Monday, September 23, 2002

Fear of Failure Short Circuits Continuous Improvement

Last week we saw a quality metric in our Purchasing group heading south. On 10 of the previous 13 days, the group had failed to receive order requests from our project managers for the steel which covers most of our buildings by 8:30am, which put them in a time crunch to submit to our vendor by 11am. Having made the assessment late last week that we had non-conformance, I asked two of the folks most affected to propose a solution.

This morning, I asked about the proposed solutions. Two seemed to make a lot of sense. First, put the request on different colored paper so it would stand out on the generally-cluttered desks of our project managers. Second, distribute the order request forms at 4:45pm the day before it is needed, rather than at 8:00am the day it was needed.

"So, let’s try it today!" I said, "We can know by 9am tomorrow morning if it works or not!" My colleagues managed only a weak smile. "But we don’t want to do it wrong" was their reply.

Their hesitance came from a fear of failure. They were worried that even a small move like this might be seen in a poor light. I realized that somehow, our culture had bred a reluctance to try something new.

Leaders need to break that culture by sponsoring good tries like this. Small or big. Keep trying to improve. Learn. Try again.

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