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QP Article- Organizational Gardening Dew


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QP Article- Organizational Gardening Dew

  1. 1. QP • www.qualityprogress.com1 Quality professionals must cultivate success in their ‘organizational gardens’ Quality professionals are constantly confronting practical questions that are always specific to the organizations they serve: How do we grow our quality efforts? How can I keep my organization’s approach to quality vibrant? How do I keep the leadership focused on quality? Should we be changing the focus of our quality program? How do I transplant a successful quality endeavor from one part of the organization into another? Many quality professionals understand that the answers to these questions require the ability to envision their organiza- tions as living entities, existing within their understanding of systems theory. This requires quality professionals to function along the lines of organizational gardeners who cultivate their organizations so they can produce beauty on many levels. In 50 Words Or Less • Organizations can be viewed as living enti- ties, putting quality professionals in the role of organizational gardener. • Like a garden, an organization needs to be tended to and nurtured if it is going to prosper. • Four basic gardening principles can help lead an organization to success. Dig It
  2. 2. November 2008 • QP 29 Quality management by John Dew
  3. 3. QP • www.qualityprogress.com30 How does your organization grow? There are several basic observations about the nature of gardening and the role of a quality professional as an organizational gardener. Left alone, a garden will become overrun with weeds. R. Buckminster Fuller, the noted inventor and sage of the 20th century, offered the observation that our world obeys the second law of thermodynamics, which is the principle of entropy. All systems will lose energy and organization over time. Fuller postulated that humanity, in its constant effort to establish order and structure, exists as an anti-entropic force.1 If we fail to pay constant attention, our organiza- tions will quickly fall apart, so they need constant reinforcement. As far as organizational gardeners are concerned, there are no real plateaus or stable lev- els of achievement. Without constant attention and action, the quality efforts within an organization will unravel. Like a garden, your organization did not come into existence randomly. It was established by people, and it must be maintained and cultivated by people. People will sometimes suffer from a condition known as reifi- cation, the false belief that a system, obviously created by people, has taken on a concrete reality of its own and cannot be changed by people.2 This leads to a false belief their organization is permanent. Reification also can lead an individual to feel like he or she has no power to affect change and is, in a sense, a victim. Or it can result in a sense of entitlement: “This organization owes me my job and my sense of stabil- ity and predictability.” Reification can also result in people refusing to take the necessary actions to save themselves and their organizations when things begin to decline. Effective gardening is a balance between order and change. As Alfred North Whitehead observed, “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.”3 It would be suitable to define the quality practitioner’s role as providing the sustained application of appropriate methods and principles to establish (or reestablish) order and cre- ate change, which results in progress. Gardening is all about sustainability. Terms such as continuous improvement and sustainability keep creeping into the quality vocabulary. That’s because, as organizational gardeners, we recognize our orga- nizations are living systems that, if properly nurtured, should prosper and provide beauty for a long period of time. We want to produce beauty in our own lifetime, but we also want to pass on beautiful organizations and communities to the next generation. A basic approach Regardless of whether an individual is an organiza- tional gardener in a manufacturing, healthcare, ser- vice, government, education or not-for-profit setting, the task of tending to an organization can be difficult because it’s easy to lose sight of four basic gardening principles: 1. Expect the seasons. Start with the premise that everything changes and that no action you or your or- ganization takes will ever be permanent. Your task is to study your organization as it exists right now, to think about how it can be improved, and then to perform the necessary pruning, spraying, transplanting and other actions. Plan-do-check-act, as W. Edwards Deming sug- gested, is a never-ending cycle, which he described as a helix moving upward toward improvement.4 Ac- cept entropy as the normal condition of life and that the organization will always be in need of tending. The thought that you can work yourself out of a job is only true if you decide to stop nurturing and cultivating your organization. Organizational gardening body of knowledge / Figure 1 Linear/left brain Relational/right brain Promotingorder Conformance quadrant Procedures• Testing• Inspection• Statistical process• control Assessment quadrant Process mapping• Baldrige program• High-level assessments• Promotingchange Orderly change quadrant Six Sigma• TRIZ• Benchmarking• Transplanting quadrant Brainstorming• Synectics• Cultural radiation•
