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Scott Paton

Quality Insider

Your Boss Is a Jerk. So What?

Your improvement efforts may be ignored at the top, but they aren't wasted.

Published: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 06:00

You’ve just been to a big conference (or small one, more likely these days) and you’re psyched. You’ve heard a couple of great keynotes, sat in on some terrific sessions, and maybe spent a day in a workshop that really got your juices flowing. These people were speaking to you. They understand how you feel. They pushed all your buttons. Then, reality hits. You realize that you’ve got to go back to work.

If only real life were like the gurus told you it was... Reality usually hits you after lunch on the last day of the conference or maybe as you’re sitting on your flight home: “My boss will never let me do this,” the voice inside your head says. “He’s more interested in his next business trip, or meeting quota, or kissing up to his boss than he ever will be about all the great stuff I’ve just learned.”      

In short, your boss is a jerk.

What to do? Deal with it. Rather, continue to deal with it. Chances are you’ve been doing it for quite some time. You know that a robust corrective action system will reap benefits beyond belief. You just know that if only you could implement a lean process, your organization would make money hand over fist. Alas, management often just doesn’t get it.

Of course, we all know that truly effective change comes from the top, and that without senior management leadership, any improvement initiative is bound to fail. Right?

Well, maybe not.

I’m always amazed at the deep devotion most quality professionals have to their profession. (And I’m equally amazed at how little credit these good folks receive in most organizations.)

A lot of good work comes from the middle, from the people who make change and improvement happen despite their boss and their boss’ boss. This may be a heretical point of view, but I think it’s true. I’ve met thousands of quality professionals during my many years in this field, and I see the fire, the passion, and the devotion to excellence. I see the unwillingness to accept things as they are. These people have an uncanny way of making things happen even when they don’t have “official” support.

During the recent American Society for Quality’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement in St. Louis, an interesting woman came by our booth several times. The first day of the conference, she stopped by the booth and bought a few books. She was obviously a dedicated quality professional. The second and final day of the conference, she stopped by the booth again late in the afternoon, and she was discouraged. She told us that her boss was more interested in his next trip to Asia than he was about quality improvement. She had sat in on some great sessions, had done some networking with her peers and exhibitors, and bought some books.

“I am so depressed,” she said. She told us that what she really needed was some real-world sessions on how to make her boss understand how important quality improvement was. “I sit through all these sessions and meet all these wonderful people, and then I have to go back to the office. None of this will make any difference.” She never said her boss was a jerk, but he certainly didn’t seem to be very interested in quality improvement.

At first, I felt sorry for her. Then, as I listened to more of her story, I thought of what a tremendous asset she was to her organization. She was willing to tilt at windmills even though she wasn’t getting any support. She obviously wanted to make a difference. I smiled to myself as she was talking, because I knew she was doing good work and that she was making a difference to her organization, even if she didn’t think she was.

One of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The same law applies to people. You may think that your efforts are in vain and that you're not having a positive effect, but in most cases, you are.

Keep on tilting at windmills. You are making a difference. Your boss may be a jerk. So what? What matters is that you are doing your best and your efforts are making a difference (even if it isn’t immediately apparent to Mr. Big).


About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is the president and CEO of Certus Professional Certification  and the president of Paton Professional. He’s the former editor and publisher of Quality Digest, and now serves as editor at large.




Leadership vacuum

Remember, your boss didn't get there based on ability, motivational skills, leadership, or management ability. More likely than not, folks get promoted by knowing how the game is played. The rest of us are stuck with the result. This is more prevalent in older or higherarchical organizations with layers of management. I call this the extreme Peter Principle - they have risen way far above the level of their incompetence. Like Scott said, either learn to live with it and take satisfaction from your own accomplishments or get out.

From a macro standpoint, this is at the heart of the leadership malaise that affects our government and industries. "What's in it for me" has gotten carried to such an extreme as to turn these entities into second rate institutions infested with greed and corruption. Don't believe me? Here are some examples - AIG, Enron, BP, all local, state, and federal governments. Just like AA, this can only turn around when we hit bottom and we are not there yet.

