Creating a high-performance society...
Your community wants you
By Darcy Hitchcock - Axis Performance Advisors, Inc.
So, you've implemented a total quality culture in your organization. People
are empowered and processes are under control. You've also partnered with
vendors and suppliers.
The problem now is that your improvements have stalled and the root causes
are things outside your control: job candidates who can't do math, government
regulations and red tape, a dearth of qualified applicants for certain
positions, and employees distraught about vandalism in the parking lot. In
other words, the problems of our society are knocking at your door.
Build stronger fences or...? Those of us in the total quality field are in an
excellent position to be part of the solution because the problems our
communities face are reflections of problems we have fixed in our
organizations. We have the knowledge and methods which can help transform our
society. Using total quality principles and techniques, we have eliminated
waste, delighted customers, and empowered those on the front lines. Why not
do the same on a larger scale?
We've enlarged our focus by partnering with customers and suppliers. Why not
throw the net a little wider to encompass more interdependent segments of our
A call to action - If you watch the evening news, you are assaulted with the
forces that tear at the fabric of our society: drugs, crime, homelessness,
hate, the break up of the family. Our task may seem overwhelming but it has
never been more urgent. This article is your call to action; let's join
forces to transform ourselves into a high-performance society.
A look at a system out of control
You don't have to look far to find waste in our world - within organizations,
across organizations, and between sectors of society:
- It irks me that medical forms ask me for my birth date and age. Is this
just spiteful or a sanity test?
- It bugs me that school buses spend most of their time idle at the same time
the public transit system wants more money.
- It peeves me that I was encouraged to go into teaching in time for the baby
bust; any demographer could have told me there would be a glut of teachers
- It galls me that there are entire divisions of government that do nothing
but 100 percent inspection, for example, issuing building permits. If the FDA
did this, you would have an agent stationed at every restaurant table,
thermometer in hand.
- And our so-called corrections departments are nothing but storage and
rework systems (another form of waste). Anyone can see that the system is not
How did we get into this mess? We got into this mess by using the same type
of thinking to design our society as we used to build our organizations. Our
communities are simply a macrocosm of the problems found in traditional
organizations. Just as we created functional, stovepipe organizations where
work was broken up into groups doing similar tasks, so have we created a
functional (not to be confused with practical) society.
A society separated by silos and stove-pipes... Using reductionist thinking
and a mechanistic paradigm, we separated our society into segments as if
dissecting the organism would help it live better. We delegated:
- The education of our children to the schools...
- Our compassion to non-profits...
- Our safety to regulators and police...
- Our dispute resolution to the courts...
- And our collective will to legislators.
No wonder citizens feel disempowered!
Let's be all we can be!
Now imagine a society where total quality and high-performance principles are
imbedded in every sector of society. The principles which have guided the
transformation of our organizations are equally applicable on a larger scale:
Even if all we can do is to fully implement these within our organizational
sectors, we would make great strides. In fact, many successes are already in
progress, but we can and should go further.
- Focusing on the customer...
- Eliminating waste...
- Making fact-based decisions...
- Empowering those on the front line.
Imagine a future community
Can you imagine how things might be different in
a high performance society? What would the community be like if:
- Batch sizes of students could be reduced to one so that every child could
remain challenged and fulfill her potential?
- Government benchmarked itself against best practices and measured its
- Our judicial and penal systems reached six-sigma quality levels?
- Doctors viewed the patient, not the healthcare provider, as the customer?
- Tax dollars were spent only on programs which could prove a positive
Strengthening the ties that bind us together - Now imagine a world where the
interconnections between sectors were strengthened. What would it be like if:
- Education and the private sector worked so closely that graduates could be
turned out just-in-time - and with the right skills?
- Employees worked in multiple organizations,
sharing knowledge and resources while balancing fluctuations in workload?
- All citizens felt a deep responsibility to work in the best interests of
the whole community and to contributed to it- like a self-directed team does
for its organization? Applied at a societal level, TQM principles can
Wanted: a few good men and women
We know how to implement total quality principles within organizations. How
might they be applied on a broader scale?
Focus on the customer - Many sectors of our society operate as monopolies or
cartels (not as the public utilities envisioned by Adam Smith) with protected
markets. How would you rate the service and value for cost of the following
sampling of protected organizations:
- Power and communications utilities...
- Cable companies...
- School systems...
- Garbage service...
- Public transportation...
- Community hospitals...
- Fire departments.
While most of these now experience some competition, their customers are
still largely captives with only one choice for service.
Power to the customers! The single most powerful action you can take to
change the status quo is to give customers information and choice:
- ust ask employees of the former Ma Bell who have weathered their
divestiture process about the impact of choice...
- Ask parents in several communities which now allow parents to choose their
children's school about the impact of choice in their children's education...
- Technology is to the point where you could choose your electric utility
just as you choose your long-distance company.
Let's get radical...
