Posts Tagged ‘process’

qualityoverquantity-process-quintessential leaderThe current focus of the majority of humans, including those in leadership positions, is metrics. Metrics, put simply, is numbers. Quantity – how much – is increasingly valued over quality – what kind.

We humans have, in general, bought into an erroneous – with often disastrous results – more, more, more shallow and indefensible mindset that deceives us into thinking that the bottom line of success is determined by a numerical value.

We see this attachment to and preoccupation with metrics, to the total exclusion of quality, everywhere in our lives.

In our personal lives, we focus solely on having a lot of money, having a lot of things, doing a lot of things, and living a lot of years. Because numbers are what we care about, we will – and do – sacrifice quality – and integrity (truth, honesty, and moral excellence) – to get quantity.

In our organizational lives, the endgame is having a lot of money (profits and income, personally and organizationally) and having a lot of customers (who presumably will bring us more money). Again, because numbers are what we care about organizationally , we will – and do – sacrifice quality – and integrity (truth, honesty, and moral excellence) – to get quantity.

Metrics (numbers) are just quantity without qualityMost of what we take for granted as our everyday world is based on metrics.

The internet, for instance, is a numbers game, both on the back side that most of us don’t see (everything’s manipulated using a numerical foundation, from web analytics to search engines to the actual bits – the 0 or 1 structure – that define the code that runs every part of the internet) and the front side that we do see.

Modern project management is another example of a metrics-based system. In the end, numbers are what matter: time and output.

Numbers are not unimportant. However, they are only important in the context of quality, not quantity.

This is what quintessential leaders understand and that is why they realize that the process is the key to real, verifiable, and sustainable successful outcomes.

If our processes are comprehensive, well-defined, and well-implemented, then the quality numbers will follow.

Quantity is just quantity. One of the most maddening things about modern life is this desire to have quantity of life versus quality of life.

It makes no sense. Who in their right mind wants to live extra years if those years have no quality? To me, that would be far worse than death. Yet, that is exactly what modern medicine is designed to and strives to achieve.

We buy lots of stuff – way more than we could ever use or need – simply to have it and to have more than anyone else. Yet most of what we buy now is cheaply made so it doesn’t last and we keep having to buy more because the quality just isn’t there.

It would be far less expensive, in the long run, to buy less but high-quality things that would last over time and to buy only what we absolutely need. But consumerism and materialism, which we’ve, in general, wholeheartedly bought into, is also a numbers game.

In the organizational context, quantity, in general, has become more valuable than quality. Because of this shift in focus, many people in leadership positions overlook or completely ignore the key element of quality: the process. Succumbing to the superficial and, in the long run, meaningless numbers (metrics) game has led to lots of quantity, but very little quality in most organizations.

Quintessential leaders, on the other hand, put the process, which ensures quality (and, in the long term, produces viable, sustainable, and meaningful quantity) first and keep that in focus at all times.

The process is key to quintessential leadersToo often, those in leadership positions blame people when things are not working well or not working at all. The reality is that if things are not working well or working at all, then the problem is really with the process and that is what needs to be reviewed and either revised or redone altogether.

When the process is the key to everything, then the focus is on quality first.

The simple reason that most people, including those in leadership positions, don’t make the process the key factor in successful outcomes is because a good process requires a lot of time, effort, planning, and training up front to implement it successfully.

This means, in practical terms, that numbers (metrics) are slower in materializing. Because we’ve become a metrics-based society, this “slow start” is unacceptable. However, the numbers that come quickly without a process of any kind, with a poorly-defined and poorly-implemented process, or with the wrong process lead to long-term negative and, often, unrecoverable failures as outcomes.

So what does having the process as the key to quality look like for quintessential leaders?

