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Six Sigma and more: David Schwinn
Joy in the workplace

As we arrived in the lobby of the Westin in Grand Cayman, George Davidson was playing the love song from Phantom of the Opera on the grand piano. Grand Cayman is one of our favorite winter retreats and George has been a staple of what we enjoy about that warm and refreshing island since we began going there so many years ago. George’s self-taught style always brings a smile to my face, relaxation to my body, and joy to my heart. It seemed an appropriate culmination to a year full of joy.

This year began with an eight-month sabbatical that started with an exploration of peace at the University of Peace in Costa Rica and a humbling interview with Nomfundo Walese, the executive director of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town. In the midst of our travels, we spoke with Ravi Kant, the vice chairman of Tata Motors in Mumbai, who explained how their chairman, Ratan Tata, had envisioned a way to provide inexpensive, personal transportation to Indian families so badly in need of a better way to get around. Tata created the Nano to manifest that noble vision.

Our travels further took us to Oleana in Norway, where we found that outsourcing is not necessary in the textile industry…or, perhaps, anywhere else, for that matter. Our last stop was with Tom Inui, Director of Research for the Indiana University Kenya Program, who taught us to “write our values on our forehead” as a way to manage and lead. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places we went, the things that we learned, and the joy that we found.” As I reflected on this theme of joy, I remembered how lucky I have been to have a career mostly full of joy.

My first full-time work assignment after college was to go back to school to learn the other things I needed to know to properly design metal fabrication processes. After four years of a 24-credit, 30-contact-hour undergraduate schedule, what a joy to have more time to actually learn something! As I started my work as a process engineer after my bonus education, I was asked to take on a state-of-the-art die casting project to produce some previously purchased permanent mold casting as structurally sound die castings. What fun!

After some interesting job assignments at both General Motors and Ford, I was lucky enough to be in the midst of the action at Ford World Headquarters at the time we needed to convert our management style to what we called Participative Management/Employee Involvement and then to embrace the philosophy and teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. I came to feel as though Deming’s four-day seminars were spiritual experiences. That work at Ford morphed into consulting and training. What a joy to be able to help organizations improve themselves in ways that enriched the lives of customers and employees alike. And that further morphed into the community work that permitted me to help communities improve the quality of life of their citizens. Now, I get to help evolving and aspiring managers and leaders to be affirmed in their fundamental belief in the good of the people who work for them rather than to think they need to manage and lead in the styles they so often experience that seem to assume that the people who do the work are lazy, stupid, or both. But this joy I find is more than just in the nature of the work.

Despite the traditional norm of having “professional,” respectful relationships in the workplace, I find myself falling in love with my colleagues, employees, bosses, clients, and students. I remember Sandy when I was back at Ford whose outrageous, bright, fun, and amazingly productive behavior seamlessly integrated with her catching of the bouquet at our wedding. Then there’s Scottie, one of my current colleagues, whose admonitions have come from “Don’t screw this up,” to “I’m so grateful you are part of the team,” to the tears that came when she anticipated our separation during my sabbatical. Then there’s my student, Luca, who asked if he could lead the class in the creation of a college-wide student appreciation day and after that went on to plan a new school for the poor children in Ghana as part of his classroom assignments. Beyond all this, this column originated at a special time of year…when joy is in the air.

At Christmas, I was reminded that Jesus, when asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

While I make no apology for being a Christian, I know that kind of sentiment is not unique to Christianity. Islam asks its followers to do unto all men as you would wish done unto you, while Buddhism says to hurt not others with that which pains yourself (Jeffrey Moses, Oneness: Great Principles Shared by all Religions, Ballantine Books, New York, 1989). Even Kurt Vonnegut, the prolific humanist and atheistic writer says there is only one rule… “Be kind.” These sentiments have served me well. I think they lead to joy. I think kindness, joy, and success are inextricably intertwined.

I hope your holidays were joyful and that you can find ways to continue the joy into the new year and beyond. As always, I treasure your comments and questions. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.

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