The final keynote speaker for the ASQ World Conference in Dallas, education reformer Michelle Rhee, stated that a low-quality education results in a low-quality workforce. I’m certainly inclined to believe that, but maybe for different reasons than she suggested. A good education imparts knowledge from the teacher to the student, but what I think is most critical about a good education is that it teaches students how to learn on their own.
What is education in this case? Education does not necessarily mean the traditional K-12 schooling. Any opportunity for an individual to learn, stay curious, and properly learn how to learn is an education. Asking questions, satisfying their curiosity, testing assumptions…so much education occurs outside of the classroom.
Generating quality results in the workforce requires the ability to comprehend what good quality is and to properly analyze the gap between good and bad quality, even in the face of ambiguity. If quality is defined by the customer, it is important for suppliers and employees to properly define what the customer wants and doesn’t want and provide offerings that not only meet customer expectations but also delight customers.
This means understanding that “light gray” is unacceptable when the customer asks for “regular gray” even though they are close in hue.
This means recognizing that long lines at the concession stand necessitate opening up another window and deploying another concessionaire to help out with the queue.
This means bringing too many parts to the manufacturing cell will build up unnecessary inventory that could take up needed space even if it saves you an extra trip.
This isn’t limited to just employees – education is important from the customer side as well. Customers need to make it as easy as possible for the suppliers to give them what they want, which means properly explaining their expectations and defining what elements of quality are most critical.
How obnoxious is it when a customer tells a Starbucks barista a venti-decaf-double-flavor-shot-soy-latte, then receives their drink and complains that they wanted soy instead of milk. If that was such a critical need, why didn’t the customer say so?
Properly educated employees can think through problems and comprehend customer expectations. Properly educated customers can define what they want and properly communicate that to their supplier. (Yes, mistakes will be made from time to time, but less frequently than with those who are not properly educated.)
When people are not properly educated and are not able to successfully think for themselves, they become disengaged and they become reliant on others telling them what to do. It’s as if they can’t think “in multiple dimensions” and ask “why” without it sounding either condescending or disruptive.
Those that are uneducated and can’t think for themselves only know two results – obey or disobey (and suffer the consequences).
Those who are uneducated and can’t think for themselves validate their activities with the old adage “This is how it’s always been done.” (We Lean thinkers obviously loathe that phrase.)
Those who are uneducated and can’t think for themselves take what the book says for them to do and responds “This is the only way we can do it because the book is always right and we must never question its teachings.”
I recently had a meeting with a manager who said “I just want employees to listen, to do what I tell them, and not argue.” Essentially, he wants an uneducated workforce. He wants a “Do as I say” workforce.
Conversely, think about the power of putting the power of decision in the hands of the user. What if a manager responded to an employee’s question with “What do you think?”
What do you think the employee would do? I’m betting that, more often than not, that employee is going to feel a little more empowered to go find out for themselves.
In the end, a properly educated individual is a challenged individual, knows how to learn on their own, can dig through ambiguity, and help bridge the gap between good and bad quality.
An improperly educated individual does just what they’re told, nothing more but sometimes less.