Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ABC of Culture – Attitude, Behavior, and Commitment

You would have read a lot about culture and performance. Much of this very philosophical and borders on abstract. Want to read something crisp and practical? Read what ASQ Influential Voice James Lawther had to say on Creating a Performance Culture at ASQ’s blog. James gives a practical list of six behaviors that companies see with respect to a performance culture.  

What is my view on performance and culture? While I can’t define culture very accurately I am convinced it leads to performance. Over a period of time. Time is a very important factor when judging the impact of culture on performance. A whip by the minute culture can deliver superior performance in the short term but will not sustain. Similarly, a very trusting and open culture may take time for people to respond and deliver superior performance.

I will make my point with two examples that I have seen in my career. Judge for yourself.

Talking of Culture I am reminded of a textiles company I assessed over a decade ago. I was then a consultant conducting assessments for organizations using the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria and a model we had developed called the International Quality Maturity Model (IQMM). This client was clearly desperate for some glory. And in a hurry. While the production facilities looked fine, I was intrigued by a pattern I saw in senior management attrition. Some enquiry revealed that CEO of this company would hire select staff from marquee companies and offer outrageous salaries. Many of these professionals would jump and join. What followed was hell! The CEO would drive these professionals mad with crazy targets and very unprofessional behavior. Snapping at senior professionals in public, talking rudely, etc were only the norm on a normal day. Result? Most of these professionals would leave within six months and the company floundered. Classic case of money can’t buy culture.

I have also assessed some companies of the Tata group. A sharp contrast to the company and CEO I talked about above, the culture at Tata group is one of mutual respect. Having met several of its senior leaders I have seen a pattern. It’s as if all are cast by the same die. While more of the same is boring but not when it’s about establishing a culture. Results are for all to see. All companies of the Tata group do really well. You will not see unnecessary shouting and ranting. You will see fair and just treatment of all. When the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was attacked by terrorists a few years back the Tata culture was there for all to see. The Chairman of the group Ratan Tata stood near the iconic hotel and personally enquired about his staff. The then GM of the hotel had his own family up in the hotel but ensured that guests were rescued. The group then announced relief for all staff and anyone else affected (even people at the nearby railway station). Entire staff was retained for the one year it took to redo the hotel. Who would not want to perform for such a group?

So how does culture develop? From what I have seen, culture develops from repeated execution of habits. Behavior becomes the norm. The pattern. The culture. The way to work on culture is to work on behavior.

Dr J M Juran was once asked about changing behaviors and he answered with ABC. A is for Attitude, B for Behavior, and C is for Commitments. His view was that we waste a lot of time trying to change Attitude. It’s better to focus on getting small commitments. These commitments over a period become a pattern and become behavior. And in my view, this leads to culture.

Let’s see how this pans out in real life. Many of us want to get fitter. Having a fitness culture is important we will say. How does this happen. You can try changing this through attitude or any other means but it has limited result. Finally, it boils down to making small commitments and keeping them. That 1 mile run or 15 pushups or taking the stairs. With enough repetitions this will become our habit and over a period of time we adopt this fitness culture. Culture change, like most good things, is not overnight.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Future of Quality – a realistic view and key concerns

Quality is a profession for most of us in ASQ and hopefully passion for some. Our future depends on Quality’s future. Our livelihood depends on how quality fares today and in the future. While we all would like to see quality progress and benefit from its progress we would be more concerned with quality’s progress in the medium term. Medium term (five to ten years) impacts our careers most. It is here that studies such as ‘Future of Quality’ make a difference. They offer us a window into the future.

ASQ’s CEO, Bill Troy has written about the recently released study – Future of Quality on his blog. Bill offers a summary of the study and then invites readers to study the report.

For me the future of quality has at least three scenarios – Optimistic, Pessimistic, and Realistic. The optimistic one is what we would like to see happening; pessimistic is when our worst fears come true; and realistic is what is most likely to happen.

Now I am no clairvoyant but then not being something has never stopped me from having an opinion.

