Tag Archives: culture

Quality Has Always Been Global

In his February post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks “Why Should Quality ‘Go Global’?” ASQ has, over the past several years, expanded its reach as a member organization… “going global” to expand awareness of quality tools and techniques. This is being done to more deeply realize ASQ’s mission to “increase the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world”.

But this approach forgets that quality can’t go global… it already is global! The notion (and pursuit) of quality is evident in the history of water quality and sanitation dating back to Ancient Greece and Rome, the creation (over centuries) of the measuring instruments and standards that have made way for modern methods of industrial production, cave paintings discovered in Egypt that show quality assurance inspectors presiding over work, and other stories. Deming’s groundbreaking work took place in Japan, in the midst of a vastly different culture than Deming’s own. In 1990, Quality Progress ran a series of articles called “China’s Ancient History of Managing for Quality” that provides a very rich examination of quality practices in that region.

Sure, Frederick Winslow Taylor was an American manufacturer, meaning that the principles of scientific management were first tested and implemented here… but the chemist, Le Chatelier, very quickly translated Taylor’s work to French and introduced the principles to manufacturing plans during World War I. At the same time, Henri Fayol was conceptualizing similar techniques for assessing and managing quality in that country. The journal Quality Engineering ran a piece in 1999 that described the history of quality management in France in the 20th century, along with practices and trends from several other European countries.

Quality systems provide mechanisms for us to achieve and accomplish whatever it is that we value. Every culture has a long and vibrant history of using tools, techniques, and standards to make these things happen. Perhaps instead of aiming to simply push the message of quality beyond the United States, ASQ could also seek the message of quality that artisans, engineers, and citizens in vastly different environments and cultures have developed over the past several centuries to offer quality professionals everywhere.

Quality as a Cultural Vision: My Week in Japan

japan-treesIn his July post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy reflects on the immense value of an ultra-clear organizational vision. After a trip to Sweden, where he attended a quality conference organized by the European Organization for Quality (EOQ), he was struck by IKEA’s starkly elegant focus on its customers’ needs, and Volvo’s BHAGgy(*) goal that no one will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by 2020.

This past June, I went to Japan for the first time. It wasn’t a work trip, so I didn’t visit any companies or do any plant tours. I didn’t intend to learn anything about quality, despite the obvious opportunities. And quite frankly, I wasn’t really sure I would enjoy Japan, or feel comfortable in that country, despite my profession’s obvious ties to that country’s insights and contributions to knowledge!

Why? Well, two reasons. The first is that I have some deep-seated emotional issues associated with Japan. It’s kind of like that time I was 16 and decided to experiment with too much vodka and Great Bluedini Kool-Aid. It was not a good idea. And I’ve never been able to eat or drink anything blue (or even drink Kool-Aid) since — that’s over 20 years completely inoculated to Kool-Aid, all because of a negative emotional association. I kind of had the same thing with Japan, prior to this summer.

My second reason for resisting Japan is more legitimate. I’ve worked with Japanese colleagues in the past, and it’s always been subtly disturbing. I always got the distinct sense of a lack of authenticity, and authenticity has always been a really important value of mine. I found that my Japanese colleagues could be very nice to my face, but then later, I’d realize that they completely disagreed with me (or in fact, disliked me completely). I didn’t like the (real or perceived) dichotomy. It made me nervous. If I can’t know you authentically, how can I work with you?

After spending a week in Japan, I’m not so bothered by this “lack of authenticity”. Even acknowledging this shift in my feelings is very surprising to me.

Being in Japan is an amazing, refreshing experience. Each person clearly has a sense of duty. Everyone I encountered was very respectful, genuinely interested in not bothering other people, and genuinely interested in providing a high level of service quality. There was no question about it: if you were in a service role, you were going to provide high quality. If you were responsible for providing products: they were going to be of high quality, regardless of how much you had paid for the privilege.

It would be shameful if you did not provide high quality.

This just seems to be part of their culture. I’m not advocating the threat of shame, or the threat of being ostracized by your community if you don’t meet their expectations — but there’s something very nice about having a socially-enforced baseline of high expectations. This  cultural vision, socialized into everyone since childhood, ensures that the entire country routinely meets high standards for quality just because how could it be any other way?

In fact, the cultural vision related to quality in Japan is so clear, I’m sure no one can even see it.


(*)BHAG = “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or alternatively, a really crazy-out-there stretch goal, conceptualized and popularized by Collins and Porras (1994).

Stimulating Innovation Culture through Higher Ed Reform (Part I)

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create an innovation culture in your organization by just bringing people in who have already been enculturated into that way of thinking and being? I think it’s possible. (I propose one potential design in the follow-up to this post, Part II.)

Pretty much every week I read articles about how the higher education system in the U.S. is broken. (That is, how it needs to be overhauled and reformed, how the educational system is not enhancing our competitiveness as a nation, or how it’s too expensive compared to the value it provides graduates, especially in a down economy.) This week, I read Wildavsky & Litan’s Huffington Post article that outlines how bureaucratic processes and accreditation are getting in the way of implementing innovative educational business models.