Wherever possible, customers should be given the power
to choose between options or choose the service provider: schools, doctors,
caseworkers, job training programs, transit systems, garbage pickup. Once an
organization's market is at risk, it is motivated to investigate customer
needs. This is when all our knowledge about how to stay close to the customer
becomes useful. Even in services where you would only want one provider at a
time (such as fire departments and building departments), governments can bid
out the services - this would introduce the element of competition to public
service. To paraphrase Osborne and Gaebler, authors of Reinventing
Government, government should steer and not row.
Organizing public service around the customer
When choice of providers is
not truly viable, the system must be organized around the customer. In
Reinventing Government, the authors describe a young, pregnant woman on
welfare with a juvenile record; she was served by a half-dozen caseworkers.
This system is obviously not organized to meet her needs or to make efficient
use of tax dollars.
People trapped in the current welfare system require Herculean organizational
skills to dash from one office to another, fill out forms, gather documents
and wait in numerous lines. Instead, citizens should have a one-stop shopping
center for addressing related needs. For example, in Michigan an Opportunity
Card was proposed to coordinate life-long learning. The Opportunity Card, as
proposed would be a "... smart credit card, with a computer chip, which would
go to every Michigan citizen of working age. Citizens would have a social
security card for retirement, a driver's license for transportation, and an
Opportunity Card for lifelong education and training. They would bring their
card to any Opportunity Store, where a counselor would insert it in his or
her computer, read the data from the person's last entry into the Human
Investment System, and advise them about how and where to find the training
or education they wanted." The idea, unfortunately, was derailed by a lack of
Eliminate waste through coordination and collaboration
Perhaps it is our
rock-ribbed faith in the free-market economy that stops us from coordinating
efforts between and across sectors.
We leave too many things to chance.
Would somebody please introduce these people? The Pacific Northwest is
currently reeling from smaller timber harvests. Lumber mills have been idled
and small communities devastated. At the same time, Meadowood, a small
innovative company, has devised a way to make pressboard from waste grass
straw (thus at once reducing the need for the polluting field burning and the
need for cutting trees). Meadowood's problem: they cannot keep up with demand
for lack of equipment and capital.
Currently, we have no forum or process in our society to resolve problems
like these. In a simpler age, serendipity and the free market may have worked
fine, but with a global economy and information overload, interactions in the
marketplace now look more like Brownian movements (random motion in a petri
Can we create self-directed communities? Compare our approach to the
Mondragon cooperatives in Spain. These community cooperatives are integrated
systems with a bank at the hub. The bank, which receives deposits and
direction from the community, is responsible for funding new ventures. They
become partners in the effort and offer reduced interest rates to socially
needed endeavors or struggling ventures. This system provides a vehicle for
managing the community's needs - investment, jobs, and products/services.
One more important point: these Spanish cooperatives are owned by their
employees and major policy decisions are decided on a one-person, one-vote
basis. They will never be slaves to traders on Wall Street, yet they have
yielded the highest productivity per person in Spain and have weathered
gyrating political and economic environments. This is not a planned economy
in the way the former Soviet Union was; it is simply a forum for coordinating
(without bureaucrats) the resources and needs of the community. It is a
More on societal waste
As total quality professionals, we are skilled in
analyzing processes for non-value added activities and waste which often show
up in the form of storage, delays,
waiting, transportation, and bottlenecks.
Where are these elements of waste in our society?
- As for delays, should filibuster be legal?
- Why do we design our so-called communities around all-residential suburban
tracts so that transportation to anything is needed instead of providing a
variety of opportunities for work, shopping, learning, and leisure within
A focus on prevention...
TQM's maxim that you can't add quality back into a
process also applies. We must focus on prevention, rather than rework. Why do
we spend more on fighting fires than preventing them? Often 20 percent of a
city's entire general fund is spent on fire departments and our
fix-it-after-the-fatal fire approach yields one of the highest fatality rates
in the industrialized world.
Healthcare in Oregon...
The State of Oregon has received a lot of attention
for its healthcare initiative which focuses on prevention. Since funds for
health/medical care are limited, the state has identified which practices are
most likely to be worth the investment. Preventive interventions such as
prenatal care are given priority over things like organ transplants - the
cost of preventing a quality/birth defect is a fraction of the cost of fixing
the problem later.
Make fact-based decisions
As Duncan Wyse, director of the Oregon Progress
Board says, "Data will make you free but first it will tick you off." It is
the outrage that gets many of us involved.
The Oregon Benchmarks process...
The Oregon Progress Board assembled with
community input a set of measures called the Oregon Benchmarks which track
indicators of societal health.
The indicators are groups in three categories: people, quality of life, and
the economy. Current data has been gathered on such results-oriented measures
- Literacy rates...
- Drug-addicted babies...
- Air quality...
- Crime rates...
- Organizations following high-performance practices.
Twenty year goals have been set and state funding is now being tied to an
agency's ability to show a direct impact on these Benchmarks. The state
legislature is required to review progress on these every two years.
It is hoped that these Benchmarks will align the activities of all sectors to
solving the priority issues and root cause problems of Oregon's communities.
Even organizations such as the United Way are using the Benchmarks to focus
their efforts. Community involvement is occurring through the creation of
local Progress Boards and Adopt-A-Benchmark outreach activities.