Optimistic version of Future of Quality
  • Quality principles and application will spread across Healthcare, Education, Agriculture/Food, Non-Government, and most importantly Government sector
  • Quality will be at the center of growth strategy. Companies will sell and profit on quality and could even demand a reasonable premium
  • Quality projects will span the enterprise and be run as a companywide program (including human resources, finance, marketing etc)
  • Quality of quality professionals will improve significantly and the best performing students will choose quality as a profession
  • Quality professionals will sit on Boards and be candidates for CXO roles.


Pessimistic version of Future of Quality
  • Quality principles and application will shrink across manufacturing and service. Services will become more automated and quality improvement will not be a priority.
  • Quality will reduce to its earlier avatar of ‘quality inspection and control’
  • Quality projects will become only cost cutting projects with a narrow and sub-optimal focus  
  • Quality of quality professionals will continue to drop – my no. 1 concern
  • Quality managers/leaders will at best be placed three or four layers down to a CEO.


Realistic version of Future of Quality
  • Quality principles and application will move deeper into Education and Healthcare but will struggle to have an impact on Agriculture, Government, and non-government sectors
  • Quality will remain efficiency and cost strategy. Companies will use it to improve performance and reduce cost
  • Quality projects will span the enterprise in several leading organizations
  • Quality will continue to attract professionals who are middle of the class, have good social quotient and investigative skills
  • Quality managers/leaders will remain two layers lower to CEOs.


Further, I would like to see two more areas being addressed in the future of quality.

Quality as a subject has not reached out to a younger audience. In the future, I would like to see quality principles, tools, practices, and methods to travel to schools. In India, ASQ India is trying to take its Right to Quality program to grade 11 and 12 in schools. I have developed a 2 hour talk which I have now delivered to about 400 students at three institutions. We are reaching out to more and hoping to take the message of quality to more students.

Quality as a function has often failed to deliver ‘on time’. Almost all work we do is a project and in my view quality and project management are two sides of the same coin. I would like to see a set of practices evolve where quality projects are managed the project management way. This is already happening in large organizations but I would like to see more of this in the future. ASQ would also do well to increase the emphasis on project management in its certifications.

In summary, the future of quality is reasonably bright. However, it is for us as the quality community to act. Act NOW.


Friday, April 3, 2015

STEM needs more Manjul Bhargavs and Pranav Mistrys

Are our youngsters shying away from a career in STEM? It appears they are. Bill Troy, CEO of ASQ, recently shared some tough to digest facts in his blog. Research shows that while youngsters like what engineers do they also think that engineers don’t easily get a job.  This is very disturbing because much of human advancement is because of engineering and life sciences.

A lot of other professions get disproportionate attention and wean away youngsters. Music, entertainment, investment managers, etc get all the glory. No offence to them but none of these professions take the human race forward. If we live longer we have to thank the advancement in medicines. If we can today seamlessly talk to people across the world we have to thank our engineers.

Like all professions only the ones who reach on top get disproportionate attention. In entertainment, thousands fail before a Justin Beiber succeeds. The success rate in STEM is surely higher. All students who do well get to make a good living. The distribution of wealth among STEM students is not as disproportionate as in entertainment. And this is good thing.

Is the disinterest in STEM is a global issue. I do not have data but I think it is not the case in the developing world. I checked with students I know and notice that the interest in STEM is high in India. The admission test scores for top engineering and science colleges are among top 1% of students. There is intense competition to get in there.

What is of course a bit disturbing that many of these students are only developing mobile apps!

The Indian education system has indirectly placed a premium on STEM education but we have not followed it up with an environment of research post the students graduate. Many of our brightest students leave to study and research overseas. To more developed nations. All Indian science Nobel laureates came from their research overseas. While we lose these scientists at least we know that the basic Indian education system works.

What do we need then to excite youngsters about STEM? Do what the entertainment industry does. Make rock stars out of STEM guys. 

Manjul Bhargava and Pranav Mistry are two such rockstars.  

