Within most organizations, there is an apparent conflict of interest between wanting people to follow the rules, while at the same time, trying to change the way things are being done to improve quality, productivity or reliability.
The idea is that you should be able to do your job, come to work on time and work within the environment that you have been given, dress appropriately, follow the rules and processes you have been given and deliver high quality product. Management realizes that in order for the business to grow, we need to change something, but still wants things to continue the way they were. As a result, we call in a consultant, a specialist, who will explain a new way of working and this will become the new rule which must be accepted by everyone. After a few months, it becomes apparent that the new approach to life is rapidly being forgotten as staff have returned to their old habits. This problem is typically solved using a “Quality Assurance” team, which frequently falls into one of two extremes:
The QA team will frequently be used to enforce processes, practices and tools without clear understanding of their value to the business or their benefit to the team using them. Rather than assuring quality, these teams are used to enforce compliance.
In order to avoid this problem, others appear start using the QA role strictly as an extension of their improvement programme team, collecting improvements and suggestions, accepting all variations and deviations from the standards and rules as acceptable ideas deserving equal consideration.
In both cases, the extremes create a disaffection of staff, demotivating and loss of results.
“Alienation” is the loss of interest and motivation of people when they are forced into a strict set of rules and regulations without understanding or justification. "I don't care what you think, you have to follow the company rules as they are laid out by someone in an office somewhere else."
“Anomie” is the feeling of disorientation and subsequent deprivation provoked by a lack of guidelines, limits and structure on which one can rely. "Do your best, that's all we ask for."
Both situations are detrimental and destructive. They may both be the result of an attempt to improve, yet both result in a lowering of standards and achievement; both lead to a drop in employee morale, reduced levels of quality and reliability, and increased staff turnover and costs.
Of course, most organizations manage to avoid the two extremes, but a surprisingly high number are very close to one end of the spectrum or the other - particularly after attempts at improving processes, productivity, efficiency…
The solution, as always, lies in clear management communication.
Don't tell people how to do their job, you hired them because you trusted that they were intelligent and competent, with appropriate levels of motivation, skills and creativity; now is the time to trust your own judgement. Management needs to give clear guidelines, but these need to be based on deliverables and business results, not on the number of hours that people spend inside the building or on rules which have no apparent connection to your customers' level of satisfaction. The objectives should also always be within the control of the people to whom they are given.
Here are some general guidelines:
Establish policies which talk about business objectives and clearly define what you mean when using buzzwords (what do you mean by quality, and how will you measure it day by day?)
Establish policies which document expectations from staff members with regard to attitude (supportive, encouraging, initiating, positive, willing to accept mistakes, learning, focused on customer needs and expectations...)
Communicate your policies and demonstrate your own commitment to respecting them at all times and in all places.
Check that the communication has actually been heard and understood – people rarely read the management posts on the company’s intranet.
Make time to listen to the concerns of your staff: they see things you cannot see, they see things you see differently, they know things you do not. There is a television programme called "Undercover Boss" in which senior managers go (in disguise) to work in their own company, at the ground level; in every episode, it seems that the boss is surprised to find out that, by not listening to the members of staff, s/he was not aware of the main problems in the business.
Identify what is important and put in place a measurement system which allows to identify how well vaious approaches allow to satisfy those objectives, independently of who is doing it (if you do measure the person doing the work, remember that the less productive people need help and training, not punishment)
Establish proposed processes and methodologies to help people understand what kind of approach you would expect to see, then encourage them to improve on it in measurable ways.
In other terms, tell your staff why they need to do things, what are the expected consequences or results of the activities they are being requested to perform and why these are important for the organization. Then, give them what you currently believe to be a good way to do this, including the neccessary instructions, resources and tools to do it. Finally, learn to accept when you are wrong and that there may be a better way of doing it: listen actively to the people who have a first hand understanding of the frustrations and issues with the proposed solution and accept to learn the lesson. When a small improvement is suggested, implement it. When a radical change is suggested, let it be tried out and examine the results. This means you have clear documentation of what and how things are going to be done, why they are expected to be more effective and how you will measure and demonstrate the value of the change*. The person recommending the change will agree beforehand that if the measurements do not demonstrate a noticeable improvement, they will not press the issue but will return to the old way and continue to see how to make it more efficient.
*In general, measurements should include the value of activities and tasks, and not – as is too often the case – be limited to the cost.