Empower the front line
Peter Block, in Stewardship, makes a compelling case
for employees and managers becoming partners. It seems somewhat patronizing
to treat employees as partners when in fact they are not, to ask them to take
ownership when in fact they are not owners. Treating people like partners is
the first step; making them partners is the next.
An employee owned fire fighting firm...
Scottsdale, Arizona has contracted
out its fire department to an employee owned company, Rural Metro, a move
which has left Scottsdale with approximately half the costs of similar-sized
communities and a 15 percent decrease in fire losses.
Real ownership means people have decision making power...
It is not enough to
be employee-owned, for many organizations jumped on the ESOP bandwagon purely
for tax incentives. People must have a say in their organizations. Like the
Mondragon cooperatives mentioned earlier, some organizations are run on
democratic principles or even make employees owners. Examples include
Baldrige-winner, Johnsonville Foods of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Semco in
Brazil. While not well known in this country, labor-owned cooperatives are a
viable business structure which have been able to compete effectively. Given
the problems inherent in selling your soul to gamblers on Wall Street, I
think this is a structure worth investigating.
We also need to re-empower our citizens, most of
whom are overcome with learned helplessness. The problems of our society seem
so overwhelming and each person's influence minuscule. But we have to take
the power back. We gave it away to various institutions, we can take it back.
Begin the transformation with manageable units...
Consistent with the African
saying that it takes an entire village to raise a child, we must reinvigorate
our communities. First, we must focus on neighborhoods because people cannot
identify with hundreds of thousands of people. On this small scale,
ownership, responsibility, and volunteerism are more easily achieved.
Volunteerism and responsibility in Maine...
Topsham, Maine (population
10,000) has reinvigorated their community through the use of volunteers. The
town has only 70 paid employees with approximately 15 percent of the work
being donated by volunteers. While this has saved the community an estimated
$6 on their $16 per $1000 tax rate, the primary pay-back has been in bringing
people together. George Deans, who runs the recreation program says, "Topsham
has a real close feeling now."
Technology is opening doors to citizen empowerment...
With innovations such
as Internet and interactive TV, we are on the threshold of taking our
democracy back. Citizens could sign up to electronic mailing lists of issues
which concern them and then make their opinions known immediately to their
representatives. Some decisions which are now decided (for us) by our
legislators might again be voted on by citizens from their homes. How much
faster could we change our society if we didn't have to wait for the second
Tuesday in November to make a decision. Our legislative process still
operates as if the representatives ride horses to the capitol. Perhaps
technology will enable all citizens to get more involved in our own
What can you and others in your organization do? Here are two suggestions:
- Take the TQM knowledge and methods you have and use it to address a problem
you worry passionately about in your community. There are a myriad of
contributions you could make as an individual or as a representative of your
- Within your organization, take responsibility for improving a broader range
of societal issues. The organization can contribute more than just jobs to
your community. Take the organization's core competencies and share them with
others. Encourage all your employees to have a paid job and an unpaid one to
benefit the community.
- Just as you have built vendor and customer partnerships, build alliances
with organizations further up and down the value chain.
For example, evaluate your children's school system based on total quality
principles and talk to the principal about new ways of approaching education.
- Design a school-to-work transition process so new-hires will be prepared
for the 21st Century workplace.
Show teachers and students how their math skills are used to create SPC
charts in your workplace and let students attend your team meetings to
discover the importance of teamwork.
- Discuss and apply TQM and empowerment principles with your family.
- Within the broader community, formulate and track measures which relate to
a high-performance society. Do a community audit or capacity assessment using
the measures. Then align the actions of all sectors of society to address
For example, ask your United Way to focus funding on these high-priority
- Form a workforce quality council to coordinate the future needs of industry
with the work of educational institutions, job retraining agencies, and
- Form mentor teams of bankers, accountants, and business consultants to help
people start new ventures in disadvantaged communities.
Everyone has a contribution to make and if we align our efforts, we can make
There is a risk if you take on this mission
The downside of creating a high-performance society, of course, is that we
won't be able to blame others (legislators, regulators, bureaucrats, school
administrators...) for their incompetence in the same way that disempowered
employees complain about their executives.
I know it's a tough choice - to take responsibility or to whine. But the
stakes are high. We as quality professionals have the knowledge and the
methods to make this a better world. So what is our choice - Move out!
This article was originally published in the Journal for Quality and
Participation and is copywritten by the Association for Quality and
Participation, 801-B W. 8th St., Suite 501, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203, Tel:
513-381-1959, Fax 513-381-0070: all rights reserved. You may download and
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in a packet included in a course for fee you should contact Ned Hamson,
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"This is the time, we are the people, let's work together... Now!"
About the author:
Darcy Hitchcock is president and co-founder of AXIS
Performance Advisors, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to leveraging human
potential through performance systems, training, and teamwork. She has over
15 years experience in training and management. Hitchcock has written a
number of articles for this Journal and is one of the co-authors of the AQP/
Business One Irwin book, Why TQM Fails in Most Companies and What to Do About