Monday 20 May 2013
I read Julia McIntosh’s post rounding up the ASQ World Conference on Quality with unusual interest. Firstly because I wasn't at the conference and wanted to remain updated. Secondly because Julia had written it. I am sure we all on the Influential Voices program have remained impressed with Julia’s dedication for the program. This post was a way to assess how good she is at writing – something she expects us to do every month. Must say, she didn't need this assessment. Her post is a well-rounded summary of the conference and if you were not there, it is highly recommended reading.
I am delighted that Dan Pink was one of the keynotes at the conference. His work on what motivates us to give our best is amazing. I wrote about his book Drive in one of my earlier posts. I have also written about how quality professionals are risk averse for a range of reasons including personal traits of being calm, composed, academic, rigor oriented. Read Dan’s theory and think about the characteristics of quality professional and you won’t need a PhD to understand that quality professionals can not be motivated by short-term benefits. They need, in Dan’s words - Self-direction, autonomy, mastery and purpose.
John Hunter of the Edwards Deming Institute has supported Dan Pink’s findings a recent post. I read this piece with interest – looking for evidence on how Dan’s views are in sync with those of Deming’s. I found little. Now, I completely respect Dr. Deming for his work but am not sure how his views matched what Dan Pink is now saying. Deming's most famous point around managing people was eliminating work standards and management by objectives. What Dan is saying is that standards and incentives are good for repetitive and mundane tasks. So, a lot of credit is due to Dr. Deming but not on this point. Sorry.
If we adopt what Dan Pink is saying, then autonomy, mastery, and purpose are more useful in getting quality professionals to deliver. True. Not always maybe. I would rely on something Juran said on empowerment. Capability precedes empowerment. Similarly Stephen R Covey has written about trustworthiness being a function of character and competence. Only one is not enough. Similarly, if a quality professional is not trustworthy or capable of being empowered then trusting and empowering him/her will be disastrous.
A large majority of us would be managing teams where many of our team members are not yet ready for more responsibility. Using Dan Pink’s philosophy on them is a path to be walked with caution. Rushing to remove incentives for quality professionals may not work always. There is always some work which is repetitive and there are always some people who should be managed with the immediate lure of more money than the more long term lure of mastery and purpose. Once again judgment of a leader/manager in such situations is a perquisite.
Saturday 23 March 2013
We have come to expect that some things will happen ‘right’ all the time and others won’t. We expect our electricity and water bills to be delivered on time also expect that if have a complaint it wont be resolved till we actually give up. Quality works well in some cases and doesn't in others. For most people.
I have, however, now confirmed my belief that as part of a large conspiracy of the universe all companies that I seek a service from ‘identify’ me as the recipient of their poor quality service. If they have to make just one mistake in the year – it has to be with me. I am a very good magnet for such poor quality.
Why do I say this? I have been at the receiving end of poor service with an amazing range of service providers, some repeatedly and over a long period of time. There must be something fascinating about me! Phone, Internet, Airlines, Insurance, Identity cards, Taxi operators – you name it.
I have often wondered is it because I complete forms incorrectly or ask for some special service which messes up their process. Am I unreasonable? Conclusion – no I am not.
Are there any services where I don’t attract poor quality? A few. And that brings me to the question Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, posed earlier this month on his blog – have we seen Quality in unexpected places? Here are three of my favorite quality success stories.
Indian Railway Ticketing system – Surprise Surprise! The Indian Railways is Asia’s largest train network and the world’s largest train system under one management.
I have seen and been part of some complex systems. But this one is the most amazing combination of things that can go wrong. Only – they never go wrong. You can book from anywhere to anywhere. You can get a ‘soft e-ticket’. You get your refund immediately. All this is still not possible in many ‘developed’ countries. They respond to feedback and improve their processes regularly. Many of us India have come to accept a very high standard from this ticketing system. The rest of the Indian Railways system is not much to write about. With almost everything around them falling apart, the Ticketing team has maintained world class levels. For over 20 years now!
Maruti Suzuki is the biggest car manufacturer in India. General perception is with increase in quantity, quality falls. Not at Maruti. I have never been disappointed with their service support. They deliver the serviced car before time and 9 out of 10 times the actual bill will be less than the estimate. While waiting for my car to be delivered I have often ventured around to see how they operate. I have seen simple process maps, job allocation boards, delivery status boards, excellent implementation of 5S, and more. While quality in car service is not totally unexpected but the high levels of performance Maruti delivers is surely unexpected.
