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Mike Richman

Quality Insider

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Making sense of change

Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 05:00

As you can see, and as I tend to do in these occasional column entries, I’m freely mixing metaphors above. My point, or points, as it were, are that, first, times are tough. Well… duh. OK, point number two is that in tough times, change, which is always inevitable, seems inevitabler. Yup, I just made up a word there. I’m kind of a rebel, I guess, breaking the rules wherever and whenever I can. For example, you see how I neatly transitioned from “dime” in the headline to “change” in the kicker? I even gave you a throwaway reference to “sense” (or “cents” as the case may be). Degree of difficulty: 9.2. Execution: 4.1.

OK, enough improv; back to the script. Change comes upon us always, in all things great and small. The birth of a child. The death of a parent. The loss of a job. A promotion. A romantic break-up. A chance meeting at a coffee shop. A rip in the seat of your pants.

Change management is the art of not just handling challenges as they come along, but anticipating them. It’s about activity, not reactivity. Firefighters need not apply.

All of which is a heck of a lot harder to do than it is to say. But in this quality profession of ours, handling change and putting plans in place to deal with it is a highly prized skill.

The many Quality Digest readers that I’ve met over the years have an amazing array of talents… from statistical wizards and process junkies to calibration specialists and measurement technicians of the highest order. All of them, all of you, every single one, are devoted to the concept of reducing variation and improving quality. You/we are planners and ponderers, sometimes worriers, sometimes dreamers. What we imagine is that in some perfect world, change can be controlled through a strict adherence to the philosophy of process, and we take appropriate action to make that happen. At least in our work life, that world of control over chaos, over change, can sometimes seem tantalizingly close.

But that world's not here now; at least, it's not for me. For me, looking at this subject from the perspective of Quality Digest as a business, change is foisted upon us with frightening alacrity. Try as we might to let our longstanding processes deal with the shifting sands of the business landscape, we’ve found in the last year or two that our established ways of doing things just weren’t going to continue to work going forward. So we adapt. We persevere. We survive. That's not firefighting, by the way. You can anticipate and plan for success and keep a wary eye on the changes and challenges that stalk your enterprise, and still end up surprised by what fate has in store for you. It doesn't mean that you didn't do your due diligence. One of my dear mother's favorite sayings is that "Man makes plans and God laughs." Yeah, it's kinda like that. But it's what you do afterward, after the unexpected, that really separates the people and/or organizations that succeed from those that don't. Ask any successful person and they'll tell you that change, even great change that may temporarily cause you to fail at something, contains the seeds of greater challenges and bigger rewards. After all, failure doesn't mean that you've failed... failure means that you've given up. As long as you respond to downturns and sidesteps with renewed determination, then "bad" experiences will almost certainly lead to something good. The fear of change, which is really just fear of the unknown, isn't something that needs to hold us back if we embrace possibility. Everything that we have, and everything that we'll have in the future, is because of change. Understanding and accepting the gift of change and consequence is a key to greater happiness and yes, improved quality in work as well as life. So the question is... how can you better embrace change in your world today?

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Mike Richman