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DQ Point 13: Education and Self-Improvement

Published
  • March 01 1999, 1:00am EST
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This is the eighteenth in a series of discussions of quality guru W. Edwards Deming's fourteen points of quality and their ramifications for information quality, excerpted from my book entitled Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality, now available from John Wiley. So important is education and training in quality that it constitutes two of Deming's 14 Points. While point 6 addresses job training, point 13 addresses people development. "What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education."1 Point 13 reads, "Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement."2 Not just a program for the exceptional staff, nor just an optional program, nor a program considered expendable when profits are down, but a "vigorous" program for "everybody" for improvement in tomorrow's skills. Investment in training in vacuum tube and transistor technology represents an investment that was successful in the 1940s and 1950s, but that will not create competitive advantage in the twenty-first century.

Optical Fibres, a Northern Wales manufacturer of some of today's information technology, has a strong people-centric focus. While they ­ like other enterprises ­ can no longer guarantee lifetime employment, they can ­ and do ­ guarantee their people the opportunity for self-development and self-improvement. Every person in the company has the opportunity to undergo extensive quality improvement training as well as other development and education opportunities. The payback? Loyalty with low employee turnover, high morale, a strong sense of teamwork and a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation.

Point 13 places the right priority on the resources of the enterprise ­ its people resources. But how do you know tomorrow's skills today? You don't. You develop people's knowledge and let them apply their knowledge to create tomorrow's new technologies, techniques and processes that add new value. If you change the paradigm of how and what work is done, then everyone else must catch up to you. If your competitor changes the paradigm of how work is done, then you must catch up to them ­ if you can.

But it may not be in the best interest of your organization to "create" change. That's okay. You must, however, develop your people so they are prepared to make the paradigm shift when it is feasible for your enterprise. Management must determine which change orientation is right. Appropriate organizational change orientation strategies include experimenter (create change), early adopter (make change work) or pragmatist (change when stable).3 Change strategies of late adopter (change only when forced to) or resister (attempt to avoid change) risk organization failure.

Ramifications of Self-Improvement on Information Quality

Point 13 brings to full focus the requirement for understanding and education in the principles of the information age paradigm. Joel Barker, a futurist, describes a crucial and profound truth when paradigms change. He calls it the "Going Back To Zero Rule." This rule says, "When a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. It doesn't matter how big your market share is, or how strong your reputation. Or how good you are at the old paradigm. Your past success guarantees nothing."4 Barker illustrates this truth with the following lesson.

In 1969, Switzerland, renowned for their watch-making excellence for over one-hundred years, dominated the market for watch-making with 65 percent of world market share and over 80 percent of the profits.5 Yet, 10 years later ­ less than one-tenth of the time they dominated the market ­ their market share slid to less than 10 percent, causing layoffs of 50,000 of the 65,000 (over 75 percent!) watch-makers during the next three years. Why? The introduction of the quartz watch, invented by the Swiss themselves, changed the paradigm of watches. In fact, the Swiss watch manufacturers were so convinced the quartz watch would not succeed that they did not patent it. However, when it was displayed at the annual watch conference in 1967, Texas Instruments and Seiko saw the potential of the new paradigm. The demise of the Swiss watch-making industry demonstrates the power of paradigm shifts. The new invention did not fit the paradigm of that era's watch-making management. Even though the quartz watch concept was first presented to the Swiss watch manufacturers, the idea was so counter to their paradigm of watches with bearings, gears and a mainspring that they dismissed it. They were blinded by their paradigm to the future of a totally electronic and versatile watch that could be a thousand times more accurate than the then-current technology.

This is not an isolated incident. Many of the world's successful organizations have gone through paradigm shifts and come through them only after some traumatic reinventing of themselves ­ usually with significant loss of market share. IBM, General Motors, Sears-Roebuck and Company and Kodak are just some examples. But many do not make the shift. Fifty percent of the companies on previous Fortune 500 lists are missing 10 years later. They failed or were gobbled up by the competition. The rate of "missing-in-action" is accelerating in today's realized information age.

Today's future belongs to those who understand the paradigm of the information resource and who implement the principles of managing and maximizing its information resources. Management principles similar to those applied to every other business resource must be applied to the information resource. However, the use that can be made of managed information enables ­ and requires ­ fundamental organization and relationship changes.

The management and organization characteristics of the information age enterprise are counter to those of the industrial age enterprise. These characteristics are contrasted in Figure 1.

Industrial Age Characteristics Information Age Characteristics
Hierarchical and bureaucratic Horizontal team configuration
Organized around functions Organized around processes and results
Static and traditional Dynamic and entrepreneurial
Product focus Customer-supplier focus
Profit driver and measure Customer-satisfaction driver and measure
Centralized concentration Distributed: "close" to customers
Disconnected: interface-based relationships Connected: integrated, cooperative relationships
Individual rewards Team rewards
Specialized labor Empowered, informed, trained knowledge workers
Financial currency and resource Information currency and resource
Figure 1: Industrial Age Versus Information Age Enterprise Characteristics

Organizations that have a vision to thrive will invest in their people resources so they are prepared for the new paradigms of the realized information age.

What do you think? Send your comments to Larry.English@infoimpact.com or through his Web site at www.infoimpact.com.

References

1 Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge. MIT, Center for Advanced Engineering Study. 1986. P. 86.

2 Ibid. P. 24.

3 Martin, James. Reskilling the IT Professional. New York. Prentice Hall Computer Books. 1993.

4 Barker, Joel. Video: Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms. Burnsville, MN: Charthouse International Learning Corporation, Master trainer's manual. P. 79.

5 Ibid. P. 80.

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