Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Quality Professionals and Avoidance of Risk
While Quality professionals deal routinely with potential and actual failure and evaluating risks in business, I don’t see many (including myself) who take enough risks themselves. Could this be true? Paul Borwaski, ASQ CEO in a recent blog cited a study conducted on youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. While most survey agreed that risk taking is essential, they also said that they themselves are risk averse. This syncs well with my observation that quality professionals don’t take enough risks.
A few years ago, I had asked the Head of Quality of a large global organization – Why don’t quality professionals often make it to the CEO chair? His reply was astonishing and one which I clearly remember even today. His response highlighted that being a CEO is about taking some bets and then backing them with resources and resolve. This is a quality that quality professionals usually don’t posses. This was coming from a quality professional that is considered a thought leader globally!
Why don’t quality professionals take enough risks?
I am not a psychologist who could conduct experiments on some subjects and throw some answers to this question. But then when has not knowing enough about something has stopped me from answering a question. J
Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because they are often blamed early in their career (or even mid career) for things that did not go wrong because of them. This hardens them up and they choose to take fewer risks. During an improvement project review I recently asked the Black Belt that why wasn’t Zero Defect a goal for this project when it appeared feasible. Her answer was – who will support me if I have that goal and don’t achieve?
Quality professionals don’t take enough risks because the people who are gravitated to a career in quality are usually calm, composed, rigour oriented, and yes – Risk Averse! When your career is about helping others achieve their goals you tend to be more careful. Years of being careful converts even risk takers into risk averse people.
Do quality professional, then, fail? Yes, of course – all the time. We are often even handed over the crown of other people’s failure to execute. Does this happen to me? Yes. How do I deal with failure?
First, I evaluate if what is being called is actually a failure. Remember Kanter’s law – everything in the middle looks like a failure. This is especially true of improvement projects. In cases where people around me are anxious and chanting failure I am often able to show them where we are on the project. Some diligence and faith will see us through.
Second, I embrace failure when I have contributed to it. One advantage of not working on a Space Mission is that we can make mistakes and learn from them. As long my team is honest about these mistakes, we dig for the root cause, establish mechanisms to not make the same mistake again, I am fine.
Third, grin and bear it. J