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Quality & You

Empowering People Power

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    [post_content] => Several years ago, in an article entitled “In Pursuit of Excellence” for Personal Excellence magazine, Michael Jordan said that he always had the ultimate goal of being the best. “I approached everything step-by-step, using short-term goals. When I met one goal, I set another reasonable, manageable goal that I could achieve if I worked hard enough.”

That approach worked well for one of basketball’s greatest players. That same approach can help steer just about any other career from accountant to zoo keeper. Find a vision that you feel passionate about, and pursue it with the idea that you will achieve many goals along the way.

Companies work from a strategic vision—why shouldn’t you and your organization? Want to drive people toward a common goal, or inspire excellence? Observe every great talent and you’ll find a strategic vision at the core of their success.

When we look for excellence within our organizations, we seek out people who have the talent to make things happen. The “things” can be large or small. Mostly, we need people who have the ability make their efforts sustainable. Sometimes, I have found these people simply by engaging them in a discussion about excellence.

I also believe that there’s much to be gained from knowing your personal strengths, as well as being able to transform your weaknesses into strengths. But the fact remains that our strengths are places where we feel the most comfortable. In fact, you might say that it is our strengths that empower us the most.

Keeping that in mind, you should identify performance areas where people are forced outside of their comfort zones. When we build outside our comfort zones, we tend to destroy barriers that prevent us from growing stronger.

Let me give you a quick example. I have never been shy about challenging myself. Before I left my home country of Bangladesh for the United States, I learned to speak English. I knew that I would not be competitive if I did not communicate effectively. That meant I had to get to a level where I could speak and write well. Writing was my greatest weakness.

Day and night, I worked on my writing skills. Ultimately I completed a Masters’ degree in engineering at a U.S. university. I have written 13 books, and have consulted with many of the largest corporations in the world. My ability to communicate in English empowered me, and drove my career in quality management. I guarantee that if you improve yourself by focusing on your own weaknesses, you will find new strengths and empower yourself.

When we encourage talent, we cannot forget to demonstrate how discipline and determination turn dreams into realities. Discipline focuses our work effort; determination forces us to keep working at every turn—together, they empower us.
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Several years ago, in an article entitled “In Pursuit of Excellence” for Personal Excellence magazine, Michael Jordan said that he always had the ultimate goal of being the best....

Quality & Economics

Where’s Your Talent?

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    [post_date] => 2015-02-10 00:56:54
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    [post_content] => The Challenger space shuttle disintegrated in mid-air, killing all seven astronauts. It was later found that a $900 O-ring was to blame.

Years later, the Space Shuttle Columbia was torn apart during re-entry. This time, it was “unexpected consequences” of large chunks of ice that hit delicate wing parts during launch.

In both cases, official reports concluded that at least part of the problem at NASA was that the agency suffered from “talent drain”. NASA engineers had issued cautions about design flaws, and some even foresaw the precise failures that caused the disasters. Unfortunately, they were ignored.

There was a time when NASA not only listened to their engineers – they embraced their every word. In April of 1970, the U.S. manned space program was at its height. Americans had already launched two successful moon missions. Apollo 13 was on the pad and three astronauts blasted off from Cape Canaveral.

On the third day after launch, disaster struck when an oxygen fuel cell ruptured and practically destroyed the service module. The service module was the white cylinder mounted behind the command module. It was packed with vital electrical and thrust equipment. Without it, not only were the astronauts not going to finish their mission, their lives were threatened.

The next three days turned into a fast paced troubleshooting process. The crew, flight controllers, engineers and other astronauts worked to solve one life-threatening problem after another: lack of electrical generation, lack of thrust, lack of room, lack of heat.

They used spare parts and cannibalized components that were not designed to be modified in flight. They used duct tape and space suit parts in ways that nobody ever imagined. Working as hard and fast as they could, the team pieced together a miracle.

At the very end of an agonizing return trip, the entire team had to manually calculate final adjustments to aim the craft at a precise angle for re-entry.

In this instance, the individual talent of every engineer and technician who participated in the discussions was the only thing that could save the lives of the three astronauts. They were motivated, of course, and had a strong desire to change how things were done. In fact, this was an imperative: if had they done things by the book—the way the manuals instructed—the astronauts probably would not have made it back at all.

Everyone in that building had to think more creatively than ever before because human lives depended on it. This was American ingenuity at its best. If any idea had a chance of working, it was considered. No idea was too far-fetched. Square pegs were squeezed into round holes to save the crew of Apollo 13.

In the end, everyone at Apollo Mission Control—from the janitor to the launch director—learned a critical lesson from the experience. They learned that “good enough” is never enough, especially when it comes to dealing with people’s lives. Processes, procedures, and designs were all re-thought over and over again. Nothing was left to chance. No one was satisfied with the status quo.

Six days after launch, the Apollo 13 capsule splash down safely in the Pacific Ocean thanks to ingenuity and teamwork. Although the Apollo program lasted for just four more flights, I’m pretty sure the talent at NASA felt that they could accomplish anything.

Of course, talent does not surface only during crises where lives are hanging by a thread—experience has shown me that talent shows itself when leaders encourage it. When leaders are honest, empathetic, resist compromises on quality, the team—and talent—will follow.
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The Challenger space shuttle disintegrated in mid-air, killing all seven astronauts. It was later found that a $900 O-ring was to blame. Years later, the Space Shuttle Columbia was torn...

