How to Doom a Great Idea
Quality professionals routinely can cause their good ideas to fail.
As promised last month, we are continuing the discussion of selling good ideas to management. We quality professionals can inadvertently turn off our management team and, thereby, hurt our chances of successfully promoting good ideas. The following will certainly reduce your idea’s chance of success so be aware of these pitfalls. (These are in no order of importance.)
Don’t speak the language.Dr. Joseph M. Juran, in his Quality Handbook, was arguably the first quality expert to say that the language of management is money. At upper management levels almost everything is discussed in terms of money: income, expenses, dividends, ROI, ROA, life-cycle costing, BCA, etc. All quality professionals, therefore, must be able to monetize quality problems, quality improvements, issues, and benefits in order to effectively communicate them to management.
Certainly the higher the position, the greater the necessity for global business and financial skills. Quality professionals will likely not progress to higher organizational positions unless they expand their thinking from a narrow functional to a broader business focus. As I wrote in my August 2014 column, Philip B. Crosby, one of the foremost quality experts of the 20th century, was an individual who steadily rose through the ranks to become an executive. Crosby said that managers talk about four things: 1) Money; 2) Making money; 3) Making more money; 4) Not losing money. If you can’t communicate what you have to say to upper management in monetary terms, they will be polite but will likely ignore what else you have to say.
Focus on the technical. It is common among quality professionals to use or discuss technical methodologies or specific techniques because they have expertise. Many quality professionals get so excited about the execution of these methods they focus on the techniques when speaking to management and miss the main point of clearly defining the cause and effect.
Quality professionals definitely need to use terms like kaizen, kanban, poke yoke, QFDand others to their peers. They need to understand the theories behind these techniques but upper management isn’t interested in learning Japanese or becoming CQEs. Respectfully, upper management doesn’t really care about the method—they care only about the results or benefits!
Focus narrowly. You must remember that the bottom line is improving the profitability of the company as a whole. If you focus on matters that primarily concern your area or department, your focus will remain narrow. Conversely, QPs’ thinking should be more strategic and offer broader perspectives, based on how departments and activities fit together systematically. Figure out how your idea fits into the bigger picture to support and further the system’s robustness. Familiarity with systems thinking should enable the QP to contribute to big picture discussions.
Don’t adopt management’s style. In the quality profession, it is appropriate to take care to check, verify, and assure all aspects of our work. However, when you deal with upper management you need to adapt their style which is typically direct and blunt. When you get an audience with upper management to discuss your idea, you need to get straight to the point and not qualify all of your statements or provide mountains of data before giving an opinion or drawing conclusions.
Even the simplest of ideas can be pulled into a forest of complexity where anyone can get lost. Data can be powerful allies but often result in distraction and confusion. In a senior management meeting, a quality manager was presenting what was promoted as a significant quality improvement idea. At some point she commented “…just look at this spreadsheet (which was twelve pages long). I think if we study it closely…” If there was a need to study something “closely” in a senior management meeting, the idea is doomed to failure.
Don’t feel comfortable. For whatever reason, sometimes people are just not comfortable around upper managers. They stay out of the limelight and no one outside their sphere knows them. They avoid meetings, infrequently offer opinions, stay hidden in the quality group, and avoid taking positions. This lack of comfort ensures upper management is unaware of their existence so almost immediately their ideas are suspect. The only cure is conscious, value-adding exposure, which is good for the company’s quality and profitability while benefiting your personal growth and career. There is no part of that scenario that has a downside!
A quality professional would definitely benefit from broadening your foundation. Take an accounting course. You don’t need to be an accountant but taking a course or two would definitely help to understand how to convert quality metrics into financial terms. While quality professionals aren’t generally sales and marketing experts there are important skills to learn from those experts. It would be good to take a course or attend a seminar or two.