Some of their answers I expected, some I should have expected, but quite a few I had not anticipated. But more than that, what struck me was the intensity of their answers. They were not dispassionate listings of skills they wish they had known about. Although missing skill sets were identified, for the most part I received very personal, often visceral descriptions of the unanticipated dynamics and unexpected dimensions of the environments surrounding the quality manager jobs into which they entered.
Organizational politics topped the list as the most frequently mentioned unanticipated dynamic. Something that changes many times is how politics and personal interactions between people who have had long associations can change when one becomes a quality manager. A lawyer and long-term federal government manager, Chris Kopocis was involved with the quality improvement initiative at the U.S. General Accounting Office for several years.
"Even being promoted from within the organization, the politics of how people relate to and with you changes," observes Kopocis. "You need to quickly determine the whos and whats in relationship to your new position -- who needs you and why, and who you need and why -- and what plan of action you have to establish with the relationships you need."
Another manager in a government organization, who wishes to remain anonymous, put it this way: "I wish I had known how to more effectively, and safely, maneuver the political arena of change so that the organization could achieve its vision and mission, while at the same time personally avoiding the position of lightning rod of the change effort."
Resistance came in a close second to politics. One government manager, who also desires to remain anonymous, best summed it up by saying, "No one can totally prepare you for the intensity of the resistance to change and for the skepticism from people who have 'been there, done that.' "
From the private sector, Jack McCall, a former operations executive who championed TQM at several medium-sized textile companies, was most unprepared for the scenario where "some senior managers with longevity are allowed to stonewall the process within their group," and by the situation wherein "some mid-managers refuse to participate and are regarded as 'untouchable' by top management."
Bob Sullivan, Team Focus Champion at National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, presents a positive light, wishing for better insights on "how to best influence management" as a way of dealing with resistance.
A quality manager at a manufacturing company wished he had anticipated an inherent handicap to his job success: "Companies often do themselves a disservice by attempting to utilize existing personnel as the change agent. While they may be the best available (i.e., currently on the payroll), they may not have the necessary skills for advancing technical and cultural change. Anyone too closely associated with the old environment may carry too much baggage to gain the respect and support needed for the change effort."
Organizational position of the job also was mentioned by some. Most respondents do not or did not report directly to the president/CEO, reporting instead to the next level. Conventional wisdom says that such reporting relationships should present a significant obstacle to TQM's success, and some did encounter problems obtaining cooperation from people senior to them. The surprise for me, however, was that those who mentioned the situation viewed it as a positive because, to get the job done, they had to sharpen and rely more on their diplomatic and selling skills, which in turn ultimately resulted in getting better overall buy-in from the organization.
Being properly mentally prepared made several lists, though not always in ways you might anticipate. Susan Corey-Tuckwell is director of quality at the Hotel del Coronado, a world-class resort and Victorian-era landmark in Coronado, California. She stresses being flexible, wishing she had "better training skills and a better sense of flexibility. Everything I had learned about training did not work! Initially, the training I provided was too academic; I had to learn not to go by the book, but to be flexible and use real-life examples."
Mental preparation for Larry Dempsey, former assistant inspector general for quality at the U.S. General Services Administration, meant having attitude and focus. "I wish I had appreciated the necessity for consistency in communicating the TQM message," says Dempsey. "There is a tendency by many to view TQM as something that can be done when there are not more urgent issues at hand. The TQM director has to stand up in difficult circumstances and drive home the message. Also, I wish I had understood the importance of the TQM director shedding his or her cynicism and skepticism, and the need to radiate optimism and understanding at all times. He or she must follow up, identify obstacles, repair damage and adjust the speed and avenue of approach as needed.
"I wish I had appreciated the importance of focusing on the culture of the organization. Capturing low-hanging fruit -- process improvements achieved by action teams -- is attractive because it provides short-term tangible results, but employees recognize the difference between cultural and process change, and process change won't engage them for the long term."
