Six Sigma and more:
Katrina, Six Sigma, and more
In the wake of Katrina, we witnessed both failed government and inspired citizenry. We blamed incompetence, racism, bureaucracy, poor planning, politics, poor communication, and many of our governmental leaders. We were awed by heroics on the part of frontline public servants, the Red Cross, churches, schools, various other nonprofit organizations, businesses, school children, and just plain citizens.
As I struggled with what we could learn from this heartbreaking disaster, I began to look through a framework we developed years ago as part of the Association for Quality and Participation’s (AQP) School for Managing and Leading Change. The framework was a diamond organized around four perspectives on management: Purpose, Form, Freedom, and Connection. As I heard accusations of racism, I thought about Purpose. As I heard about government officials stuck either in rules and regulations or plain inaction, I thought about bureaucracy, a typical Form of organization. I thought about fear, one outcome of a perceived lack of Freedom. And the many communication breakdowns made me think about Connection.
Let’s look at the failures of government from a Purpose perspective. There have been accusations of racism and insensitivity toward the poor. Some have said we have provided no safety net to the neediest among us. Those sentiments led me to think that our government officials are mean-spirited. I found that conclusion difficult to agree with until I remembered a meeting I had with a state legislator several years ago. He invited two African American men from our community, a white woman and a white man from his staff, and a white woman from the governor’s office. He started the meeting by setting the stage with me, a white man, by explaining that African Americans and women were both categories of people who were somehow lesser than the rest of us. He followed with what was, I assume, the point of the meeting. He explained in detail how the state legislature had solved the problem of poverty. He said that the only poor people then in our state were those who wanted to be poor. As you can imagine, I was outraged and told him so. I doubt he heard me. Now, I don’t think he was mean-spirited, but I do think he was out of touch with reality. So, maybe, the government’s purpose was simply unclear or less than noble.
The failures seen through a Form perspective seem fairly simple. We had people both stuck in their bureaucratic boxes and trying to function with unclear roles regarding who had the authority and responsibility to act. Didn’t we cover that in MGMT 101 Principles of Management? Maybe not. The perspectives of Freedom and Connection are closely tied with Form. The governmental bureaucracies not only gave government officials permission not to act, they probably created a culture in which those officials felt they would be punished if they acted incorrectly. So Freedom was out the window. And Connection. Remember the Patriot Act that was put in place so that governmental agencies would talk to one another? It sounds like we don’t quite have that together yet, either.
Now let’s use the AQP framework as a lens from which to view an inspired citizenry. First, the peoples’ Purpose seemed perfectly clear; to help people in need…ALL of them. The Form was varied and creative. Some emergency action agencies went to their planned action mode. Some non-emergency agencies adapted their organizational structure to get the job done. Some individual citizens created networks and some school children just came together to enlist the help of their local communities. And let’s talk about Freedom. A populace who is generally too busy and economically stretched too thin found the time and resources to help. We used our Freedom to find discretionary time and resources to devote to a cause worthy of our effort. And Connection. People from all over the country sent and brought resources to help those so much in need. People shared their homes. All of a sudden this country that spends so much time separating from and even persecuting minorities of every type became “…one nation under God…” And think of the outpouring of support we received from around the world. Now, that’s Connection!
So what has Katrina to teach us about Six Sigma? I’m sure you have already found your own learnings from Katrina, but let me use the AQP framework to add my comments.
1. Purpose. First, make your purpose big and participatively developed. Make it big enough to be worthy of the people acting it out. Six Sigma is not enough. Profit is not enough. Try being clear about who you will serve and how you will do it…and then act as though you believe that purpose. And involve the people who are asked to respond to this big purpose to be involved in its development. The research is solid here. People support what they have designed. That’s how you get that discretionary effort the people of the world showed the victims of Katrina.
2. Form. We all know that the real work gets done through the informal organization and hardly ever through the traditional organization chart. Make your form creative and flexible enough to get the job done. Some people need more structure and some people need more freedom. If you want people to perform, give them all of what they need.
3. Freedom. Encourage freedom alongside responsibility. Encourage people to think systemically without fear of reprisal if they operate in innovative ways. And give them the tools to be successful.
4. Connection. Use both formal communication channels and the grapevine. Meet face-to-face. Encourage dialogue. Meet in circle. Invite in people who bring a broader or just different perspective. Find out about each other… we’re whole people, not just employees. Do book clubs. Have a celebration.
I’m not sure we can ever make sense out of tragedies like Katrina, but maybe we can learn from them.
As always, I treasure your thoughts. I’m at email@example.com
Copyright 2005 PQ Systems.
Please direct questions or problems regarding this web site to the Webmaster.