  4. 4. November 2008 • QP 31 And while you are at it, remember it doesn’t always rain or shine when you want. Sometimes, the world is going to provide difficult conditions to overcome, and we need to be prepared to respond to changes in the economy, the actions of the competition and evolving customer expectations. 2. It is all an interconnected ecosystem. Each organization is a complex system of interconnected parts that exists within an even larger ecosystem of so- cial, economic and political conditions. The term “un- intended consequences” is just another way of saying we didn’t think things through from a systems perspec- tive before we implemented change. Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe urged manag- ers and engineers always to ask what could go wrong before making a decision.5 In many cases where we are suffering from unintended consequences, we bring it on ourselves by not listening to people with dissenting views who we marginalize for rocking the boat. Qual- ity professionals, as organizational gardeners, must be keen observers of their garden—their organizational system, its subsystems and the larger ecosystem— always thinking about how the different parts will ex- hibit covariation. 3. Don’t spray everything. Just because you own a set of garden tools does not mean you are a gardener. It is important to have a variety of tools and even more important to know when to use them and when not to use them. Don’t spray the herbicide on everything in sight just because you have it. Most quality professionals have experienced a time when their organization went overboard with a par- ticular tool and attempted to apply it in an uncritical manner. This causes cynicism about quality simply re- sponding to the fad of the month. 4. Get dirty. Organizational gardening requires a lot of hard work and the mastery of a complex body of knowledge (BoK). This mastery only comes through a process known as praxis, in which we use our un- derstanding of theory to inform our practice and use our practical experiences to reflect on and refine our understanding of theory.6 Alter your perception We sometimes get in a rut when it comes to how we approach organizational issues and the perspective from which we understand organizational gardening. Research into how the mind functions suggests our perceptions about quality and our preferences for ap- proaches might be influenced by our brain preference, leading us to ask whether we are left-brained or right- brained gardeners.7 For the purposes of helping quality professionals think about getting dirty as organizational gardeners, it could be useful to look at quality methods simulta- neously from two dimensions. One dimension would organize principles and methods according to whether they establish and promote order or whether they en- gender change, as Whitehead might suggest. The other dimension considers whether the principles and meth- ods are linear and orderly (the left-brain preference) or relational in terms of complex systems (the right-brain preference). Figure 1 provides a matrix of the BoK from this perspective. The greatest challenge for the quality practitioner as organizational gardener might be facilitating the movement from one quadrant to another when the needs of the organization require a change in thinking and action. While the detailed, day-to-day digging in the organizational dirt in the conformance quadrant is essential, it is equally important at times to move over to the assessment quadrant and evaluate the relative beauty of the garden and decide what to uproot, trim or fertilize next. When it comes to promoting change, quality pro- fessionals show a marked preference for working in the orderly change quadrant.8 Remember, the orderly introduction of change (improvement) needs to be Quality management Organizational gardening requires a lot of hard work and the mastery of a complex body of knowledge.
  5. 5. QP • www.qualityprogress.com32 balanced by the work in the conformance and assess- ment quadrants. So where does the right-brained, rela- tional approach to promote change fit in? The British historian Arnold Toynbee proffered a useful historical observation he called “cultural ra- diation.”9 Toynbee observed the manner in which the coin appeared in antiquity, how the concept and use of coins slowly spread throughout the ancient world and how this evolution and diffusion of an idea and technology is currently studied through the existence of the coins themselves. Consider how the concept of cultural radiation ap- plies to our own BoK as quality professionals. We draw upon concepts developed from diverse disciplines, such as statistics, industrial engineering and organiza- tional psychology, to shape our theory and define our practice. We have seen ideas move across oceans and across cultures, from America to Japan and back to America over decades. Who among us could have foreseen that the con- cept of root cause analysis, developed by engineers working on submarine reactors, would become vital to the improvement of healthcare facilities? We can even reflect on the manner in which the modern prac- tice of benchmarking appeared in 1872 during the Meiji Restoration in Japan, when envoys studied best practices in law, education, government, econom- ics and military sciences in Europe and the United States, and radiated over time to societies all around the world.10 There truly is a time and a place for organizational gardeners to look beyond the limits of their own BoK to adopt new ideas and methods if it helps to nurture and sustain their organizations. Other right-brain ap- proaches to creative thinking—such as brainstorming and the variety of approaches that make up synectics, which seek to jolt us out of our comfortable way of seeing things—are also effective right-brain approach- es to promoting change.11 Ethical