Maintaining a quality process is never without its problems--even if an organization's senior management has been
logical enough and brave enough to define and implement a 100-percent employee-involvement process. In fact, such a process introduces some unique challenges of its own.
minute a senior management team agrees that everyone in the organization will be involved in the effort to improve, it gives up a degree of control over the day-to-day operations--a relinquishing
of power that will make some senior managers very uncomfortable. If the employees believe senior management and embrace the opportunity to define, develop and initiate change in their areas of
responsibility, it will be flat-out impossible for the senior managers to micromanage all of the resultant activity; there will be just too much happening at once.
Here are a
few pointers for senior managers considering "unleashing the power" of their subordinates:
* Who makes decisions about what?
This needs to be agreed upon upfront--and the bargain re-struck regularly. First of all, it needs to be understood that nobody's responsibilities have necessarily been expanded or contracted; what has changed is the authority to do something about those things that are a person's--or a team's--responsibility. Authority is now equal to responsibility. If a person or a collection of people is being held responsible for a particular outcome, they should have the authority to do something about how that outcome is reached.
* What is a quality idea?
The definition has to be a bit elastic, but not completely random. A "quality idea" is any idea that saves money and/or saves time and/or reduces hassle. This definition could be easily expanded to include any idea that improves relations within the organization and/or increases sales and/or retains customers and/or increases job satisfaction. For certain periods of time, due to specific corporate goals, employees could, of course, be guided to concentrate on a specific type of idea.
* You don't know everything.
Managers who proudly proclaim, "I can do the job of every one of my people" are either self-delusional or guilty of wasting an incredible amount of time. Know what
your people do? Sure. Know the details of how
they do everything? No. You've got better things to do--stuff that requires your level of expertise. The practical impact of this is that your subordinates will frequently be defining and implementing improvements and corrections to past procedures--and you didn't even know there was an opportunity or need to get better. Do the smart thing at that point: Say "Congratulations" and high-five the nearest person.
* Quality is an ordered, but not always orderly, process.
There are rules: Measurements must be taken. Steps have to be documented. There'll be no "This just feels like it'll probably be the better way to operate." At the same time, if you have truly empowered your subordinates (or, at the least, you said it, and they believed it before you could yank it back), there will be a number of different projects going on simultaneously. Creative discontent is the goal.
* Quality is not something separate.
Don't try to confine concern with quality to the meeting times (and then back that up by restricting meeting times) and think that will keep things under better control. Quality is not something extra. Quality is how we work, not what we do instead of--or in addition to--work.
* Leadership is necessary for quality to thrive.
Leadership consists of creating the environment in which others can self-actualize in the process of completing the task. That's a senior manager's role within a quality process: creating a supportive environment for his or her subordinates. This includes providing them with the appropriate tools (including training) so they can get the job done.
* Nobody gives better service than they get.
If you as a senior manager don't treat your subordinates with respect and consideration, you have no right to expect them to treat their customers with respect and consideration. Some will anyway, but that's just because they are more generous of spirit than you are.
* Quality processes look forward, not backward.
This is an important reason for making sure that quality team meetings are held separately from routine staff meetings. Staff meetings, by their nature, look backward (through the vehicles of status reports and committee reports), assign responsibility (or blame) for stuff completed and not completed, and then turn to how to get through until the next staff meeting. Quality meetings focus on tomorrow and beyond: What can we do to make tomorrow easier and more profitable--and better for our customers? In the course of the discussion of a "quality idea," determining who "should have" known about something or done something in the past is inappropriate. The focus is on how to make things better for the future.
* Quality calls for generosity and common sense.
Saying "thank you" for implemented ideas should be a time of joy. There is no place for, "Well, they should have been doing that anyway" type of comments. The appropriate questions are, "Were they doing it previously?" "Is it preferable that they do it the way they are now?" and "What was the vehicle for getting from where they were to where they are?" If the means of making the improvement was the quality process, it's time to be generous. On the pragmatic side, by thanking employees for the effort to get from there to here, the organization formalizes the new procedures… until a future quality idea improves the procedures again. And then it'll be time to say "thank you" again.
"Trust is a risk game," said Irwin Federman, president and CEO of semiconductor manufacturer Monolithic Memories. "The leader must ante up first." If a senior
manager's subordinates no longer go to him or her with their suggestions--or even with statements of problems--and choose instead to use the quality process to not only improve things but to
circumvent their senior managers, the problem doesn't lie with the subordinates. A third-grader expressed much the same idea when she said, "Trust is like a crystal bubble. Did you ever try to
fix a broken crystal bubble?"
A senior manager who has lost the trust of his or her subordinates is going to have a lot of trouble with a 100-percent quality process because
the process is built on the assumption that leadership and trust will be major components of the bond between managers and their subordinates.
About the authors
Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and six books, including
Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992);
Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997);
How Organizations Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize (Crisp Publications, 1999); and Quality Is Everybody's Business (CRC Press, 1999). Pat Townsend has
recently re-entered the corporate world and is now dealing with leadership.com issues as a practitioner as well as an observer, writer and speaker. He is now chief quality officer for UICI, a
diverse financial services corporation headquartered in the Dallas area. E-mail the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org .