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Six Sigma and more: David Schwinn
Finding common ground

Reader Terry Lewis posed a very well-considered question about last month's column. He asked about the difference between the negotiated production rates that I experienced in my early days at General Motors (GM) and co-developed goals, for which I advocated at the end of the column. The logical reason for his question was that I described the negotiated rates at GM as being almost completely inaccurate and useless for prediction. Terry was asking why negotiated rates are not useful when co-developed goals are. What's the difference? I'll start with the answer I initially gave Terry.

The difference between the two, that I should have explained, is in the intention. The faked production rates resulted from an implicit, sometimes explicit, win-lose competition between the industrial engineers and the production people. The production people wanted the lowest standards possible, because they would be judged against them, regardless of the level of natural variation or the kind of extraneous circumstances (special cause variation).

The truth is that none of the participants understood variation, except that the production folks knew intuitively that they might not make the numbers and, of course, might get punished as a result. The negotiated result was a result of the skill of the individual operator to fake the production rate, the passion and skill of the foreman to get a low number, and the willingness of the individual industrial engineer to cave in. The variation between these negotiated standards and actual production varied all over the map, depending on who the individual players in each negotiation were.

On the other hand, the co-development process I am advocating intends to find common ground among the stakeholders or, better yet, a synergistic result better than any of them could have envisioned.

I am reminded of a conflict management model in one of my textbooks. There are four possible outcomes to a conflict: I win and you lose, you win and I lose, we both compromise where, as our brilliant daughter, Lisa, likes to say, everyone loses, or we can find a solution where we both win. That last situation is the one I'm referring to when I discuss co-developing.

The next question might be how we get to this win-win common ground. I do not think that is easy, but a few ideas come to mind. Let's start with trust.

At General Motors, the operators trusted neither their foremen, the work standards engineers, nor management in general. By the way, none of the other players trusted any of the others either. I think we start being trusted when we become honest. I know it is difficult to be honest. Sometimes I am inclined to say what people want to hear rather than what I perceive as the truth. I, sometimes, have worried that my career may depend on saying the right thing. Sometimes, I may speak before I have fully thought out what I believe the truth to be. My guess is that many of us get caught in this kind of trap and many others. As a first step, the process demands this honesty.

The second step is to do what we say. One of the most common complaints about managers is that they do not “walk the talk.” Gandhi said it a little differently… “Be the change you want to see in the world.” To be trustworthy, we have to seek the truth and walk the talk. I think the Buddhists would go a little further… to think, speak, and act toward the well-being of ourselves and of all others. That sounds a little daunting to me, be if we could do just that…holy schomoly, as our old friend Mike Cleary says!

We live in a culture that thrives on competition. We love to rate and rank, as Dr. W. Edwards Deming used to say. It is easy to do since, as Deming also reminded us, “Everything is one of a kind.” Unfortunately the practice of competition is not very useful. It can even be destructive, since we frequently don't know if the differences are “natural” and to be expected or “special” and to be paid attention to.

Beating someone else, whether it is your wife, or another country, or anything in between, is called win-lose competition. There is also win-win competition. Win-win competition simply means that we declare, both explicitly and implicitly, no losers. It is not that difficult, but our cultural default is toward win-lose competition. Alfie Kohn argues articulately that win-win competition is significantly superior to win-lose competition (No Contest: The Case Against Competition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986). I agree. But creating win-win competition takes a little thought. I think it is worth the effort.

Once we've begun moving toward behaving with integrity and thinking win-win instead of win-lose, a couple of specific techniques for co-developing a synergistic common ground come to mind.

Gerry Nadler suggests that whenever people disagree, as in the GM situation, simply ask each person what is the purpose of his or her position. He describes doing this over and over again in a very structured way. He calls this technique “Purpose Expansion.” Once a shared purpose is found, it is far easier to develop goals that make sense to everyone (Integrative Problem Solving: improving your Effectiveness as an Engineer and Manager. Norcross, GA: Industrial Engineering and Management Press, 1986).

A similar approach comes from William Ury. With an orientation toward negotiation, he ends up finding common ground by using a counterintuitive approach to negotiations. His two books that I love are Getting Past No (New York: Bantam Books, 1991) and Getting to Yes (with Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton. New York: Penguin Books, 1981).

I think we can do a much better job of co-developing goals by acting with integrity, reorienting ourselves toward win-win rather than win-lose, and by beginning to try out some of the techniques of Nadler and Ury. As always, I welcome your comments and questions. I'm at support@pqsystems.com.

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