Manjul has done some amazing maths work at a young age and won several awards including the Infosys Prize 2012, the Fields Medal 2014, and the Padma Bhushan (Govt of India) 2015. What I like about Manjul is that he does not look like a typical mathematician. He is young and looks younger. He could inspire a lot of youngsters to take up maths because he looks like them.

Pranav is most known for his work on sixth sense tech. Again, he is young and looks younger.


Both Manjul and Pranav are doing their bit to get youngsters interested in STEM. We need more of them. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The World Needs a More Global Quality

Why Should Quality “Go Global”? Asks Bill Troy, ASQ CEO in a recent blog post. Now this is an interesting question. I would expect Bill to ask ‘Why should ASQ go global?’, but he is asking why quality should go global. I know both are linked but quality is bigger than ASQ. ASQ is a key voice of quality. And there are others too.

In the post Bill has suggested that ASQ was always more global than its stated position. It has had members and offices outside of the USA. I partly buy that argument. While ASQ had members and offices outside of the USA it wasn't thinking about them seriously enough. The tide turned only when the revenue and membership in business showed no signs of growth. There is nothing wrong with that though. Most businesses look for other territories or products only when the current ones slow down.

So, why should quality ‘go global’? I think quality is fairly global already. It is taught and practiced all over the world – the developed, the developing, and the under-developed. It is applied across sectors. Quality has helped a variety of professionals and sometimes they don’t know this. Does this mean we don’t have any scope for improvement? Of course not. A key principle of Quality is that ‘there is always some scope for improvement’. In the case of Quality there are a lot of new frontiers and some old ones need to be reinforced.

Quality needs a major push in Healthcare and Education. Especially in the developing world.

Quality of education determines what our children are going to practice as they grown up. If children see and experience how ‘anything can be improved’ and ‘how to do things right the first time’ they will have an excellent foundation to build upon irrespective of the profession they choose to pursue. Some argue that Quality needs to be in the curriculum early in schools. I think ‘practicing quality’ is more important than ‘teaching quality’. Consider this. A teacher comes late for a quality class, is un-prepared, doesn't excite the students, has no improvement in teaching methods, the examinations don’t assess knowledge and application. You get the idea – Practicing is more important than teaching.

Also, quality awareness for students needs to be done in schools. With help from Noel Wilson of ASQ I have developed a two hour awareness module for school students. The module called – Right To Quality – talks about how we have a right to quality only if we do our own job well. We have presented this at two schools and covered about 200 students. Another 500 are scheduled. We don’t only teach quality in this session but give examples and stories and ideas on how students can use quality in their lives. Hoping we make a dent in the universe.

Quality in healthcare determines how we take care of the medical needs of a large population. Quality is critical in healthcare. Poor quality leads to more deaths! Again, just as in education, we need more practice than teaching about quality in healthcare. The principles and methods for quality in healthcare are all there. They have to be practices. Organizations such as Joint Commission International (JCI) and the NABH in India need to be more aggressive in reaching out to more hospitals. Simple Lean methods can help reduce time taken to serve a patient (customer). Again, more practicing than teaching.

What are the new areas for quality? I think the government sector in developing countries and the legal justice system. Both these sectors have huge cost of poor qualities and very little yield. Perfect for applying quality principles.

In most developing countries government offices are notorious for being too slow and not getting anything done. People have to visit several times for the same job to be done. They often have to bribe. Everything takes longer. The cost of consumers taking leave to get things done is huge for a nation. And no one is counting. The legal justice system is even more painful. I can’t even write against them as I may be pulled up for contempt of the courts!

And finally, does ASQ need to go Global? Like Deming said – It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

I have written earlier about making ASQ truly global. I am convinced that ASQ is ‘wrong’ in going slow in its international expansion. Too slow. Other organizations such as PMI are faster. For example, there is a large population of quality professionals in India that need to be reached out to. By keeping its fee very USA centric ASQ is missing out on all these professionals. Changing the fee structure is the inflection point for ASQ’s global growth.


In summary, both ASQ and Quality have to go global. ASQ has to and is best positioned to be the global voice of quality.