Monday, April 18, 2005

Do you WANT to be on the Merry-Go-Round?

I am bothered, and this is my place to vent. My feelings come from some recent comments coming from the forum.

An unnamed organization revealed that even after experiencing some very well-received Root Cause Analysis training it is struggling to inculcate a root cause mentality. The organization asked for advice.

I requested that forum members suggest specific, actionable items to help this organization move in the right direction. I summarized people's ideas, then asked everyone to vote on their 3 favorite. 58 people voted -- one of the most popular of all our polls. But I was shocked at some of the results.

The suggestion that received the most votes was no surprise. In fact, I was glad to see it!

Insist that management issue objectives, responsibilities, policies and procedures supporting the RCA effort. Set specific objectives in people's performance reviews relating to RCA, especially for those who will have to do RCA's. Expectations, milestones, incentives, and rewards must all be delineated.

It was the second-place suggestion that caught my attention:

Internalize RCA in your company. Have mentors that will train others, as well as lead company RCA's. Do not be dependent on outside consultants when something goes wrong.

At first glance, there is nothing alarming at this statement. In fact, inculcation depends upon internalizing the RCA effort. But as comments continued to trickle-in, I began to see a major problem -- especially after a respected forum contributor STRONGLY suggested that it is best for an organization to align itself to someone offering train-the-trainer packages to minimize training dollars as well as dependency on the trainer/consultant.

It's important to note that this item received the second-most votes of any any item. About half the voters voted for this item. In other words, this is not the whim of one person, but an opinion of many "rooticians."

In the following paragraphs, I'm going to say some things that have been presented to about 1500 people over the last 2 years. These comments have been made in seminar-form, as part of an overview lecture about Root Cause Analysis and have been overwhelmingly agreed-upon from the people who operate, maintain, and manage our industrial facilities.

We are on a Merry-Go-Round!

We are spinning round and round but to a large degree going no-where. The Merry-Go-Round spins faster and faster as the years go by, consuming us all in the useless endeavor of "holding on," while we should/could be doing other things. Carl Jung said:

Our intellect has created a new world that dominates nature, and has populated it with monstrous machines. The latter are so indubitably useful that we cannot see even a possibility of getting rid of them or our subservience to them.

In spite of our proud domination of nature, we are still her victims, for we have not even learned to control our own nature. Slowly but, it appears, inevitably, we are courting disaster.

As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. The change must indeed begin with an individual; it might be any one of us. Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself.

Few people will want to see the Merry-Go-Round -- very few.

If you don't like the Merry-Go-Round analogy, consider the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To one extent or another, we were all born on a leaning tower. We have never stepped-foot off the tower and never had any visitors. There are no windows or doors. We live on the tower with 10,000 other people. We are all on this leaning tower, to varying degrees.

Now, let's get back to the voting I was discussing in the beginning of this article. The problem, as apparent from the voting, is that most people don't want to see the leaning tower.

One of the most common investigative principles is to use outsiders to lead investigations, because they can see things that insiders either cannot or are unwilling to see. Outsiders are not on the same Merry-Go-Round, or in the same Leaning Tower as the insiders. Outsiders have little or no political stake in the investigative findings. Outsiders are more likely to help people see their own leaning tower.

Of course, organizations cannot afford to wait for a catastrophe, and then call-in an outsider to investigate it! How, therefore, can an organization internalize its effort and still remain unbiased. In other words, how can someone who is on the leaning tower acknowledge that he's on it before it causes a problem?

It is not easy! That's the point of this article! Every organization ought to have clear, established ties to outsiders -- people that can help them see themselves as they are.

It is a mistake for an organization to purchase a train-the-trainer package from a consulting group, then tell them to go away! As a consultant and trainer, I know that organizations pick and choose what they want to embrace from the training that I provide. This is very frustrating because "it's the whole thing that works, not bits and pieces of the whole thing!" I cannot image what would happen if I trained 10 trainers, who in turn pick and choose what they think is important, who in turn train another 100 people, who also will pick and choose!

So here's the bottom-line, as least as I see it. Helping people learn from things that go wrong depends on courage, insight, and desire -- traits not often found in our fast-paced world.