  1. The project is well-defined with detailed planning agreed upon by all the stakeholders and thoroughly documented before the project begins. In other words, the process is delineated up front and all parties involved are in complete agreement with the scope, the work, the execution (the how), the timeline of execution, and the outcome. It is here that no stone must lay unturned and it is here that the details must be hammered out and consensus reached on each of them.
  2. Once the process is defined and documented, then the people executing the process must be thoroughly trained (i.e., walked through the process step by step to understand it and be able to do it consistently and correctly) in using the process. This takes time and effort, but it is the most critical (but most often ignored) part of ensuring quality. When people understand what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and what successful completion looks like, they become invested in the process and invested in quality outcomes. When people are simply trying to hit metrics targets, they care only about numbers (quantity) and not the process (quality).
  3. Throughout the project, the process is monitored and reinforced to ensure that it is the focus of each of the people involved in the project. Numbers (metrics) are never the goal, although with a great process that is implemented well, numbers will meet and exceed objectives further along in the project, but they will be quality numbers, not just quantity numbers.
  4. The process as key ensures a successful and quality project completion. This includes satisfied customers who will come back again and again because they know they will get the quality results they expect, not just quantity with no inherent quality.

As we strive to be quintessential leaders, we must look at ourselves to see whether we have the process (quality) as the key to every aspect of our lives professionally and personally or we have fallen in the numbers (quantity) trap as a way of being.

We must ask ourselves if we’ve become focused on “how much” instead of “what kind.” We must ask ourselves if we even care about quality anymore. We must ask ourselves if we’re willing to make the intense upfront effort to ensure quality in every aspect of our lives.

In many ways, quintessential leaders now swim against the tide in this area of life. That swim is worth it in the big picture and in the long term. Unfortunately, because of the effort, the diligence, and the commitment – sometimes in the face of fierce opposition – it seems fewer and fewer of us are willing to make that swim consistently and continually.

How are we doing?


“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli 

While the exact phrase “the end justifies the means” is never found in Machiavelli’s renowned 1532 work, The Prince, there is absolutely no doubt this is one of the distilled philosophies that you come away with after reading it. I remember reading it in high school and being bothered by it, but in rereading it a few years back, perhaps because this is just the way the world – individually and collectively – with very very few exceptions does things now, my sense of bother had deepened to disgust and a conscious rejection of all the tenets and principles in the book. Machiavelli, it seems, would have fit right into the 21st Century with his promotion of situational ethics and relative morality or total immorality in every aspect of life.

This post is about ethics and process. Ethics is defined as “a system of moral principles;” and “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group;” and “that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.” By “process,” I mean how and why we, individually and collectively, do things to achieve a desired outcome.

Let me say at the outset that ethics and process is a constant struggle, and many times we’ve absorbed so much of what’s going on around us – “that’s what everyone else is doing,” – and we live in an ADHD world that leaves us little free time – unless we make the conscious choice to create free time – to think through our processes – and we have adapted to a world philosophy that justifies being unethical to achieve goals (the mantra of this is “well, it’s not hurting anybody,” which we’ll discover is absolutely untrue, except the people getting hurt are not the ones we might think). Additionally, we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that the outcome of something is what is most important, not how we got there – that the end justifies the means.

It is my belief that how we got there is far more important and significant than the end result. If the process is wrong, flawed, faulty, deceitful, or in any other way dishonest, the end result is nullified. Because defects of character, a lack of integrity, and disregard for ethics characterizes the process. Some examples of this process-ethics problem on an individual level are things that as I read them I continually ask myself “is this something I’ve done, am doing, or would do?” I believe that being very aware of all my processes – and asking myself “is this right or is this wrong?” and “is it at its very core honest or dishonest?” – in life is critical to having right character and unimpeachable integrity, because, when it’s all said and done, those are the only things I will leave this life with. As Marc Antony so eloquently says in his eulogy of Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones:

A story last week in The Atlantic about the housing bust had these two quotes from one of the investigators with Digital Risk, a company that exists solely to catch mortgage fraud. The first quote is a bit surprising: “pastors—dozens of them—who doctored bank statements, bought houses they couldn’t pay for, and then filed for bankruptcy. “’…The nice thing about pastors is that their church shares information when asked,’ Alpan says. ‘Pastors are always an easy [fraud] claim.'” The second quote seemed, to me, to sum up, in general, society’s, individually and collectively, default process: “‘It’s not just lawyers and pastors and CEOs who lie and scheme. It’s nurses and schoolteachers, too,’ he says. ‘Everybody’s guilty; no one’s up to any good.'”

