July 2002

Vol. 4, No. 7


Six Sigma and More: 
David Schwinn reflects on organizational development

by David R. Schwinn

Last week as I started teaching an undergraduate course on Organizational Development (OD),  I was struck by the collection of methods, tools, techniques, and approaches that were all called OD in the textbook. This text, copyrighted in 2001, offers the socio-technical model, the horizontal corporation, rightsizing, downsizing, force-field analysis, emergent-group behavior, team building, job enrichment, total quality management, self-managed teams, reengineering, learning systems, high-performing systems, but surprisingly, no Six Sigma.  A wonder that the authors missed it, but my poor students are already totally overwhelmed with all the options they have.
 
The amazing number of different approaches reminded me of something my wife, Carole, is fond of saying, 'Any diet will do so long as you stick to it. '  While I'm not sure that any OD approach will do, most of them do a pretty good job. But the 'stick to it ' is certainly important, and clearly difficult. 
 
I'm not sure why we don't stick to it, but I think Deming had something to say about it. In Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986), W. Edwards Deming stated:  'Deadly diseases afflict most companies in the Western world.  An esteemed economist (Carolyn A. Emigh) remarked that cure of the deadly diseases will require total reconstruction of Western management. '

Among Deming's seven deadly diseases is #4:  Mobility of management; job hopping. This observation which he attributes first to J. Noguchi, managing director of he Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers is, I believe, still relevant today.  I remember being told when I started at Ford Motor Company in the early 1970s that I should, as a rising star, expect to change jobs every 18-24 months. When that stopped I would know my career had peaked.  Some things die hard. Deming leaned hard on us about that issue in the 1980s.  A good friend of mine recently reported to me that the same, unstated management development tactic was still around in the early 1990s.
 
Deming used to quote Dagwood Bumstead about issues like this.  'It makes a lot of sense until you think about it. '  Move around, get to know a lot of parts of the organization. That sounds like a good development plan -- except that when most of the leadership is constantly moving, it is hard to be in a job long enough to understand how to make a significant impact.  In fact, there is a real incentive to quickly make any kind of change that is likely to see fast results with no regard for the long-term effects.  After all, we'll all be in other jobs when 'long term ' becomes 'now. '
 
This phenomenon is not unique to Ford. A few years ago, a speaker quipped that all across the land a school bell seems to ring every two years as all the K-12 school superintendents change jobs.  Even our government suffers from this tendency. Whenever someone is elected from a different party, things are changed just for the sake of change. When he served as governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton embraced continuous improvement.  His successor, upon election, promptly abolished it.  In my own fair state of Michigan, Governor John Engler began his term in office by completely dismantling and restructuring what was once the Department of Commerce.
It is hard to maintain continuity when the new boss sets entirely new direction every couple of years.  I believe the truth is that frequently those major redirections are more faŤade than content.  But the people doing the work are not sure. Another Flavor of the Month. How often have we heard that?  Some folks try to respond without knowing exactly what to do. Others, having seen it all before, just ride it out.
 
Maybe it's time to stick to the diet.  If you're doing Six Sigma, stay the course.  Learn with it, of course. No OD intervention is perfect. But stay with the core of it. Honor what works. We, as new leaders, are often guilty of letting folks think that whatever they were doing before we got here was useless. That's needlessly painful and usually not helpful. As leaders, let's take the time to really find out what's going on before we change diets. And let's honor and stay with the good that belongs to this organization we've come to lead.
 
As always, I would love to hear other views on why we seem to have so much trouble 'sticking to the diet. '  I'm at support@pqsystems.com


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