Thursday, January 14, 2010

Its a cultural thing

A few years ago when John Corrigan, Andrew Mowat and myself first started working with schools, we thought that helping teachers understand and change their behaviour would bring about greater levels of student engagement and hence improved results for students, teachers, and the schools. Theoretically we were right - the key to increasing student engagement does lie in the attitudes and behaviours of teachers. However what we found was that unless the culture of the school was totally supportive of the new attitudes and behaviours any improvement was transitory. (More information about this is available from This lead us to the realisation that we needed to deal with leadership issues first and foremost.

My blog on Tuesday dealt with service problems and the concern that different people dealing with the same organisation can have vastly disparate experiences. I made the point that ideally every person dealing with an organisation should have a positive experience. The issue, I argued, is one of leadership.

Deming, the 'father of quality' (as some have said), made the point that only about 15% of problems are caused by special causes. He also made the point that these are the areas on which most attention is focused because we are "seen" to be doing something about the problem - that fact that it may be simply a cosmetic repair that will eventually break down doesn't really seem to faze us. Deming argued that the time, money and effort should be put into dealing with the systems causes because, although they will probably take longer to fix, the repairs will be long-lasting.

Effectively Deming argued that leaders deal with the systems causes of quality issues because they know that ultimately quality is always a cultural matter- and leaders determine culture.

There used to be a military joke that stated military personnel of a particular country had a philosophy of "ready, fire, aim" - when the defence budget is astronomical and the culture is "gung ho" then it is easy to slip into a behaviour that shoots first and asks questions afterwards. I see this today in the behaviour of many "leaders" - and it shows primarily in a predilection for immediate rather than considered action. In the area of service quality this can be seen by disciplinary action against individuals rather than correcting the culture that forces them to minimise the amount of time they spend with each person seeking help.

What is the culture like in your organisation? What systems issues need to be addressed in order to ensure all your customers/clients receive high quality help when they need it? Before singling out individuals for blame and correction, remember that when you point a finger at someone, there are more fingers pointing back at you. If its a systems or cultural issue, dealing with a special cause won't fix it.

More information about Doug Long and how I may be able to help you on

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