have not changed that much other than our expectations of one another are much higher—even though we don’t talk to each other very much.

NFC: Why do you believe so strongly in the power of teams to accomplish things? You claim to be “the man behind the scenes.” What have you witnessed from that angle that has touched you and kept you going?

Stark: This is a very basic value that came from my family. I came from a family of six, living in a farming community in Michigan. I went to a one-room country school and worked on a dairy farm from my earliest memory. Each day at breakfast our family talked about the jobs for the day and who was doing them. Then at the dinner table we talked about what happened that day. On Thursday night we had a “Pow-Wow” and discussed what was bothering us with each other.
  I knew it took all of us to do the jobs and keep things running. Being successful was more important than my individual contribution. I learned the value of looking at the big picture and staying focused, even when bad things happened. The driver for me is seeing the team be successful. I love breakthroughs that are creative and blow away the norms. My parents instilled in me to, “Try something you haven’t done.” It is OK to try something new and inventive, however, if it doesn’t work, don’t try to do the same thing again and expect different results. Learning is the key.
  In 1980 I had a life-changing event. The doctors kept saying physically I wasn’t going to make it, but mentally there was no way I wasn’t going to. I learned very quickly that so much of what we do is more mental than physical, and in the work you do with a team—in this case doctors, nurses, etc.—the power of the team gets you through. That was a big deal to me.

NFC: What do you see as the difference between management and leadership?

Stark: I’ll take you to the one-room country school. There was no way my teacher, Miss Nelson, could have been a manager. She had to be a leader because she was working with 30 students in six different grades everyday. She had to lead us into being responsible for our own work. She would spend an hour a day with each class separately at the front of the building while the others worked on their own work with their team—and it was a team. We would help each other and also coach the people behind us because we’d been through it before. There is no way a person could try to manage all that. It had to be leadership that instilled in us the desire and enthusiasm to do it.

NFC: From a young age you were empowered to work on your own.

Stark: I hate to use the “E” word. Most people misunderstand the “E” word because they don’t see correct examples of it in action. Empowerment is really about boundaries more than anything else. The issue we have today in the workplace is that people don’t know how to set boundaries and stick with them.

NFC: It is important to find the middle ground between too much freedom and too much control.

Stark: Absolutely. Back in the one-room country school, we would practice fire drills. It was very clear if we were practicing a fire drill, Miss Nelson went into the manager role. It was a crisis and she had to deal with it. If there was discipline issue, she also went to the manager role. However, 90 percent of the time, she was in the leader role. She had to be.

NFC: A good manager knows when and where to go back and forth. What do you think is the employee’s role in those functions?

Stark: One, they have to ask really good questions so they understand. It is not about the discussions behind the manager’s back. It is having enough guts and enough confidence to go up and ask, “I don’t understand why we are doing this. Can you tell me why?” A lot of the reasons there are problems is that some managers are so strong the employees feel threatened or scared by them. Some people manage so employees are in fear of their jobs. That is just wrong. It is the whole shift we’ve made from a highly specialized workforce to a culture of “quality as everyone’s job.” As an employee, you have to communicate what’s working and what’s not. Now, if there is a fire and you want to argue with a manager about the best way to put it out, you are out of bounds.

NFC: Right there you mentioned a couple of characteristics you find important in employees. As a champion of employee involvement and development, what other traits do you see in the most dynamic and successful people you’ve worked with?

Stark: As far as managers or employees, they blend. One of the words that is probably coined somewhere by some consultant that I think is wonderful is “change-able.” They are able to deal with change within themselves, but can also help others see the value in change. I see people who like to do things their way and that is different than helping people understand where we need to go, what we need to do to get there and most importantly, why. That piece is very critical to me. I also see people who are externally focused. They are not interested in self-promotion. They are focused on the employees, customers, shareholders and trying to do what fundamentally makes the most sense for everybody to win. Someone who is truly a champion gives freely of their resources—particularly their time. Where I work, the president attempts to speak everyday to our “Principles of Service” class. For a president to say everyday, “I’m going to build that into my calendar,” is a gift many leaders won’t give. They’ll send their vice presidents who’ll send their directors who’ll send their leaders who’ll send their supervisors. I’m not saying those other folks don’t create value, but the power and impact he makes is incredible to that group.

NFC: That support is one of the most important factors in helping teams get things done. They don’t want to be micromanaged, but they do want recognition.

Stark: Part of it is recognition, but it also takes away the mystery of top management. Remember the theory of management by walking around? I see it as “interacting around.” I think a lot of people misunderstand that. It isn’t just being visibly seen. You can’t just walk the floor and then go back to your office. The value comes from talking to people about what they do and what the real issues are. It is about being connected. Champions have to go beyond the walk.

NFC: What other experiences have you gone through that have shaped your feelings about people and their abilities to be responsible and respected in the workplace?