How about the educators in Atlanta, GA who were involved in cheating on the state’s standardized testing, in which more federal funding – and teacher and administrator jobs – were at stake for low test scores? This is the epitome of a unethical and dishonest process being employed by individuals for a “good” – although in my opinion, keeping these educators in their jobs would not have been good for the students – goal. What kind of example did they set for the kids they were entrusted to educate? They taught them that cutting corners, cheating, and lying were acceptable if those behaviors achieved the end goal. Am I the only one who believes these kids took that lesson – and process – to heart and everything they do from here on out will be suspect, process-wise?

On an even more personal level, how many of us have fudged the deductions on our income taxes to either avoid paying or to pay less than what we legitimately owe in taxes? Many non-monetary charities – furniture, clothes, etc. – simply allow you to tell them the value of your donation and they sign it and give you the receipt. If we donated to one of these, were we honest about the value of our donation? Did we take other deductions that we weren’t allowed to or inflate the amount of other allowable deductions? That’s an unethical, deceitful, and dishonest process.

Our individual unethical and dishonest processes aggregate in the organizations we are members of professionally, socially, and religiously. Common and frequently-used examples  of how these processes look at the organizational level (and because I’ve been in technology – and often that includes being in the inner workings of organizations, especially as they have become inextricably linked over the course of time – since the beginning of my career, there isn’t much I haven’t seen and heard, but a lot I’ve had to say “no” to or, with time because my process, which is, to the best of my ability, to be honest and ethical no matter what, to simply not be asked even though the people who are asked and say “yes” end up talking to me about it and I tell them “don’t expect the people you’re doing this for to visit you in that federal penitentiary”) include:

  • Encouraging members of the organization to access the organization’s web site from as many unique IP addresses as they can on a regular basis to artificially drive up the traffic statistics and boost the organic search engine rankings
  • Encouraging members of the organization to post favorable online reviews of the organization’s products to create the illusion that lots of people want and like the products
  • Creating fictional web sites that purport to objectively compare your organization’s products with competing organizations’ products where your organization’s products are rated higher than all the others
  • Encouraging and/or having members of the organization to use social media contacts (who may or may not actually be interested in the organization or its products) to “like” the organizations’ social media pages to boost their search rankings

And technology is not the only area where we see the ever-increasing trend toward unethical, deceitful, and dishonest processes. There is rampant federal and state tax fraud. I know of one example where at least a year’s worth of financial documents was fabricated using PhotoShop to hide what had really been the true financial documentation of the organization. Even some charitable contributions have the dark shadow of unethical and dishonest processes behind them. A recent account was given by the chairman of an organization in which he detailed how he circumvented “the system” – which included evading costs and time doing it the honest and legal way would have required – to get a piece of medical equipment to a someone in a foreign country and it was all justified – Jeremiah 17:9 – because it was a “good deed.”  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not hurting anybody, right? Wrong! There may not be identifiable victims of the fraud being perpetrated, but people who are counting on veracity are being defrauded. Additionally, the person/people executing the unethical, deceitful, and dishonest processes are definitely hurting themselves. Right character, good character, and integrity are much more easily destroyed than they are created. The first time we use an unethical, deceitful, and dishonest process, there is usually a pang of conscience that accompanies it – if indeed, we’ve developed any kind of conscience at all.

I’ve found that if I have to spend a lot of time debating on whether I should do something or not, process-wise, and there’s a knot in my stomach to accompany the indecision, then the wisest thing is stop and review my process for integrity, honesty, and ethical correctness. However, if we ignore the pang of conscience and do it the way we want to anyway, our character is damaged. The next time the wrong way to do something to achieve a goal presents itself, it will be easier to do, because the pang of conscience has been diminished. 

So why does it matter what the process is as long as the outcome is achieved? Because once this way of doing things comes into and is accepted in just one of our processes, it eventually spreads to all of our processes. We become what we think and act on: unethical, deceitful, and dishonest from the core outward. We become unreliable, untrustworthy, and unconscionable. We also become teachers, by our examples, that any means justifies the end, and we contribute to the declination of a society that we all resoundingly lament and criticize as being what we’ve become.

Take the time to examine your processes. The good that will come of that – including all the immediate gratification that you’ll have to forego to do things the right way – will be worth it now and in the long run.