July, 2016
Thursday, November, 1, 2012
Have a Passion for Quality Results
Tags: leadership
Posted By Dr. Gregg “Skip” Bailey, Federal Cloud Lead, Deloitte Consulting LLP

This is the second article about leadership in a six part series.

I believe that passion is the intensity of attention; which means, the concepts and ideas that we pay attention to are what we have a passion for. Similarly, what we think about, when we don’t have anything else to think about, are things that we passionately want to pursue. What we focus on, or spend time thinking about, reveals our strongest areas of interest.

In one of my favorite books “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” Robert M. Pirsig writes, “That is what caring really is; a feeling of identification with what one’s doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring, quality itself” (pg. 290). The relationship between caring or passion and quality is very important to understand. I could argue that an individual or organization that does not have a passion about the products and services they provide will find a way to provide poor quality regardless of the quality programs or incentives that are in place.

What Quality Actually Means

Quality is very context rich. The products and services you provide, along with the requirements of your customers, can define quality in that environment. The degree of attention or passion needed to achieve quality can be defined by this rich context. Sometimes we need to deliver the International Space Station and sometimes we need to deliver the crop duster. Keep in mind you will never have enough resources or time to deliver a space station every time and to every customer. What’s more, the customer may not want to pay for that level of quality. The strategy is to know the real requirements that define quality for that particular customer at that particular time.

My own experience pursuing my doctoral degree taught me the value of delivering quality results. Years ago, as I was finishing my work on my doctorate in Human Computer Interaction, I had completed everything except my dissertation, which took nearly five years to finish (not that I worked on it that long). Five years was the University’s deadline and when I completed the study and the written part of the dissertation I felt very good about the work I had done. I pretty well accepted that I had beaten the deadline for completion.

My advisor at that time encouraged me to prepare for my dissertation defense. I had not thought much about it and was convinced that the hard work on my Ph.D. was already behind me. He brought to my attention that I had an applied project and that most of my committee was more theoretical and that I may run into difficulty as a result. I took the hint and realized that I needed to get to work again and nail down my defense presentation. I refined the presentation and tested out my pitch on nearly everyone. I was teaching at a university at the time and used all my students as test subjects for my dissertation defense presentation. My wife and children as well as my work colleagues were my guinea pigs as well. I practically stopped strangers in the street to get additional practice.

The day of my orals arrived. The person just before me failed to pass their dissertation defense. There I was, nervous about what lie ahead for me just beyond the doctoral door. But, I was prepared and managed to pass with just two months to go before the deadline. My preparation made it possible to clearly defend my dissertation and take on the challenges put forth by the committee. It is impossible to tell what would have happened if I did not take my advisor seriously and do the needed additional preparation, but I doubt the results would have been favorable. As I came outside to meet my wife and children I was once again brought down to earth when my wife announced to the children that I was now a doctor, and my second oldest pointed out that I was not a “real” doctor.

Behold the Power of Selective Neglect

My plate is full with professional responsibilities, community and church involvement, and a large family (nine children). I am often asked how I keep a work-life balance with so much responsibility. The principle of quality that I use to maintain my balance is a technique called “selective neglect.” My definition of this phrase is the art of delivering the desired solution in a timely manner.

 An important aspect of delivering quality results it to understand what you, or your organization, must provide. First decide which of the tasks at hand can only be done by you, and then try to delegate as many of the remaining responsibilities as possible. As a leader it’s important to focus your attention on the most important activities.

This form of “selective neglect” works with organizations as well as it does for individuals. Prioritize the activities that are needed to achieve the main goal. Decide which tasks should achieve excellence and which tasks are lower priorities. I am not advocating mediocrity, but arguing that you should provide exceptional results on the activities that are most important.

In information technology (IT) it is critical to provide quality. Providing quality IT can open opportunities to affect the organization. I have found that you earn a seat at the table through operational excellence. As you deliver quality to the organization, you can gain the trust of the organization and are in a position to have greater impact.

As we strive to provide quality, however, we must not be lulled into an acceptance of mediocrity. In a surprisingly insightful animated movie titled “The Incredibles” we are reminded of the importance of quality. Let me set the scene: The movie is about a family of superheroes that has extraordinary powers. The world has turned on them because they occasionally cause damage while saving the world. They are relegated to trying to live a normal life and not use their super powers. The husband and father is “Bob Incredible.” He sneaks out with one of his superhero friends and fights crime at night while his wife thinks he is bowling or grabbing a bite to eat. In one scene, Bob is late coming home and misses his son’s graduation. His wife meets him and is upset, telling him that he missed this important event in his son’s life. Bob replies that the event was not graduation, but just moving from the fourth grade to the fifth grade and then Bob says something very powerful; “It’s psychotic! They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity. But when someone is genuinely exceptional …” [they don’t even recognize it!].

Seek the exceptional and foster the passion for quality results and you can find the power to move yourself and your organization to greater heights. Stay tuned to GovernmentCIO Magazine next month for another principle of leadership.

Dr. Gregg “Skip” Bailey, is the director, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Federal Cloud lead.

Read the first in the series: The Principles of Leadership

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