Kopocis, who also has served on the Association for Quality and Participation's board of directors, offers a final perspective on having the right attitude (subtitled "Realistic Expectations: An Rx for Longevity"). "There are limits for change -- the sooner you understand and acknowledge the limits set by the senior leader, the sooner you can set realistic parameters for yourself," she explains. "When you want to believe and act as if the sky is the limit on your ability to effect change, and the senior leader has a lower expectation, you may lose some of your influence and will be disappointed and surprised. If you can look upwards to the limits set, you may be able to raise the bar gradually and will last longer."
Skills that I had not overtly considered as prerequisites are marketing and the ability to creatively interpret situations and events for advancement of your goals (i.e., spin a situation). Before the purists rush to judgment, read what Wayne Kirby, former quality improvement manager at Boral Brick (and self-confessed TQM guerrilla), has to say: "An effective change agent must be able to package his or her products in an appealing manner that meets the needs of the customer, i.e., top management or the organization as a whole. With good political skills, a change agent can 'spin' any issue into a positive so as to move the change agenda forward or to dispel obstacles to change."
Sharon Shehdan, a long-time quality assurance/quality management professional who facilitates the TQM Focus effort at high-tech Broadband Technologies, which she guided to ISO 9000 certification on their first try, and Mary Ann Becker, who assists the Garrison Commander at Fort George with implementing their TQM effort, join Susan Corey-Tuckwell in indicating they would have wished for more hands-on experience in strategic planning. Becker sums it up by saying, "I do wish I had more knowledge in areas such as identifying key business drivers and processes, as well as developing performance goals, measures and standards."
A few respondents wished they had experience with some technical/administrative qualifications, such as surveys, project management and scheduling. Bob Sullivan of NISH and Brian Richards, manager of quality improvement for Sacramento County Public Works Agency, mention all three as skills they wish they had before starting the job.
"A TQM coordinator must possess strong organizing and delegating skills because many tasks and projects occur simultaneously," says Richards. "Typically, this position also is responsible for organizing and coordinating agencywide events, training workshops and training internal resources, etc." Sullivan, who faces considerable logistical issues with his company, which is scattered literally to the far corners of the United States, echoes this sentiment.
I take solace in having identified at least one key need mentioned by most of the respondents. My advice to clients implementing TQM is that they must walk a fine line. They must manage the implementation as if it were a project, without it becoming one. Two-thirds of the respondents commented that project management was a vital skill set they wish they had.
This final observation comes from Shehdan, who also serves as a senior examiner for the North Carolina Quality Foundation (Governor's Award): "Because the world and technology are becoming more complex, organizations will ultimately conclude that teams are the best decision makers. I believe future quality managers will be positioned as team leaders and change agents. They will continue to need a technical degree because of the technology, and also a degree in some organizational development discipline for the human dimension. And they will need to be flexible enough in their approach to be left-brained and right-brained at the same time."
I agree with her. If I were advising persons entering the field of quality management, I would recommend a degree with a double major in industrial engineering and industrial psychology. I believe these disciplines provide the best academic credentials to be successful in the field. As to the other success elements needed, if we can believe those currently doing the job, the rest of the recipe includes a healthy dose of "emotional intelligence," maturity, flexibility and practicality.
About the author
J. Michael Crouch, CEO of LEADS Corp., has 27 years' experience in the field of change management, the last 12 years specifically in TQM. He was corporate director of quality management at Blue Bell Inc. for three years, where he directed a TQM effort involving more than 20,000 employees. Blue Bell is a large textile manufacturing firm that makes Wrangler blue jeans and Jantzen swimwear.
Since 1987, Crouch has been a principal and officer with LEADS Corp. He became its president in 1993 and CEO in 1996.
Crouch is the author of An Ounce of Application Is Worth a Ton of Abstraction. He is a member of the ASQC, AQP and OPMA.