Stark: At the Electric Utility of Houston, I worked with the team process. I had such an incredible experience of watching the teams being pulled together and given new skills. They were used to just doing what they did everyday, but really came up with some innovative and creative ideas—and the leaders were open to those ideas. If the leader of that team had not given them the time to be creative and innovative, they would have never been successful. Leaders have to be open to ideas they’ve never thought of. When that happens, the power of the group is incredible.
   Many ideas are also lost through the miles of red tape found in large, bureaucratic organizations due to a lack of vision from the top.

NFC: Is there any way those traits can be shared with others—either through hands-on experience or training?

Stark: I think you can learn many skills behaviorally through training. You can understand the steps you need to go through, but there is an intrinsic value that has to be present for that to happen. If people haven’t experienced it themselves, I don’t know how you can expect them to do it, other than modeling the characteristics everyday. Believe me, I don’t walk on water, but I try really hard to live by these principles. It is so important to mentor people and be honest with them as opposed to handing them a performance appraisal with all fives marked off and no explanation. The discussion and feedback is critical. Some can be learned behaviorally, but I don’t know how to build the value. How do you get someone to be enthusiastic? I’d make lots of money if I could answer that. You can tell them how it looks, but if it isn’t there, it isn’t there. I’m a firm believer in selecting the right people. You can teach skills, but not values. I hired a woman who was not polished by any means, but the values were underlying that she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Today she is doing great and moving up.

NFC: Henry Ford once said, “There isn’t a person anywhere that isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can.” It is just planting that seed within them to want to achieve and want to take chances. If you fail, you fail, but at least you are trying to make yourself and your organization better.

Stark: There are two slogans that have stuck with me for a long time. One is, “Success comes in cans, not in cannots.” I heard Joel Weldon say that years ago, but it really hit me hard. The other one is by Norman Vincent Peale: “You become what you think about most often.” If you think you are going to fail, you will. You don’t know if you are going to be successful unless you try. Being open to the risk and learning from it is so critical. And make sure they are reasonable risks. I’m not telling you to jump off of a building to see if you can fly. There is a protocol based upon research that says to take reasonable risks. There is a time and a place for that—and it is very important to know the difference. All great things aren’t done by impulse.

NFC: We’ve talked about training, modeling and reinforcing behaviors for leaders. What other major pieces do you feel leaders miss?

Stark: The celebration when it is over. Even if the prices haven’t fallen and the quality isn’t higher, you’ve done something that needs to be rejoiced.

NFC: Is that one of the things you think makes teams so special?

Stark: Teams are successful when they are taking steps and managers are recognizing those steps. One of the things I always talk to a new team about is taking on something small to go through the process, learn the process and be comfortable with the process before taking on something bigger. Never start with the multi-million dollar project. You have to get better as a team first before you can tackle that. Managers who force teams into the mega-deal right off the bat are going to be pretty upset if the team doesn’t have the skills already intrinsically in them.

NFC: It is like giving a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle to a 5-year-old.

Stark: They’ll eat it and ruin it. There has to be balance there. I find it amazing how many organizations say to me, “We did teams for a year and they didn’t work.” For people who truly understand, change takes from a year to 18 months to start happening. It shocks me how many people follow the slogan of the month without really understanding it. True advocates of teams haven’t just gotten into it. They’ve lived it a good portion of their lives.

NFC: Is jumping at the “flavor of the month” a big obstacle to team performance?

Stark: I think it becomes an obstacle. The issue is whether they are looking at a tool or a process. Many times there are a lot of new tools put out there and they just grab one and use it, but there is not a process attached to it. If you are trying to use a problem-solving process and all you teach people is brainstorming, cause and effect diagrams or just-in-time—tools without relation to the processes or where they fit—it is not going to work. Most of the early team training was on tools and not processes. The two pieces have to go together for people to get it.

NFC: How has training changed?

Stark: In the late 70s there was very little discussion of teams and how to develop high-performing organizations. The other thing was that we were not very good at recognition and celebration. Because of these changes, we have to train on what I call “common sense”—like giving and receiving constructive feedback, how to treat and respect each other and developing boundaries for working together. Another major change is that we used to train specific people for specific jobs. Now we train all employees in all aspects of work. We have also graduated from a task environment to a process world where quality is everyone’s responsibility, not just the quality people’s.

NFC: Reflecting on your life thus far, what have you really learned?

Stark: Think about your life and how you’ve come together as a person. I have learned to reflect and go back to truly appreciate some of those early lessons I learned on the farm and at school. I am truly drawn to the heart of quality, not just the tools—although they are very important. What is very meaningful to me is the gel that holds the processes and tools together. You need that value. If you are simply going through the motions, people will see right through you.

NFC: There are a lot of people out there who haven’t had a Miss Nelson or been introduced to a similar environment. It is all about experience. The only way to truly learn is to value others’ experiences and take them as your own.

Stark: And to actually put yourself in different circumstances. Turn off the cartoons while sitting with the kids and talk to them or read a book with them. You create your world by taking reasonable risks and learning from them and others.

July 2001 News for a Change Homepage

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