...It is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through....

Root Cause Analysis is NOT just another program or tool. It is a way of seeing -- something that can change a person's life. It can help us see the Merry-Go-Round. Please don't treat this subject lightly. Please have continuous ties to outsiders; people who can help you see things that you cannot see. Certainly, you ought to acknowledge those in your own organization that are drawn to this endeavor. That's how to inculcate the effort at your site. But make sure they are connected to outsiders also -- to help them remain as pure as they can be in seeing the causes of their problems.


Anonymous said...

when your outsiders get too close, they lose their outsider status.

art_jensen said...


One of the cynical biases toward using outsiders or contract consultants is that they make their living by creating billable hours. It is not in the consultant's self-interest to actually help the client succeed, but rather to maintain a revenue stream. So many consultants "out there" will tailor their product or market their services in whatever way will win the contract account. Make it "easy", "customizable", and "we are here to do it for you or help you every step of the way" appeals to clients. Providing a valuable service (or solving the client's problems) is not necessarily aligned with this self-interest.

In fact, it is often better if the problems persist - such that the needs for the contract service continue indefinitely. Think for a minute about RCA efforts that attack "management systems" (procedures, training, etc.). These methods are relatively easy to identify flaws in our systems and generate action items to improve those systems. It seems like progress is being made, but really it is only working toward an infinite development of more procedures, more systems, more training, etc. There is not necessarily any important difference in the work culture and attitudes. There is never an end.

So the dilemma is that by using an outside consultant you are following the lead of an entity who's self-interest is opposed to reaching an end to the problem. But if you try and do it "internally", the leaning tower problem is real and resists meaningful discovery of the work culture issues. So it is not as simple as just using an "outsider" or "do it yourself".

It takes enterprise leadership to understand what is required for company culture change and long-term improvement - in which case the effort could be successfully implemented either internally or with outside leadership. But then too often the enterprise leadership has their own biases and are rewarded for short-term results, so their self-interests are not often aligned correctly with long-term improvement either.

I know that the Latent Cause Experience is so much different than what is offered by those other outside consultants, and the Failsafe mission is to make a genuine positive difference. But Failafe is still one of those "consultants", and the biases and distrust affect you due to the prejudice against consultants in general. This is a big reason why many try to "do this alone" and want to find someone with a "train the trainer" product offering. This is only one part of the "marketing" problem I have hinted at in other correspondence and web meetings.

C. Robert Nelms said...

Hi Art,

Thanks for posting. I understand what you're saying. I know that everything I suggest that brings "Bob" into the picture is seen through skeptical eyes. Who knows, maybe I don't even know my own motivations.

But I do think there's another factor involved in the issue of using outsiders.

Have you noticed that people attracted to this field are champions? And that's great! Champions are needed to drive this endeavor, more than most. But the very thing that makes a champion can also contribute to the demise of this endeavor.

Champions tend to think that "they know better," and tend to say "I'd rather do it myself." Every person I know that's championing this type of effort at their companies is like this. They're stand-offish -- they put out their hand and almost wave everyone else away. "It's my ball game now, and I'll let you know when I need help."

I am like this myself -- ask the affiliates I work with! Oh my goodness, what a time I've given them.

So, bottom-line -- there's another reason why insiders don't want outsiders. Insiders "know better." After all, they're "insiders!"

Thanks again for posting.

art_jensen said...


I agree with this "champion" problem as well. I know this is another large obstacle to the use of outsiders. I recognize this even within a company, where one area manager does not want "help" from someone outside his or her team, since they want to solve their own problems.

Outsiders can expose things that we would rather keep subdued. This is another reason why many "consultants" out there do not take on the difficult or sensitive issues of work culture or how the leadership contributes to problems. If you hire me and my analysis exposes issues with the work culture and how you (the leadership team) are a part of the problem, then what is the likelihood you will ever hire me again?

So I think it is partly a problem with the champions wanting to do this by themselves, and also a series of resistances to outsiders coming in and either taking money for little value back, or raising issues that are unconfortable to admit and/or difficult to address.