Six Sigma
Last Word


Last Word
Dick Moore

Management by Common Sense

An effective quality management system requires effective management.

Quality professionals express their frustration when other managers fail to change their work practices to support a quality system that would improve products or services. Whether a company chooses to follow ISO 9000, QS-9000, TQM, Six Sigma or something else entirely, various elements of the quality management system will be coordinated and directed by people in positions of authority. Even though the first QS-9000 element addresses management responsibility, it doesn't state how to comply with section 4.1.1, which states: "The supplier shall ensure that this policy is understood, implemented and maintained at all levels of the organization." However, the requirement does strongly imply that without the application of appropriate management and leadership skills, neither work practices nor deliverables will satisfy the intent of this requirement.

 It's a given that managers' and supervisors' strengths and weaknesses significantly influence what happens with quality; indeed, this is the very reason that leadership applications are so important. The effective use of these skills and attitudes is what turns a quality system into a quality management system, and many educational products and services are available to help achieve these needs. But do most of these training interventions offer profoundly new and useful insights to help managers do their jobs better?

 It's easy, and perhaps intellectually stimulating, to talk about a new flavor-of-the-month management idea. However, it's far more productive to consider a few common-sense examples of good management practices. Common sense could be defined as sound practical judgment independent of specialized knowledge, training or the like (i.e., normal intelligence applied to typical situations).

 Well-intended people perceive and interpret situations differently depending on their own experiences. Nevertheless, a person doesn't need a unique background or unusual skills to see that positive business results should follow the application of common-sense principles.

 Basically, the common-sense manager should be approachable; provide timely feedback; build trust through consistency; enforce consequences for both good and unacceptable behavior; avoid unexplained changes; be tactful and communicate directives so they don't sound like orders; talk directly to the people involved with a problem (if it involves only a few people) rather than sending a memo to your entire department; admit it if you're unsure of an answer; and when you're right, don't boast. Additionally, a common-sense manager should avoid favoritism; avoid the practice of cross-reinforcement, where productive employees are given extra work while less productive employees are permitted to do even less; appreciate the difference between being appropriately assertive and inappropriately aggressive; get both sides of the story before reaching a conclusion; and act on facts and data, not on opinions and feelings.

 Although the ideas and concepts embodied in common-sense management are easy to accept intellectually, it doesn't necessarily follow that they're easy to practice. Therefore, the role of manager or supervisor can't be effectively performed by just anyone. Fundamental training or coaching is required.

 To better ensure successful outcomes, managers and supervisors must utilize both technical and people skills. It takes more than the knowledge acquired by attending a seminar to maximize interpersonal skills. Specifically, ongoing judgment is the key ingredient in using common sense. But judgment often involves an emotional component that can interfere with the straightforward use of fundamental management concepts. The stronger the emotion, the more difficult it is to make rational decisions. Emotion can interfere with good judgment and can overshadow the use of people skills until the emotions subside.

 Difficulties preventing effective common-sense problem solving stem from either intellectual or emotional stumbling blocks. Additional knowledge (intellect) is obtained by customary methods of continuing education. However, it's important that managers recognize that effective problem resolution may not automatically occur simply by discovering new ways to solve a problem. Emotional stumbling blocks may interfere with managers' ability to translate knowledge into specific applications. When this occurs, managers may feel uncomfortable facing the problem and try to avoid any approach that could appear to be direct or confrontational.

 It's also important for new managers to realize that disagreements and conflicts come with the territory. This may demand an individually structured mentoring relationship between the manager and a more experienced person as new, more direct behaviors are tried. Talking to a mentor about the immediate short-term results of the manager's response to difficult situations can lend support and reassurance needed to encourage the development of effective management during periods of stress and confrontation.

 The successful application of common-sense management takes hard work, much preparation, persistence and a willingness to get up and try again when experiencing less-than-desired outcomes. Common-sense management wouldn't be as rare as it is if it were easy or automatic; but its application can help turn any quality system into a quality management system.


About the author

 Dick Moore is manager of training and safety at Plastomer Corp., a manufacturing company in Livonia, Michigan. He was a member of Plastomer's QS-9000 steering committee and co-chaired the company's employee involvement steering committee. Moore is a member of the American Society for Quality and the American Society for Training & Development. Contact him by e-mailing dmoore@qualitydigest.com .

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