Early in my career I used to travel a lot across to client sites. Many of these clients (Textiles and Cement!) were in place you wouldn't want to send you’re your worst enemies to. So, hotels are out of the equation. All these clients had Guest Houses or mini Hotels of their own. The guest houses of Aditya Birla Group (among India’s leading business houses) would always stand apart for their upkeep and customer service. When I would expect basic service I would be delighted with customized service. I still recall a guest house where I visited after 4 months. The staff serving tea remembered how I like my tea! And there were others who would remember what I liked for dinner etc. That’s quality. All the guest houses (and I visited atleast 15) were of an amazingly clean standard. Always consistent.
How were they doing it? Being the curious (a few people use more dramatic adjectives!) type I inquired I was told, to my pleasant surprise, that the Group had implemented principles of TQM in their guest houses as well. No wonder, feedback forms were taken seriously. I noticed cleaning checklists in rest room. Red-tag for out of service equipment. And a lot more.
I am sure you have many more stories of quality in unexpected places. Please share them around. We talk and write a lot about what doesn’t work. The things that work deserve more of our attention.
Saturday 2 March 2013
Here is a version of my speech at Prasiddhi School on 1 March 2013. I was Chief Guest for the High School Graduation event there. The school is truly unique in that it seemed to have escaped the commercial trappings of running a business. Student teacher bonding was special and almost gave glimpses of what the Gurukul system would have been like.
Graduation or Commencement day is very special for all parties involved. Parents begin to see some returns on the investment they have made. Teachers see the fruit of their labour moving on in life. And for the students – you have to now step into a large and somewhat unknown world. And this needs some preparation. Some of this preparation comes from listening to people who have made mistakes. And I have made plenty.
First lesson is that of ‘Failure – knowing that we will fail, sometimes’
Even the greatest fail. We all know of Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest batsman ever and have only known him as a hero. We all have many stories about how he has played so well over the last 25 years. My favourite story about Sachin is from his school days when he was just as old as you or maybe younger.
Sachin was widely expected to be declared the best batsman in
cricket but missed
out. His name was not up on the club board and he felt very dejected and
disheartened. A few days later he received a letter which said – please check
the board again for the years 1967 or so and you will find a name missing and
that name hasn’t done badly in life. The letter was signed by Sunil Gavaskar. Mumbai
You can be dejected but you should not lose hope. Imagine what the world would have missed had Tendulkar remained dejected?
The second lesson is of ‘Tolerance – Knowing that it takes all kinds to make this world’.
Tolerance and Acceptance are important virtues of successful people. You will meet many people that you will probably not enjoy working with. Please remember we unknowingly radiate our feelings about others. When you don’t like others, chances are they also don’t like you. We all have our shortcomings and are not God’s gift to mankind. The more you learn to accept people of other kind and learn to work with them, the more your chances of success. Of course, you have to be wise enough to know which people need to be completely avoided. There are some…but very very few.
Many years ago I was meeting a client with a colleague of mine. The client was very grumpy and didn’t talk much. I did not like the discussion and the person as well. Later on my colleague told me that this client felt I was very arrogant and not interested in his business!
After some amends this potential client invited us to see his factory. During the car drive the discussion moved to family and parenting and I saw this client go quiet. I asked him why and he said – “I have lost my wife and only son two months back to an illness”.
Imagine our shock. Here, I was thinking this person was grumpy, while in reality he was recovering from a huge loss. We must remember that people behave in a certain manner because of several things that are happening to them. Don’t judge unless you have some context.
The third lesson is about ‘Success – There is no such thing as an overnight success.’
Many successes appear to be overnight successes. Please remember they are just that – appear to be but not actual. Everything takes some talent and a lot of hardwork. I would like to share with you a story about Bill Gates. Most of us like to quote how Bill Gates is a college drop out etc and still made it big. This is not how he himself remembers it though. He worked hard at programming to develop his skills. He spent more time coding than doing anything else when other children were busy playing or sleeping.
Bill Gates had his college computer lab close to his house and used to sneak in at night and program all night to return home early morning. He did this for years before making it big with writing the first DOS. Please remember, nothing is overnight. It is years of hard work that succeeds.
Malcolm Gladwell has set a 10,000 hr rule for absolute mastery in one area – at 4 hrs a day this is about 10 yrs!
The fourth lesson is of ‘Responsibility – we are responsible for our actions’.
