Friday, March 22, 2002 Bucks County, Pennsylvania

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What Should Come First . . .
Process or People?

By Peter LaChance, The Quintessence Corporation

Recently, I was reading an IT management consultant's brochure when I came across something that struck me as very strange. The brochure stated that, according to quality experts, 85 percent of all possible benefit is determined by the process, and 15 percent by improving staff education and training. They probably pulled this statistic directly from a popular book on quality, and given what they do for a living (automation), I don't blame them for using it to further their cause. Nevertheless, I think this statistic is misleading. It may cause managers to conclude that investing in their employees' potential is not as effective as making employees conform to management's (and their consultant's) recommendations regarding changes to the processes that employees work with every day.

Total Quality (TQ) advocates know that most beneficial process changes originate from rank-and-file employees. The core principle of TQ is "buy-in": if your line employees aren't active participants in the change process, then they won't own the solutions, so those solutions won't get fully implemented, and then your company won't realize the expected level of benefits. So, if you want to improve the quality and effectiveness of any process, the people who are most affected by the changes must play an active role in that change. This holds true for any process, whether its a production line or a business process for marketing, accounting, procurement, distribution or sales. The single greatest reason why change projects fail: the people most affected by the change are not properly prepared and engaged by their employer.

This is where education and training enter the discussion: process improvement involves process mapping, creative destruction, benchmarking, innovation, consensus building and other skills. These skills cannot be performed by your employees without proper and extensive education and training! The operative word is proper. Like many other subjects, there is good and bad training. I believe that most companies conduct training poorly, so it doesn't surprise me when they say that their training programs don't bear much fruit. What does proper, or good, training mean? A good training program should include teaching new knowledge (what to do), practicing new skills (how to do it) and—the ingredient that is usually missing—attitude development (want to do it!).

The Role of Attitude Development in Achieving Excellence

. . . involves: . . . resulting in:
EducationTransfer of knowledgeLearning what to do
TrainingPracticing new skillsDiscovering how to do it
Attitude Development    Taking on success attitudes    Wanting to do it

Attitude development engenders the sincere desire within people to develop success attitudes, to strive for personal and professional improvement. In any process improvement project, success attitudes are essential to developing optimal process solutions and achieving the full cooperation of your staff to turn ideas into reality. When properly facilitated, attitude development can result in large improvements in job performance—much of it arising out of process improvements recommended and implemented by the rank-and-file.

Lastly, good training incorporates methods to ensure that your employees retain new skills and knowledge for a long time. The commonplace "cram course" (usually conducted over several consecutive days) is not effective for retention, yet it is still the most popular learning mode used by companies for professional development and skills training. It's no wonder mediocre companies cut their training budgets in hard economic times—their training methods aren't designed to realize high returns on investment—so for them, training is a burden, rather than a wise investment in human capital.

Does your company want to be stellar? Look to your employees—they are your company's greatest hope for achieving excellence. Give them the tools they need and commission them to make success happen!

Copyright © 2002 The Quintessence Corporation

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