Monday, October 4, 2010

Self-Discipline and Consistent Quality are Inseparable Twins.

Self-Discipline  and Consistent Quality are Inseparable Twins.

As a quality consultant, I often hear these words:
  •  “You see our business is very different, will ISO 9001 work for us?”
  •  “Will Six Sigma work in our country?”
  •  “Lean management might work well for Japanese firms, but will these  tools work for us?”
My answer is “Yes, if the processes are performed right, the results are surely going to be right”. So, nature of the product or nature of the business or country in which we conduct the business is not a critical issue. The focus needs to be on performing the processes correctly.

Lets consider a simple example. I have to reach office daily at 8.30 am. I know that to reach at 8.30 am, without stressful driving, I must leave my house at 7.45 am. Then, doing my process right would mean that I must wake up at 6.45 am so that I can leave my house at 7.45 am. If I want to spend 30 minutes on reading the newspaper before leaving for office, then I must wake up at 6.15 am. And, if I have to wake up early I must sleep early. (If I sleep late, I get up late, I leave my house late and there is every chance that I will reach my office late).

Another example would be of a student who is a top-performer in school. It is generally seen that such a student continues to perform well in higher studies, irrespective of whether he pursues a career in engineering or management or accountancy. Why is it so? This is because he has developed certain practices (or way of doing things) which ensure that he continues to achieve good performance till the end of is studies.

ISO 9001 or Six Sigma or Lean Management are all methodologies that help us to improve processes and standardize the ‘way of doing things’. Once we standardize a process then if we keep repeating it in the same manner, we are should get the same (consistent) results again and again. But why does this not always happen this way? Why do mistakes still occur? Does the fault lie with the ISO 9001 system or with Six Sigma or with the tools of Lean Management?

Not really! All these systems / methodologies work on building preventions in the processes and there is a definite logic in the way they work. Then where does the problem lie? Repeated studies show that the problem does not lie in finding solutions to preventing problems, nor is it really difficult to find ways to improve processes. The problem lies in sustaining the improvement.

In other words establishing a new system or improving a process is not the challenge. The real challenge lies in sustaining the improved system / process. For this reason we bring in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and audits. But still, we observe non-compliance during the audits. Why does this happen?

In most cases where a set of procedures has been established, it is seen that mistakes occur mainly because “someone overlooked a step in the procedure”. Even the “best system or ideal process” could end up in mistakes if people performing the process do not adhere to the SOPs. We all understand that it is unsafe to talk on the mobile phone while driving. We also know that many car accidents do occur due to the driver speaking on the mobile phone, yet we overlook the procedure (and maybe even the law)!

If we have to sustain the performance of improved / standardized processes, what is needed most is “self-discipline”. The self-discipline that helps us to overcome the urge to adopt a short-cut in our work and the self-discipline to stick to doing things as defined in the SOP.

It is a proven fact that out of a thousand principles for success, the one quality that helps an individual to succeed is the habit of self-discipline. The same is true for organizations. Organizations run and sustain on the basis of self-discipline.

Often the cultural or political climate around us discourages us from being self-disciplined. People tend to think “when everyone else is indisciplined, why should I follow discipline?” “Everyone throws litter around, so why shouldn't I?” But, if everyone in an organization or in a country starts thinking this way where will we reach? And what is the use of standardizing processes / systems if we do not possess the self-discipline to follow them?

Toyota has been a rare example of an automobile company that made profit consistently for 50 years!! Then what has gone wrong with Toyota now? Why did they have to announce a large number of recalls?

In the words of their CEO Mr. Akio Toyoda, “Toyota's priority has traditionally been the following: First; Safety, Second; Quality, and Third; Volume. These priorities became confused, and we were not able to stop, think, and make improvements as much as we were able to before…….. We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today”.

Toyoda may express regret but the question is where did Toyota go wrong as an organization? They were very small when they started. They strictly followed the “14 Toyota Principles” for 50 years and went on to be known as the world’s best car company. But in the quest for fast results their managers and dealer network seem to have ignored some of the time-tested principles like ‘long-term philosophy’, ‘stopping to fix problems’, and ‘do not let problems remain hidden”.  The price Toyota had to pay for this ‘lack of self-discipline’ in following their established principles is anybody’s guess.

At times, I have seen people working in large reputed organizations operating under beliefs like “I am a knowledge worker, all these rules / SOPs are not meant for people like me” or  “I am a senior person, these rules / SOPs are meant for the juniors”. Also there are instances, when a senior manager suggests that “we bend the rule, just in this case”. What these persons overlook is that juniors usually consider the seniors and the knowledge workers as “role models” and they very soon copy what they learn from the role models.

For example, our office / factory procedure requires that my bag is checked while entering or leaving the premises. Then I may be the CEO or the Managing Director or the Security Officer, I must stop and get my bag checked. This kind of example-setting (and respect for procedures) demonstrated by the seniors goes a long way in conveying the message to everyone else in the organization. 

It would therefore be evident that if our organization desires to deliver consistent performance on an on-going basis, the managers must create a culture for strict adherence to procedures and a strong sense of self-discipline. If Toyota could fail after 50 years of consistent performance, this could happen to any one of us!

The Japanese have referred to self-discipline as the “Fifth S” in the 5-S habits of good housekeeping. But when it comes to ensuring consistency in quality, we can say that self-discipline is the “First S” and it applies to each and every member of the organization. If we wish to achieve consistent / sustained performance over a long period of time, the foremost requirement is to create a culture of self-discipline throughout the organization.

1 comment:

  1. Very educational and informative. Also, not as much filler content as in other Posts I have read about this topic so very nice to see that. Keep it up!

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