Chapter 9: Continuity
Continuity of Purpose
W. Edwards Deming was a leading champion of quality and was honored with many awards for his pioneering and persistent initiatives to improve quality in organizations.
In his 1982 book entitled Out of the Crisis, Deming affirmed “14 points or key principles for management” to improve not only quality, but also management itself. The first point was “create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service.” (Deming 1982)
I attended one of Deming’s seminars and became an advocate of his brand of quality improvement. I facilitated the installation of his principles in law firms and businesses. We tend to be addicted to fads that come and go with the changing of promotional winds. I hope that some of Deming’s quality seeds are still yielding fruit; however, it is likely that many of those seeds have lost the support needed for their continued growth and expansion.
One of my cherished quality experiences provides a good preamble to this chapter. I was challenged to install a demonstration Deming quality process in one of my client company’s distribution centers. It took time. Training in statistical process control and other dimensions of this process required a lot of effort and patience.
One of the special challenges was to train and motivate the night shift at this center. Many workers on this shift chose the night shift so that they could hunt during the days of hunting season. They were not gung-ho about some of this quality stuff, but they were good sports. Over time they could see the benefits of the process and were supportive.
Management recognized the benefits of my demonstration, and plans were underway to install this process throughout the company. Before the announcement, however, to show appreciation to the demonstration center employees, corporate executives chose to host a picnic for the key people at the center that included people from the night shift.
After the picnic, we gathered in a conference room, and I was asked to provide an opening word. I decided to add a little humor to our meeting. With great sincerity, I said that we appreciated the special efforts of everyone, but it had been decided not to install the process throughout the company and that this was the end of the demonstration.
Since there was no forewarning of my bombshell, there was great silence, including that of the executives, who wondered what in the world their consultant was up to.
And then, the silence was broken. One of the night shift people spoke up and said, “You can’t stop us. We know how to do this now and will keep on doing it.”
I then confessed my misrepresentation, and the executives announced the plan to install the process throughout the company. After that announcement, we all had a great laugh and celebration.
The reason that I remember this experience so vividly is it represented continuity of purpose, not from the planning department, but from the grass roots. Management had a key role in introducing and supporting the process, but the continuity found its roots in those who would be the practitioners of the process.
To extrapolate from this little case study, I am here expressing my concern for the continuity of transformational dialogue.
Examples of Continuity
The total quality movement (TQM) that sparked the economic revolution in Japan following WWII spread throughout the world. It had many champions and took a variety of forms. Statistical measuring and commitment to continuous improvement augmented the performance of many enterprises. TQM’s varied applications generated better products, services, and profit, where appropriate.
I do not have access to a source for validating continuity of the movement, but there is abundant evidence that the movement permeated institutions and motivated people like my night shift guy.
Reasons for this continuity included competition, profit, leadership, and dialogue. In addition, it is my view that those applications that succeeded and endured were built on the dialogical engagement of all who needed to be involved.
Religion may be the best example of continuity. From our beginnings as human beings, we have been aware that there is a force that is manifested in a spirit. That spirit is often manifested in motivating leaders as well as institutions.
It is beyond us, yet it guides and empowers us to live with principles that sustain and enrich our lives.
The history of religion has many bumpy chapters including witch-hunts, persecutions, and even wars; however, continuity has persisted based on the needs met and the benefits discovered in a faithful practice of a transcendent reality.
As a personal and career practitioner, I would add that when transformational dialogue is part of the religious experience, continuity is more likely.
Bill Wilson and Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1935. Its purpose is to help its members stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. I have friends who are members. I have also attended meetings, and AA’s famous “Serenity Prayer” is attributed to one of my professors.
AA’s 12-step program has rescued and sustained millions across the world. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, these steps are principles, spiritual in nature, which if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.
The website includes this description: “Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem.”
The site adds that AA is nonprofessional, self- supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available
almost everywhere. “Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.” (https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa)
What has sustained AA’s continuity of purpose? Clearly, it begins with a widespread disease, namely alcoholism, from which there have been few successful ways to recover. AA, in answering the need for recovery from alcoholism, is probably the most successful recovery program in the world. AA seems not to be an institution with a bureaucratic hierarchical structure, and its members are anonymous.
In an AA meeting, members are understood, listened to, encouraged, challenged, supported, and loved. This feels to me like transformational dialogue.
I believe transformational dialogue is a means to good ends. However, we have been reminded by advocates who were passionate about dialogue, yet in spite of that passion, they did not find the response, which they hoped would be forthcoming. Therefore, what hope can we have for transformational dialogue’s continuity and impact?
The desired outcome is for there to be more people like my night shift guy who believe in transformational dialogue, know how to do it, and will continue on their own. When a movement is embraced at the grassroots level, it can have a long-term impact. Where is the leverage for that outcome?
Philanthropic foundations do a lot of good. We are blessed with those who, having attained great wealth, choose to use that wealth to make things better for all of us.
It is my view that a philanthropic foundation is the best option we have for the continuity, penetration, and impact of transformational dialogue. How might a foundation approach this mission?
A strategic step would be to provide an umbrella for advocates and organizations currently at work to promote dialogue.
When you do a Google search for organizations that advocate for dialogue, you find a list worth exploring. Some of these organizations focus on different applications. Candidates might include Dialogus, The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, The National Dialogue Network, and the Sustained Dialogue Institute.
More research would no doubt surface organizations, which would benefit from such an umbrella that would offer synergistic relations and support connections.
Providing a forum for these groups to dialogue about what they have in common and how they might use their combined resources to advance this mission would be a good way to begin.
Another step would be the development of resources supporting dialogue to be made available to schools and colleges for courses and workshops.
This resource development could be a way to get the attention of our educational system in its role to make its constituents aware of the importance and potential of dialogue.
A third step could be to initiate articles on dialogue, including examples of its successful applications, for media publications. The broader reporting of the Templeton Prize for King Abdullah II cited in Chapter 2 would be such an example.
A fourth step could be to identify, equip, and facilitate the presence of effective advocates of transformational dialogue in TV, radio, and social media.Foundations outlive their founders, mission advocates, and even public interest. With motivation that goes deeper than profit and short-term projects, however, an appropriate foundation could contribute to a significant cultural shift that would shine a light on transformational dialogue as a means to better ends and as a way to live optimally.
What questions do you now have with which you would like to engage in dialogue?