So What if your boss is a jerk?

Scott I feel you are really on the money with this one. Indeed how does the Quality officer/manager/adviser/consultant gain the recognition for the work they do? If the Quality person has performed well then they will have implanted the necessary knowledge into the organisation such that the business will be doing things their own way. Knowledge transfer is not setting the absolute law on what must happen and why it must be so. It is the imparting of the necessary knowledge such that those within with the responsibility can make their own judgement calls on how they will address the issues raised. The transfer of ownership no less. Hence the Quality Officer has a limited life. This life is geared to the knowledge transfer rate hence some organisations take longer than others.

It can now be argued that if an organisation has appointed a Quality Officer and that person has been holding the position for 2 years or more then that organisation does not have a quality system but yes it may have a certificate on the wall. Commonly referred to as TBM, tick based management.

If now the Quality Officer has done their job and coached and trained the staff in the intent of the Standard and has encouraged them to design and develop their own way of doing things. The staff will own their system as it is not a direct result of the Quality Officer giving instructions as to how things should be done but more on what needs to be done..

Over time, the knowledge transfer time, the system will become selffulfilling. There is now little need for the Quality Officer.

How then does one get the recognition for success? Usually when the certificate is granted the Quality Officer gets a pat on the back. But given that the system is tick based then the need for the Quality Officer will continue.

If now we examine a Quality System owned by the staff within the business unit, the Quality Officer having done a great job. How then do we reward, praise or even acknowledge their work?

Because the staff think they did it there is no recognition of the Quality Officers role. Yet without them there would be little success.
In my own experience I was responsible for the gaining of Accreditation and Certification for a group of some 38 laboratories. They organised a celebration event for the presentation of certificates and to acknowledge one anothers work and achievement. I was not really included. I stood at the back with a warm fuzzy feeling that all this was made possible because of the manner I had managed the process. I had indeed imparted the knowledge for success. I left them to their celebrations and returned to my office.

Some time later, much later, the CEO came in to see me with a very worried expression on his face.
What's wrong I enquired? He stood infront of me and said he was very sorry, oh he was oh so sorry. About what i asked? Well he said we did not acknowledge all the work you did in order for us to gain our certification. He stated that they could never have achieved the success they had without my participation. He shook my hand whilst profusely appologising for this lack of recognition.

I told him it was not my way of doing things to seek recognition I measured my success by observing the interaction of others and the fact that they all owned their processes. It was nice however to finally get the recognition for the work I had undertaken.

Watching others excel in their positions and be all they can be is a powerful motivator for a Quality Officer but it does not give them the recognition they deserve.

Rob Langdon
Quality Manager
Biomedical Technology Services

Reality - One person CAN make a difference

Hi Scott,

As usual, your article was right on target - too often, we forget the power of the one. Just because we are not getting support at the top doesn't mean that we can't make improvements where we are - we just need to find another way around it. This brings to mind a story from my corporate days:

A department was supposed to do fit and function testing for an expensive machine. The organization was slashing budgets left and right, and the funding for this machine prototype was cut. The department was told it could NOT get a prototype... and the personnel wondered - How was the department supposed to verify fit/function without the machine?

The dept manager was a positive, can-do kinda guy. He simply got the exact specs for the machine from the print - and he and his team built it out of plywood. It was a sight to behold - a full-size replica in wood - and all done for the cost of some sweat equity and two sheets of plywood (which the dept manager paid for out of his own pocket).

He wasn't willing to say "my funding was cut" or "I can't do it" - he refused to quit when the going got tough. That day/week/month, he was my hero, and I've never forgotten his attitude. I try to emulate it whenever I can...


Some days (and weeks and even months) are better than others and it helps to hear someone notices or at least knows the efforts we go through in the quality profession and how difficult it can be. You made my day better today =)


Taped to the top of my computer is a quote, I don't know the author but on those hard days it can help.

"Diamonds are formed from ugly rocks under great pressure. The pressures of life can cause us to transform into something strong and beautiful."