dilemma When quality professionals are dealing with macro-lev- el quality issues in their organizations while function- ing as organizational gardeners, there are some ethical considerations to ponder. When working within a system, there is no neutral- ity. Quality practitioners cannot park themselves in a safe, neutral part of the system. That’s because they are part of the system. From Whitehead’s perspective, every action we take is either going to promote greater order or promote change. The Italian social scientist, Antonio Gramsci, ob- served that every action we take will impact the status quo. According to his theory, even when we decide to take no action, we are not being neutral, but are sup- porting the status quo.12 We work with organizations and people, not on or- ganizations and people. This is a fundamental ethical concept of professional conduct.13 Quality principles and methods help people improve their organizations and communities. The organizational gardener might perceive what needs to be pruned or transplanted, but to be effective, we must function as coaches, teachers and advisors, and not try to mandate or issue edicts to improve quality. Successful and sustainable implementation of qual- ity methods, whether to enhance order or to stimulate change, depends on helping the people who are go- ing to implement the actions to understand how the actions will benefit the organization and themselves. Those who create also tend to support. Walking the path between autocracy and democ- racy in decision making is critical. The promotion of order and the achievement of change both require un- derstanding and commitment by people at all levels of the organization. Autocratic decision making leads to poor organizational performance because people do not want to be treated as simply a pair of hands. Demo- cratic decision making can likewise cause problems if the subsystems make decisions that optimize their own good, while allowing the organization as a whole to suffer.14 Autocratic decision making has the benefit of speed but the drawback of collapsing when people need to commit to implementing a decision they did not help create. Democratic decision making can cause organi- zations to miss critical opportunities. Research into participative decision making with- in the organizational development discipline in the 1980s increased dramatically after companies began to implement quality circles and project teams. They ROOM TO GROW Post your thoughts about this—or any other—article using the QP web- site’s comment feature. Just log on to and click the “Add Comments” link on any article’s page.
  6. 6. November 2008 • QP 33 took those actions because the quality discipline was creating new venues for worker empowerment. As or- ganizational gardeners, quality professionals need to be careful not to oversell how far their organizations are willing to go in terms of empowering employees to make decisions. They should work to ensure employee contributions are recognized, valued and rewarded by the organizations. Don’t be afraid to dig in There is no shortage of quality practitioners who can conduct an audit, lead a group through a Six Sigma process improvement routine or plot control charts, even though these specific areas require expert skill and knowledge. Today’s challenge goes back to the issues that prompted Philip Crosby to es- tablish the Quality College, that motivated Jo- seph Juran to establish the Juran Center, and that called Deming to teach countless work- shops at George Washington University. All three of these quality leaders were trying to help everyone see quality from a systems perspective and impart a breadth of understanding that could enable us to nurture and grow quality in organizations for the betterment of society. The garden is calling, and it won’t wait. You probably have some organizational gardening of your own to do. Dig in. QP References 1. R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion, Bantam Books, 1969. 2. Alex Honneth, Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea, Oxford University Press, 2007. 3. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Macmillan Co., 1929. 4. W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Press, 1982. 5. Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe, The New Rational Manager, Princeton Research Press, 1984. 6. Paulo Friere, The Politics of Education, Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1985. 7. John R. Dew, “Are You a Left Brain or Right Brain Thinker?” Quality Progress, Vol. 29, No. 5. 8. John R. Dew, “TRIZ: A Fresh Breeze for Quality Professionals,” Quality Progress, Vol. 39, No. 1. 9. Arnold Toynbee, A Study in History, Oxford University, 1954. 10. Marcus B. Jansen, The Emergence of Meiji Japan (Cam- bridge History of Japan), Cambridge Press, 1995. 11. William J. J. Gordon, Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity, Harper & Row, 1961. 12. Antonio Gramcsi, “Notes on Education,” Prison Notebooks, 1932. 13. Orlando Fals-Borda and Mohammad Anisur Rahman, Ac- tion and Knowledge, Apex Press, 1991. 14. John R. Dew, Empowerment and Democracy in the Work- place, Quorum Books, 1997. Quality management` JOHN DEW is associate vice chancellor at Troy University in Troy, AL. He teaches online courses for the University of Alabama, where he launched a continuous quality improvement program, and is the author of five books in the quality and organizational development field. Dew is an ASQ Fellow and past chair of ASQ’s Education and Training Board, Energy and Environmental Division, Education Division and Higher Education Advisory Council. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee.