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   Columnist: Thomas Pyzdek

Photo: A. Blanton Godfrey


A Question of Balance

Can box checkers contribute effectively to a dynamic organization?




Mary Scott, TechDyno’s customer service and support center manager, had an uneasy feeling about Lenny Hoyle. Mary was starting to see that Quality 2.0 was all about learning what drove results and then using that knowledge to make improvements. She was certain that her staff was catching on, too. Everyone seemed to understand the basic idea, except Lenny.

It wasn’t that he was resistant, or that he was disinterested. If anything, the opposite was true. But Lenny kept looking for the detailed steps he was supposed to take to get to… what? Mary wasn’t sure what Lenny was looking for--a blueprint for improvement?

“So first I obtain a list of opportunity statements, right?” Lenny asked.

“No,” countered Troy Polaski, “ You create the list, Lenny. You’re on the leadership team. The opportunities that others work on come from this team.”

Lenny looked puzzled. “But where do the opportunities come from?”

“They come from our stakeholders,” Mary chimed in. “From our discovering how we can do a better job of serving them. Like reducing costs for our investors, improving problem resolution for the customer, or making it easier for our agents to search the knowledge base.”

Lenny’s eyes lit up and he smiled, obviously relieved. “Oh, okay!” He jumped from his seat, grabbed a felt marker, and wrote three bullets on the flip chart in large letters:

• Reduce costs

• Improve problem-resolution rate

• Improve kb search


“I need to go to work on these things, right?” he beamed.

Mary and Troy sagged simultaneously. During lunch, Mary’s boss Dennis Tisda joined them. When the three of them were alone, Mary brought up Lenny.

“I’ve seen a lot of Lennys over the years,” Troy commented.

Dennis nodded. “Me, too. Box checkers. They want a list of tasks to complete--a to-do list. When all the boxes are checked off, they’re done. They’re covered.”

“There’s a variation on that theme,” Troy added. “As a consultant, I’ve trained and coached thousands of people. Generally the box checkers live in the middle of the organization--in a traditional organization, anyway. But at the top there’s a different kind of person, the number nut, who’s only interested in results and couldn’t care less about the process that generated the results. These folks are box checkers, too. Check off that the result was achieved, then backslaps and bonuses all around.”

“Neither type lasts long at Quality 2.0 companies,” Dennis noted. “At least not in leadership roles. Quality 2.0 leaders--and that includes about everyone who supervises people--have to think. They’re all change agents, and change requires thinking about drivers, evidence, processes, and, ultimately, root causes.”

Mary was concerned. Of all the duties her job demanded, letting people go was the toughest. She thought about Lenny. He was an old-timer. Reliable, steady, always there when extra hours were required. He’d been one of the first to join TechDyno when it opened the call center more than 10 years ago. “So what happens to these people in Quality 2.0 organizations?” she asked.

“A box checker can be a good employee in a routine job where he’s just performing repetitive work,” Dennis said. “Taking phone orders, handling common customer calls, responding to complaints, things like that.”

But not leading a management team. Not Lenny. The very attributes that had made him successful in the traditional organization TechDyno had been were now working against him: rigorous adherence to standard operating procedures, dependence on established policy to guide behavior, knowing and following the rules to the letter. Quality 2.0 didn’t accept any of those as carved in stone. Anything and everything could, and probably would, change.

You couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul anymore, either. Dennis had explained that he and his boss, Steve McDowell, TechDyno’s CEO, would monitor balanced scorecards that simultaneously tracked metrics for all stakeholders. Quality 2.0, it seemed, was all about balance. Short- vs. long-term results had to be balanced. Customer, investor, and employee results needed to be weighed.

Mary decided that she would give Lenny every chance to adapt to the new process. But she’d also be fair to TechDyno and the rest of her team. It was her responsibility to see that the best person was in every position in her department. Now that TechDyno was a Quality 2.0 organization, that might mean some new people. Fairness, like Quality 2.0 itself, is a balancing act.

About the author
Thomas Pyzdek is the author of The Six Sigma Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 2003), Quality Engineering Handbook (Marcel Dekker Inc., 2003), and The Handbook for Quality Management (Quality Publishing, 2000). He is a consultant on process excellence. Tom recently received ASQ’s E.L. Grant medal. Learn more at www.pyzdek.com.