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Quality Creates...Perspective

The Zen Guide to Quality Management

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Tue, Sep 06, 2016

Getting caught up in the day-to-day probThe_Zen_Guide_to_Quality_Management.jpglems of quality management is enough to drive anyone crazy. For many quality professionals, the job can swing from mind-numbing number crunching to frantically putting out fires, all in a single day. This may keep you on your toes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll achieve your larger goals.

Conversely, adopting a Zen approach can deliver better results, as well as a more peaceful mindset. In this post, we’ll look at 4 key ways you can apply Zen principles to the practice of quality management.

1. Mindfulness

The first step is to increase your mindfulness on the job. It’s all too easy to walk around on auto-pilot, so focused on something else in our mind that we fail to notice what’s going on around us. It’s easy to see how this can lead to increased risks and missed opportunities to mitigate them.

Ways you can break out of this habit and strengthen your powers of observation include:

  • Noticing new things: Instead of rushing through your day, challenge yourself to slow down and notice at least one new thing each day. Chances are you’ll find something that can be corrected, or entered into the Corrective Action system for more follow up.
  • Changing your routine: Rearranging your office, varying your route and changing your established habits can give you a fresh perspective, often uncovering new insights.
  • Asking probing questions: As you walk through your facility, ask yourself questions that require active observation. What is the same? What is different? What’s the significance of what you see?

2. No Judgment

Central to achieving a Zen state of mind is giving up our habit of judging everything we see and experience. When we’re constantly judging and jumping to conclusions, we get caught up in the story of the event, which is often only true in our own minds. Not only does this unnecessarily increase our stress levels, it also makes it more difficult to correct problems.

For example, let’s say you see an employee (let’s call him Jim) performing a particular procedure wrong. You have two options:

  • Option 1: Freak out. Yell at Jim for being careless and totally disregarding established protocols. Get all worked up because you believe this story you’re telling yourself.
  • Option 2: Observe the data. Is Jim missing some essential training? Does employee training even address the error he’s making? Is he distracted for some reason, like having a child in the hospital or trouble in his personal life?

Taking a Zen approach means you don’t attach emotions to what you see. Some liken this to getting tumbled around on the surface of the ocean during a storm versus observing from beneath while the storm rages above.

3. Manifesting Success

In Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, the narrator (a dog named Enzo) teaches us that a racecar goes wherever the driver’s eyes go. Enzo’s oft-repeated mantra is, “That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.”

In the quality management world, this means taking proactive steps to bring about the fulfillment of our objectives, instead of just reacting to problems. You have to set goals in order to achieve them, tracking them with forward-thinking Reporting and Risk Management tools.

If we create and follow a path toward our goals, they will manifest before us. In other words, aim high. Be the change. If you build it, they will come.

4. Accepting Suffering

If you’ve ever read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, you know one of the first discoveries of the Buddha is that life is suffering. Diving deeper into Zen practice, we realize also that suffering is pain magnified by resistance.

Nowhere is this truer than in the business world. Many times, we rail against problems that we think shouldn’t have happened. People shouldn’t do things wrong. Equipment shouldn’t fail. Suppliers shouldn’t be late with deliveries.

In reality, there is no “should” or “shouldn’t.” There is only reality—what is or is not. Accepting that a problem exists is the first step towards fixing it, instead of trying to make the current process work because you think it should.

What’s more, accepting that there will be problems helps reduce a lot of the stress involved. If you can let go and experience the pain of a problem rather than resisting it, you will suffer less and have a clearer path forward.

Ultimately, a Zen approach to quality management reduces stress and improves results. When we get caught up in our internal narratives, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Observe more, judge less, accept reality and manifest success. These 4 principles will let you break free from a habit of being busy while accomplishing little.

Learn how technology can reduce the cost of poor quality

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Rachel Beavins Tracy
Rachel Tracy is a writer for ETQ with expertise in environmental, healthcare and technology topics. She has a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and has been writing for businesses since 2008.
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