Six Sigma and more:
Let's all cheer!
My wife, Carole, and I love tennis. Both Andre Agassi and James Blake, two of our tennis favorites, shared similar thoughts as they departed the US Open this year. They both thanked the fans for their support and explained how important their cheering was to them. They said the cheers took them to higher levels of achievement and picked them up when they were down. After hearing those comments, Carole remarked,"What would happen if we all cheered for each other?"
I recalled how my mom and dad were my great cheerleaders. They thought and told me that everything about me and everything that I did was perfect except, of course, when I broke the rules. They were so zealous about my perfection that they lost credibility with me during my teenage years. But those cheers have encouraged me to do a lot of things I probably would not have tried otherwise. And when the reality hits me that I'm not really as perfect as mom and dad thought, it is still OK.
This cheerleading occurs in another of my intimate relationships. Carole and I tend to be "glass half full" people. Early in our relationship, we concluded that we both thought the other was perfect. We were a little concerned that that couldn't really be true and that we might be creating some kind of self-delusion that would destroy our relationship. Well, what we've learned over 20 plus years is that we ARE both perfect and, miraculously, we both become even more perfect in each other's eyes every day. And now, the rest of the story.
I heard someone on the radio recently describing a problem with parents today. The problem, as they were describing it was that parents are praising their children too often and too enthusiastically. For example, they overheard parents on the playground eagerly praising their child for going down a slide, an achievement that was really not very challenging. They thought we should save our praise for those things that really challenge the child. I think they thought that this overabundant praise would make it less than valuable. Maybe they are right; but except for that period during my teenage years when I thought my parents were not very objective, that is not my experience. I think we all usually err on the side of inadequate, not too much praise.
This idea of cheering also seems to work in the workplace. Deming's concept of continual improvement showed us, among other things, that anything we do falls somewhere within a spectrum of bloody awful and perfect, so the definition that mom, dad, Carole, and I use for our each others' perfectness may not meet Deming's operational definition of perfection. I think that's okay. What was important about his concept was that in nearly everything we do, there is some positive aspect…an opportunity to cheer. Let me share a few examples.
In class, we all applaud when someone makes a presentation. We do not do it because their presentation was necessarily excellent. We do it because they had the courage to make a presentation. I believe it makes for more comfortable and better presentations.
I took over a small automotive parts plant several years ago in order to undue the damage done by a previous plant manager who made Attila the Hun look like Jesus Christ. I explained to people that I appreciated the good work they were doing under difficult circumstances and I asked them for their ideas. I assumed they were good ideas and worked with them until I understood them and adopted them or agreed to modify them and adopt the modification. We had parties to celebrate successes. I shared good, no all, news from customers with all the employees. I am happy to say that people who, when I entered the plant, were careful to just do their jobs as they understood them were, by the time I left, making unsolicited suggestions and changes to improve the plant and the products it supplied.
In the late 70's at Ford, we worked with the UAW to create Participative Management/Employee Involvement. It was one of the key strategies that turned around our poor quality. Cheering and encouraging the intellect of all the employees was the essence of that initiative.
Here's another straightforward suggestion. I learned
this from Jamshid Gharajedaghi. It is consistent with good facilitation
but frequently forgotten. It was a key technique for engaging people
of diverse backgrounds and opinions in the Jackson Community Transformation
Project in Jackson County, Michigan. When you ask for people's opinions,
make sure any constraints on what can be done are obvious before
asking. Record their ideas so the person giving the idea can see
it in their own words. If you do not understand it, agree to reword
it so you do. If ideas seem to conflict with one another, seek common
ground. If common ground cannot be found, agree on an experiment
to try one of the ideas. Then try out the idea. This widely understood
but not widely practiced method is a form of cheering.
I have one more important thought to share. Simply
saying thank you is a form of cheering. Among the many memorials
to the people who died on 9/11, someone who listened to the final
messages of those we lost, summarized the messages as follows:
I love you.
Everything will be all right.
Maybe we should treat every communication as if
it is our last.
As always, I'm eager to receive your comments and
questions. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org
2006 PQ Systems.
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