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Paul Naysmith

Quality Insider

In Search of the Good Mentors

Is there a correlation between retiring quality professionals and diminishing business competence?

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 06:00

If you're reading this article, especially in the United Kingdom, it’s possible that you are a member of the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI). As I currently understand it, the average member is in her mid-50s, and therefore you may be looking not so far into the future to your retirement. You probably had, or currently are having, a successful career in the quality profession. However, if you look behind you, do you have someone competent to fill your shoes?

During the 10 years or so since I have been in business, I have to state that there are an ever-decreasing number of graduates in the United Kingdom coming from a technical background. Fewer and fewer science or engineering graduates are gracing the pages of recruiters, and as a result, this is a golden period for salaries in technical roles. Also in my opinion, the quality of these graduates is lower than when I graduated in 2000. If you are an average member, you would no doubt argue that even my generation of graduates were of a lower standard than yours.

So this poses a question for us quality or business professionals: Where do we expect our competent future replacements to come from? First, let’s agree on what competence is. There exists a useful acronym, which simply sums up the elements of competence: SKATE, or skills, knowledge, aptitude, training, and experience. It is probable that you have some or all of these tenants of competence. However, if not, I firmly believe mentoring will guide those entering the profession toward achieving competence.

History and traditional tales have taught us that a wise mentor will help the hero overcome his enemy. We need new quality heroes to overcome a future of disappearing businesses, so where are these much-needed mentors to guide them? During this first recession of the 21st century, some well-reputed and sizable companies became extinct in the Western Hemisphere, and others are underperforming. Could there be a correlation between a generation of professionals retiring and a distinct lack of business competence left behind that’s steering the ship toward uncertainty, and possibly even disaster?

Let me be the first quality professional to admit that I failed to prevent the recession from occurring. I now realize that I was not prepared yet to challenge the “system” and win, only prepared to work with it. With hindsight, I understand that I had not yet completed my quality apprenticeship from my mentor; I was not therefore competent to take on the system. My mentor showed me a path to follow, and taught me how to make informed decisions, all in the pursuit of knowledge, not for financial gain. I will also admit that I am not the finished article or the polished quality jewel because I have a lifetime of learning still to do. However, I do still have my mentor to show me leadership, and he keeps me focused on building on my competencies. For this I am eternally grateful.

As a way of honoring my mentor, I am following his example, and I also get great personal reward from mentoring others early in their quality careers. In many ways CQI has assisted me by providing a framework to guide newly initiated quality professionals to becoming chartered quality professionals.

Perhaps at this point you are thinking, “You’re going to ask me to become a mentor” or, “I don’t have a mentor; I need to go and seek one.” I am not going to ask you to do either.

As a wise leader and mentor to man, once said: “Lack of knowledge… that is the problem.” My call to action is to pick up a copy of The New Economics, by W. Edwards Deming (MIT, 1994). In chapter four, you will see that the first step in transformation is all about an individual’s understanding of the system of profound knowledge. To me, this is where professional mentoring must begin and center around. Make today the starting point in the journey as a mentor and a mentee.

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About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.