Quality Progress - December 2017 - 62
F E AT U R E
Example. The quality vice president of a bank sponsored a
Baldrige assessment.2 Among other findings, the assessment
feedback showed that more than 90% of the bank's annual
reward and recognition budget (more than $500,000 per
year) rewarded heroic employee efforts to remedy problems,
errors and upsets after they had occurred and damaged
customers or bank operations.
When senior management heard this feedback, it mandated that at least one-quarter of all reward and recognition
awards in each department be given to employees who had
improved customer service outcomes, and prevented errors
and upsets before they hurt customers or bank operations.
The bank's CEO personally reviewed all departments' quality
and improvement reward and recognition efforts monthly.
Two years later, at an ASQ regional conference, the bank's
quality vice president presented the results of this change as
a follow-up on the assessment feedback. Trends in customer
satisfaction, market share growth rate, profitability and
service quality all improved, and many exceeded competitive
To address confusion about motivation:
+ Ask operation managers who reward reaction after
problems erupt if they also recognize employees who
prevent problems. If not, suggest shifting some recognition to employees who make changes to ensure customer
satisfaction through consistent, cost effective and superior
+ Invest in prevention that pays off in fewer repetitive
upsets, errors and process problems. Rewarding firefighting encourages more firefighting. Recognizing people who
prevent problems satisfies a deep drive in employees to be
asked for their help, to be viewed positively by those they
respect and to be part of a winning team.
+ Train and coach the people supervising or working in operations to use problem solving and prevention tools, such
as the five-why root cause analysis, job aides and quality
checklists. Make the right way to work the easier way.
When speaking with organizational leaders, suggest spotlighting employees who successfully boost customer value
and employee morale. It may not even require monetary
recognition. For example, when surveyed, roughly two-thirds
of 10,000 employees felt more rewarded by a sincere "thank
you" from a boss or coworker. Members of successful teams
said their best reward was to let them do it again.3
Blaming a scapegoat
The second type of confusion arises from blaming problems
on scapegoats instead of asking, "Why did our process let us
down?" Senior managers who assign blame damage organizationwide motivation and improvement.
December 2017 ❘ qualityprogress.com
Example. An executive interrupted a team that was presenting problems and publicly blamed two employees, who
were not on the team, for causing the problems. Uncomfortable silence ensued.
Unproven blaming not only demoralizes employees, but
fear of being blamed publicly for failure also makes people
less likely to seek root causes and innovate.4 To address confusion about accountability, supervisors or those who lead
process improvement projects should:
+ Go easy on people and hard on processes. When problems arise, instead of asking, "Who is to blame?" first ask,
"Where and why did our processes let us down?" Avoid
using pay, promotions, privilege and punishment (the four
P's) as a threat. Instead, pass accountability up the ranks
and pass credit down to those who improve processes.
+ Go and see for yourself. Seek out people whose firsthand
knowledge lets you base decisions on hard facts. Demand
proof when people offer opinions and guesses. When
asking the five whys to find the root causes of recurring
problems, always use firsthand data from people directly
involved. Damage caused by problems does not obey
organizational boundaries, so the search for their root
causes shouldn't either.
+ Avoid putting people in a blaming frame of mind by
replacing confusion and fear of failure with positive
feelings of learning and success. Involve people in
pilot-testing process changes. Use risk-free experiments to
shift the dynamic from blaming people for a problem after
it occurs to learning how to prevent such problems in the
future. Promoting learning in place of finger-pointing takes
genuine and sometimes hard-nosed leadership.
Cross-functional improvement teams
The third type of confusion arises when executive sponsors of cross-functional process improvement teams do
not consider their roles as improvement sponsors or the
improvement team members' traits and skills. Quality
professionals coaching improvement efforts should advise
executive sponsors of process improvement on:
+ Forming, chartering and training process improvement
teams. Quality professionals should then train improvement sponsors and the members of the teams they
sponsor in improving end-to-end performance of processes affecting organizational success.
Example. An effective lending process is essential for
commercial banking solvency and profitability. The executive sponsor of a cross-functional team improving loan
quality and volume should chair a steering team whose
members include managers from all functions that provide
resources to lending (commercial lending, finance, credit,