One of my first jobs out of school was working in a glass factory. And, one of the first projects they gave me in the glass factory was to implement a statistical process control system. (For those not familiar, this is the application of statistical methods to the monitoring and control of a process to ensure that it operates at its full potential to produce conforming product.) Well, I successfully implemented the system, quality improved drastically and I was a hero (not bad for my first project in the real world!).
Then the wheels came off. After a few months, quality started to tank. Customer complaints started to rise and I became the goat (“Nice going college boy!”). When I dug into what was happening, we were all very surprised. The statistical control data showed that we were still performing well–really well. The data our QC inspectors had told a very different story. I kept digging and what I discovered was that the operators were fudging the data!! I was blown away. These guys were gaming the system! There was only one thing to do—fire them all!! (At least that was the only thing to do in the mind of a young 20-something engineer).
That wasn’t going to happen (I also learned a lot about unions at this time). I was tasked with finding a solution to this problem or we would remove the SPC system. As fate would have it, one of my good friends at the time was completing her Ph.D. in applied behavior science (LINK TO THAT PAGE) and she suggested that I spend some time observing what happened to the operators when they did the right thing and what happened to them when the did the wrong thing. (By the way, this took some convincing to get me to try this. After all they were all adults and they should do what they’re asked to do. It also took some doing on my part to suspend judgement and just observe.)
I was amazed by what I found. As it was, when the operators did the right thing—accurately recording readings on the chart when the process was shown to be out of control—bad things happened to them. Supervisors came to “help” which in this case was a lot of yelling and screaming to get things adjusted and back on track. When the operators did the wrong thing—fudge the data so the process appeared to be in control—nothing happened to them. No hassles (they were aware that the risk of producing some bad glass was higher, but it was a risk they seemed willing to take). So…do the right thing, bad things happen. Do the wrong thing, nothing happens.
With my new insights, it was clear what needed to be done. Instead of focusing so much on the operators, we focused on the supervisors and how we intervened when something was wrong (there was still a sense of urgency, but instead of yelling and screaming, we asked probing questions and listened). It wasn’t long before quality improved (and was better than ever by the way) and I regained hero status again.
This experience had a profound impact on me. I realized that as good as my training as an engineer had been, I had learned nothing about people and behavior. Since that time I have been on a journey to learn and apply the science of behavior in my work. I have worked alongside some of the best consultants and behavior analysts out there. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience that continues to this day.
Today, I am a consultant, coach, and speaker and have spent my career focusing on helping individuals and the organizations in which they work. I help them realize transformational performance improvements that are sustained. I have over 25 years of experience working with some of the best and brightest leaders in the best and well-respected companies in the world.
I use a set of tools…some I’ve developed and many I have learned over 20 years of hands-on, real-life experience…all of which are proven time and time again and are science-based (real science that is).
What’s really great about what I do and the tools that I use is that it is all scalable (works with one person or an organization) and it is all easy to learn (notice I say learn…not master).
I live in Morgantown, West Virgina and have three wonderful children who keep me young and on my toes.