We can choose our response. Victor Frankl is the most amazing story you will ever read. Victor Frankl was a victim of Nazi Holocaust and lost his entire family during their detention in the torture camps run by Nazi. But he chose his response and developed a new field in Psychology called Logotherapy and continued to teach after escaping from the camps. I draw a lot of inspiration from his quote -
Wednesday 20 February 2013
While Quality professionals deal routinely with potential and actual failure and evaluating risks in business, I don’t see many (including myself) who take enough risks themselves. Could this be true? Paul Borwaski, ASQ CEO in a recent blog cited a study conducted on youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. While most survey agreed that risk taking is essential, they also said that they themselves are risk averse. This syncs well with my observation that quality professionals don’t take enough risks.
A few years ago, I had asked the Head of Quality of a large global organization – Why don’t quality professionals often make it to the CEO chair? His reply was astonishing and one which I clearly remember even today. His response highlighted that being a CEO is about taking some bets and then backing them with resources and resolve. This is a quality that quality professionals usually don’t posses. This was coming from a quality professional that is considered a thought leader globally!
Why don’t quality professionals take enough risks?
I am not a psychologist who could conduct experiments on some subjects and throw some answers to this question. But then when has not knowing enough about something has stopped me from answering a question. J
Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because they are often blamed early in their career (or even mid career) for things that did not go wrong because of them. This hardens them up and they choose to take fewer risks. During an improvement project review I recently asked the Black Belt that why wasn’t Zero Defect a goal for this project when it appeared feasible. Her answer was – who will support me if I have that goal and don’t achieve?
Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because the people who are gravitated to a career in quality are usually calm, composed, rigour oriented, and yes – Risk Averse! When your career is about helping others achieve their goals you tend to be more careful. Years of being careful converts even risk takers into risk averse people.
Do quality professional, then, fail? Yes, of course – all the time. We are often even handed over the crown of other people’s failure to execute. Does this happen to me? Yes. How do I deal with failure?
First, I evaluate if what is being called is actually a failure. Remember Kanter’s law – everything in the middle looks like a failure. This is especially true of improvement projects. In cases where people around me are anxious and chanting failure I am often able to show them where we are on the project. Some diligence and faith will see us through.
Second, I embrace failure when I have contributed to it. One advantage of not working on a Space Mission is that we can make mistakes and learn from them. As long my team is honest about these mistakes, we dig for the root cause, establish mechanisms to not make the same mistake again, I am fine.
Third, grin and bear it. J
Friday 1 February 2013
Ok, so this is an unusual post from me. Here is a list of 5 videos that have remained in my memory from the several I see regularly on YouTube. One is about how will we measure our life, another is about chasing our dreams, a third talks about motivation, another about positive change, and the final one about simple habits to make 2013 better for us.
Prof. Christensen is currently the top ranked management thinker in the world. He is best known for his work on innovation. In this video, however, he talks about measuring our lives. A very important question which only a thinker like Prof. Christensen can attempt to answer.
If you can only watch one video this year, this is the one I recommend. Prof. Randy Pausch delivered his ‘last lecture’ at the Carnegie Mellon University when he knew that this was indeed his ‘last lecture’. He was going to die of cancer soon. A highly successful professor and someone who lived most of his dreams, Prof. Pausch in this lecture outlines how chasing our dreams is not just important, it is the only thing that matters. Coming from a man who knew he was dying makes this lecture as genuine and authentic as any lecture ever will be. Be prepared to cry though.
Being motivated is a constant struggle for most of us. This video was developed based on a talk at RSA Animate delivered by Dan Pink. Dan cites research to first prove that higher reward for better performance only motivates when the work being performed is ‘physical’. Monetary reward does not work for moderately cognitive work! He further argues that for complex tasks we only need to pay people enough to take the matter of money off the table. Finally, Dan explains the three principles that actually DRIVE us – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
It is one thing to be motivated and yet another to deliver positive change. Most of us are in roles that require us to deliver positive change. All such change has a technical part of the change and another social part of the change. Often the social part is the ‘make or break’ part. Prof. Moss Kanter has decades of experience working with professionals on motivation at work. In this video she explains her 6 Success Mantras – Show Up, Speak Up, Look up, Team Up, Never Give up, and Lift Others Up.
We are in the early part of the year where we might still be making goals for the year. Enter, Robin Sharma with his resolve to make our year the best yet. He proposes 4 ideas to do this. First one is to get a one-page plan about what you want to achieve this year. This is not as easy as it sounds and I suggest you hear from Robin how to go about doing this and the other three ideas. I loved the ‘holy hour idea’. The YouTube video here will guide you to a longer video on Robin’s website. Worth the effort.
There is one more video I wanted to share but could not find a link to. This is a video featuring ‘Reengineering Guru’ Michael Hammer speaking on the 8 deadly sins of measurement.