Nobody Wants to Look Bad

Improvement Insights Blog

Nobody Wants to Look Bad

Nobody wants to look bad, which can make it impossible to make improvements. Here’s why:

“One of the things I’ve learned in all these years working in Quality Improvement is nobody, but nobody, wants to look bad. With the recent coronavirus [outbreak], the doctor who found that and [leaked news] out to the world, the Chinese government tried to shut him down, tried to keep that bit of information inside because they didn’t want to look bad.

“Well, this isn’t just a Chinese or Asian thing – saving face. In any business you walk into, somebody is in charge of how things are working and they’re in charge of trying to make it better, faster, cheaper. They’re supposed to have it all wired, but they don’t.

“I’m telling you, some of the biggest problems I have is not with Six Sigma or the tools or the methods, it’s getting people to cough up the data so that I can do a little analysis so that I can help them fix whatever’s broken. They don’t want that. They don’t want to look bad. They’ll come up with all kinds of exotic excuses why I can’t have their data to figure out what to fix. It’s very interesting to watch.

“Then there’s other groups who will say, “Here’s the data, but we haven’t been able to figure out anything and you probably can’t either, but I’ll let you run with it because my boss told me to let you run with it.” And then I’ll go figure out ways to save millions of dollars.

“This is hysterical. Nobody wants to look bad, but they’re not aware that they could look really good, either. They’re much more reluctant because they don’t want to be caught with the fact that, “Oh, I had all this data and I didn’t do anything with it.” No, you just don’t know how.

“When you or I get sick, guess what? We go see a doctor. We don’t [say], “Hey, I know all about health. I know everything there is to know. I don’t need anybody who knows more than I do or has any other diagnostic tools.” We don’t do that. We [say], “Hey, I’m sick. I need somebody to help me.” But we don’t do that in our own businesses, and that’s stupid. That’s just stupid. Go find a data doctor! Go find an improvement guru, right? Let them look at your data and figure out, pinpoint what needs to be fixed and then start fixing it. Along the way you’ll learn how to think like they do. You’ll never be as good as they are (maybe) because they started before you did. One Tai Chi master said, “A master is someone who started before you did.”

“So I’m Jay Arthur. That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. People are going to resist letting you have their data, or you may be resisting letting somebody else look at your data. That’s foolish. Giddyup! Let’s go out and improve something this week.”