04092013 Quality, Qualicide, Perfectionism

        

Lately, I’m encountering ghosts from my “quality past.”

When I worked at a huge multinational meat processor, I taught dozens of 1 and 2-days quality classes. I also administered the pay-for-skill-and-knowledge component that involved testing and evaluation. The version taught at our location was based on the revived Crosby method in the 90s. I taught many more classes in Spanish than English, probably about 7-to-1.

Overall, even though the effort was doomed from the onset, it was one of the best things I was ever involved in.

(The premise of this type of quality hinges on accepting a new definition of quality. Instead of using it equally across different brands of the same car, for instance, you were required to look at things with a “conformance to requirements” filter. In other words, a Mercedes-Benz wasn’t necessarily higher quality than a Ford Escort, depending on one’s customer requirements…)

Before I digress like I am accustomed to doing, teaching these classes and doing the testing forced me to learn a significant amount of practical Spanish. My accent and inability to roll “rr'” dipthongs was horrific, but I plowed through, reminding myself that no one else had the right combination of English ability to navigate the program to the majority Hispanic workforce. Almost everyone in the program would be speaking Spanish, rather than the management language, English. I was “good enough” for the circumstances.

The class and testing absolutely forced me into a “good enough” non-perfectionist mindset. I knew even then that it was a little ironic to keep telling myself that “good enough” was more than enough in a class and learning system designed around quality initiatives.

Basically, when the quality program was launched, I wasn’t a key cog in the machine. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that I had been given the almost never-heard-of opportunity to write my own ticket and create the system to suit my own ideas. Granted, there were a lot of people involved. The reality, though, was that I had huge latitude in vetoing even required components. This was especially the case with the Spanish version of the testing and classes.

When I went to Minneapolis for quality training, I was the only hourly employee to be given the chance. My Spanish-speaking counterpart who accompanied me never once taught a class or led testing. I acquired a poor Spanish version of the proposed class book and took it back to Springdale with me. I spent weeks doing a very rudimentary redrafting of the entire book.

In the Spanish version of the class, I largely ignored the pie-in-the-sky elitist components of the entire program and used what I instinctively knew to be practical. After a few classes, I relentlessly threw out any aspect that didn’t work immediately or effectively. I listened closely to anyone who would take the time to explain their criticisms to me. If I detected boredom with some components, I discarded them or changed them to make them relevant to the people in the room. Many classes were in fact led by me but directed by the participants. I can’t express how fulfilling it was to see people step up and take the reins and lead their coworkers, especially when they were being creative. Several of these people surprised themselves by being confident and creative. The workplace we were in was known for fostering the exact opposite of this type of mentality. We were basically human beings doing mechanical work, for the most part. It is one of the reasons that programs such as Quality which rely on creativity were facing an uphill battle.

I encountered resistance from authority figures but ignored their commentary and edicts unless no alternative was given to me. Usually, though, I got creative and found ways around every attempt to make the classes boring and devoid of real significance. With the English version of the class, though, I couldn’t get by with doing the things that worked. I had to conform. Which led me to the realization that much of the observable output of the class, at least through management’s eyes, was totally incorrect, as the language barrier prevented them from properly “seeing” the class and how drastically different the class could be when compared by language.

Life is largely a series of repeated events, I’ve noticed. Things I’ve learned before come back around to be learned again. Being in social organizations can be frustrating because there are large meta issues which bear striking resemblance to what I’ve already went through.