Dynamic Apathy

Basic Business Cents

One of my fellow employees once said, “The trouble with our company is we have too much dynamic apathy.” He was speaking of the comfortable feeling shared in the company about where we were and how we were doing. It was preventing us from getting better. A popular saying in Japan is, “The good is the enemy of the better.” We need to constantly strive to improve.

There never was a company that could not improve. There never was a process that was perfect. We need to overcome the culture of good enough. If someone tells you the reason they are doing something in a certain way because that is the way it has always been done, you know it is wrong. It could be better. The reason for status quo is sometimes fear of failure, fear of criticism for deviating from old ways, or fear to try new methods. Sometimes employees do not understand the aim of the organization or the culture of the organization is not aligned with the top-level aim. Possibly the pay is low, working conditions are terrible, good work is not appreciated, or higher level people take credit for successes or place blame for failures. Those types of conditions will lead to a shrug of the shoulders and a who cares attitude.

Gripers, complainers, self-proclaimed prophets, and armchair quarterbacks abound. People who rise above this and think positively and take action are rare and to be treasured. It is easy to analyze, scrutinize, and talk but is more important to improve the performance of each individual work process. We need people who will not just discuss a situation but do something about it. We tend to get what we expect from people; we frequently underestimate people. One woman was asked how to improve her work and she came up with some great ideas. When asked why she didn’t come forth earlier, she said, “No one ever asked me before.”

Another time, a division vice president was explaining a dilemma to Dr. W. Edwards Deming about how a corporate decision had negatively impacted her division. She said, “It came down from corporate, what can I do?” Deming responded, “You have more power than you think you have, you only need to exercise it.”

Care must be taken to ensure the culture of the organization allows and encourages employees to present ideas to improve the performance of the organization. This not only improves the odds of success of the organization but also provides more job satisfaction for the employees.

Statistical methods for process improvement are useful where data can be collected. The seven management tools developed in Japan can be used where data cannot be collected. Workers and managers alike can read about them in books and technical papers, or take training.

© Louis E. Schultz

Higher-level managers can use similar approaches to systems, but probably more important is to address the culture of the organization. People should not have a fear of failure if they are working to improve. Communication must be open, and free up down, and across the organization so improvement attempts, successes, and failures are shared in mutual learning. The overall aim and strategy must be shared, understood, and committed by all.

No organization can stand still for long; it must constantly, forever improve. When in doubt, do something!

© Louis E. Schultz