I also see a lot of articles bemoaning the struggle to create a culture of innovation in many organizations, and every one of these seems to tie back to processes and practices that could potentially derive from a student’s experience in the higher education environment. For example, Edward Hess (currently an Executive in Residence at UVA’s Darden School of Business) recently wrote an article in Forbes encouraging organizations to adopt a culture that supports innovation:

Innovation is the result of iterative learning processes as well as environments that encourage experimentation, critical inquiry, critical debate, and accept failures as a necessary part of the process…

…innovation requires a mindset that rejects the fear of failure and replaces that fear of failure with the joy of exploration and experimental learning.

So the solution is EASY: we need to 1) model iterative learning processes in education, and 2) enculturate our students to accept – and appreciate! – failures and false starts as a totally necessary part of the process. Only here’s the problem: the message we’re reinforcing as parents, as educators, and as citizens is that failure is bad. Work hard, study hard, press forward, get A’s! Don’t use your education to learn more about what turns you on and what you want to contribute to the world. Just make us proud of you, and bust your butt so you can get a high paying job. Whether you like it or not.

This is not productive and not enjoyable for many, many students. It promotes fear and drains out a lot of natural love for learning new things.

Click here to see my imaginative and utopian proposal for a new system –>

Getting Your “Work Mojo” Back

(This is being reprinted from one of my October 2008 posts due to overwhelming and unexpected positive response!)

Productivity is totally dependent upon whether or not you actually want to be doing something. Psychologists and management scholars call this intrinsic motivation, but when it pertains to the workplace, I call it my “work mojo”. For the past couple months, I’ve been trying to figure out “how to get my work mojo back”. In the meantime, I haven’t actually stopped to think of what I mean by that.

Here’s what Merriam Webster has to say about “mojo”:

Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
plural mojoes or mojos
probably of African origin; akin to Fulani moco'o medicine man
: a magic spell, hex, or charm ; broadly : magical power <works his mojo on the tennis court>

What I WANT is to feel invigorated by what I’m doing, feel completely capable dealing with all of the stuff on my to do list, and to feel like it means something to others – that’s what I think would get my work mojo back. So the Merriam-Webster definition fits pretty well – How can I get my magical power back at work? Ron said he feels the same way about his productivity on personal projects, and would really like to get his “personal project mojo” back as well. We brainstormed about it over lunch and identified four elements for the Mojo Maintenance Toolkit which can shape your own personal quality system:

  1. boundaries (in both space and time)
  2. vacation (in both space and time)
  3. objective affirmation
  4. subjective affirmation

First, let’s talk about boundaries. It’s called a “day job” for a reason – if you are chipping away at your office to-do list during evenings, weekends, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, you are not setting good boundaries for yourself. If you’re multitasking when you’re on a family outing, or checking your email on your Blackberry while you’re stopped at a traffic light, you are not setting good boundaries. I’m particularly guilty on this count, and have taken some concrete steps to set better boundaries: a) my work email does not forward to my Blackberry, only my personal email (so if a few key people really need me, they can get to me) and b) I don’t do “work work” on my home computer any more. If I leave my work computer at work, that’s it – I can see it again the next day, and the work will have to wait. (There’s quite a bit of separation anxiety that comes when you try to do this. Don’t be too hard on yourself.)

Vacation is the second ingredient required to keep your mojo alive. To appreciate something, you need to be away from it. Totally, completely, mentally and physically away. I appreciate my job much more after I’ve been away from it for a while. I appreciate my coworkers much more when I haven’t seen them in a while. I appreciate the weekends the most after a long, productive week. I appreciate my kid more when I’ve picked him up after a long day at school (and I have the sense he appreciates me more as a result too). Reflection is a natural part of growth and learning, and you need to give yourself time to gain perspective – to let all of your thoughts and ideas percolate into well-rounded solutions.

Objective affirmation is the next ingredient. You need to measure your progress, and be able to reflect on it, to get a sense of accomplishment. There have been times when I’ve sat in my office, (figuratively) crying into my coffee, beating myself up because I feel like I didn’t get enough done. But when I take a look at the status reports from myself and my team over the past few weeks, or progress reports that cover a longer amount of time, it’s pretty clear that we get a lot of stuff done – it’s just not obvious unless we can see our world today is different than our world was a few weeks, months of years ago.

Subjective affirmation is the final (and most insidious) of the keys to cultivating your mojo. In addition to being able to see and feel that you’re moving forward and getting things done, if you don’t have the feeling that the people around you appreciate your contributions, your level of inspiration is bound to wane. (Occasionally, the rewards from doing the task itself might be enough to negate the need for subjective affirmation – but this is not commonplace.) Do people really care about what you’re doing? Do they value the contributions you make? Or do they think you’re an idiot who can’t get anything right? Do they just not like the job you were hired to do (ie. it makes their job harder)? A solid, healthy team will provide a lot of subjective affirmation; a fractious organization will not. Additionally, the subjective affirmation really has to come from people who have no vested interest in your success or failure. Subjective affirmation from my most trusted colleagues and my boss is nice, but I know they’re on my side (I’m lucky to have a fantastic boss). But what about everybody else?

The concept of subjective affirmation extends beyond the workplace as well, though. Ever feel like doing the laundry is a thankless job? It might be, because you get no subjective affirmation as a result of doing it. You can objectively measure your progress every time you put the folded shirts in the drawer, but if no one seems to care, it’s unlikely that the thrill of the job itself will continue to motivate you.

Morale is a consequence of all four of these “mojo factors” aligning among the individuals in a team or organization. To get your own morale up, see if you can find ways to achieve each of the four.