Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Quality Professionals and Avoidance of Risk

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, February 1, 2013

Five Videos to think, act, and evolve

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.