Quality & Process

Combating Fires

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    [post_content] => No matter where they occur, a fire can be a devastating event. When they happen around where we live, we rush to the location with manpower and equipment to extinguish the flames.

When I use the word “fire,” I’m thinking of the context of day-to-day management when there is a sudden problem that causes a specific crisis of some kind. It could be a malfunction in production, a faulty product, and an interruption in the supply chain. You could have a fire with personnel issues, a problem with your building, or transportation.

Like real fires, the flash point may be obvious or hidden; there could be single cause or a chain of them. Most of the fires we deal with tend to be minor in scope – easily extinguished and quickly resolved. On occasion, you can have a very large and extremely complex fire that involves many aspects of your business. But just like any fire, bad assumptions can easily lead to a misdiagnosis and mistreatment.

When I think of the average, run-of-the-mill fire, I think of one that starts with a terse phone call or sharp email. In the case of Paul A., the vice president of production at a sheet aluminum plant, it was both.

The email came from one of his best clients who – for the third time in as many months – complained that the palleted rolls of sheet aluminum were not labeled properly. Forklift operators in the receiving department, the email complained, were taking too long to find shipping labels.

He had heard a similar complaint from other clients. His reaction had been to spend $50,000 on new, larger labels that you could read almost 20 feet away.

[pullquote]It seems to me that eventually, we may become weary of rushing to the scene of the problem and instead learn how to instill the high level awareness to prevent fires in the first place.[/pullquote]

“I can read the labels 20 feet away,” emailed Paul. “And my eyes aren’t even very good. I think the forklift operators just like to complain.”

Then the phone call came – from his best client: “Fix the problem, or we’ll go somewhere else.”

That’s the moment that Paul realized that he had a real fire on his hands.

Paul’s company produces very large rolls of the metal, some measuring six feet in diameter by 48 inches wide, stacked and trucked away on pallets. Each roll weighs a considerable amount and is chained to a flatbed trailer, usually without other products on board.

From his vantage point, the shipping labels were huge. He could easily see them from his office window. Out of desperation, he called me for some quick advice. My first response – which is my usual reaction to problems like these – collect all the information you can from the frontline people. And if you collect enough honest and direct information, the solution will present itself.

So, Paul issued a message through the chain of operations, and soon a frontline employee was dispatched to talk to the forklift operators herself. After a very short interview, she discovered that no one had trouble reading the old labels or the new ones. Their complaint was that the way the rolls were placed onto the pallets and into the trucks, the forklift operators had to dismount from their vehicles and climb up on the truck to find the label.

The labels, the operators told her, were always turned 90 degrees away from where they could easily see them. The simple solution: change the labeling process so that the labels could be seen from the forklift operator’s point of view.

Sometimes, a fire is prolonged by an attitude that we hold about our own processes – as it was in Paul’s case. In such cases, it could be a simple matter of opening our mind to new information. But wouldn’t it be great if we could put those fires out BEFORE they become a problem? The one problem with fires is that often management’s focus is on the firefighters, while pretty ignoring the fire preventers. It seems to me that eventually, we may become weary of rushing to the scene of the problem and instead learn how to instill the high level awareness to prevent fires in the first place.
    [post_title] => Combating Fires
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No matter where they occur, a fire can be a devastating event. When they happen around where we live, we rush to the location with manpower and equipment to...

Quality & Me

Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service

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    [post_date] => 2013-03-20 17:53:51
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    [post_content] => LOGO_Frances-HesselbeinWhile reading a book titled The Leader of the Future and co-authored by Frances Hesselbein and others, Subir Chowdhury was keenly interested in Ms Hesselbein’ s leadership style and ideas on how leadership and organizational development would be impacted in the new millennium.  This was back in 1997 and thus began a long relationship between Hesselbein and Chowdhury. Eventually, through intellectual exchanges with Hesselbein, Chowdhury was inspired to write Management 21C, a book that drew on thoughts of 26 of the world’s top thought leaders on management, including Hesselbein.

To honor his mentor and friend, in 2012 Chowdhury and The Subir and Malini Chowdhury Foundation provided a lifetime endowment for The Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service. The award is bestowed annually to a cadet who best exhibits excellence in mentorship and leadership by example at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In May of 2012, The Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership (BS&L) at the United States Military Academy at West Point awarded its first Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence this past May to Cadet Chris Jarrett ’12. Going forward, BS&L will hand out this award annually to the cadet who best exhibits superiority in mentorship and leadership-by-example at the United States Military Academy at West Point as determined by peers and faculty.

[caption id="attachment_805" align="aligncenter" width="300"]ART_posts_Frances-Hesselbein-Medal1 From L-R - Cadet Chris Jarrett ’12 – Inaugural Winner of the Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service, COL Bernie Banks (Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership), Frances Hesselbein, and Subir Chowdhury.[/caption]
    [post_title] => Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service
    [post_excerpt] => Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? 
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While reading a book titled The Leader of the Future and co-authored by Frances Hesselbein and others, Subir Chowdhury was keenly interested in Ms Hesselbein’ s leadership style and...