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Guerilla Tactics for Changing Quality Culture

Written by: Steve Gompertz, QRx Partners

The term “guerilla tactics” likely conjures images of ragtag armed fighters skulking about the jungle to ambush a better outfitted target. Obviously, that’s not what this article is about when it comes to changing your organization’s culture around quality. A better definition in this context paraphrased from Google’s Dictionary, is that of a member of a small independent group taking part in activities performed in an impromptu way, often without authorization. In business we would more typically refer to such people as mavericks, leaders, change agents, or even loose-cannons, heretics, or disrupters.

Regardless of which of those labels you consider positive or negative, the common theme is that they are people with strong convictions who persist in driving change.

The guerilla tactics approach is about making change happen without waiting for permission and without jeopardizing your career. As in guerilla warfare, the goal is to avoid head-on confrontations with the “enemy”; avoid detection and achieve objectives without the other side necessarily being aware that you’re succeeding. Quality guerillas use the same approach. The “enemy” is simply those with an ability to stand in the way of change, either out of fear, not realizing the need, or disagreeing with the solution. Let’s be nicer and call them opponents.

In changing quality culture, the goal isn’t to crush our opponents, but to convert them; along with everyone else. That conversion is the entire focus. Your goal shouldn’t be just to implement a new process, system, or requirement, but winning over hearts and minds so that everyone truly engages in the change (I know, lots of cliches). Even those who agree with the need for change, often still fear it; most often because they don’t know exactly what the change will be, how it will impact them, or how to get there. And change agents often aren’t sure how to address each of those legitimate concerns.

There are guerilla tactics that can help. One is a “hide the vegetables” approach which focuses on gradually implementing change without calling attention to it. A colleague once started teaching 6-Sigma to an entire business unit by hiding elements of DMAIC within various forms and procedures. The individual concepts of definition, measurement, analysis, improvement, and control were all present (and sometimes referred to directly), but 6-Sigma was never mentioned. The result was that everyone became proficient and comfortable in applying DMAIC, without realizing it. Later, when 6-Sigma was more formally introduced, it just appeared to be a more formal version of things they were already doing.

As DMAIC would require, performance measurements can be a challenge. Again, fear is often the enemy. People participating in a process to be measured, sometimes fear that they are being measured rather than the process. Or, the measuring can be intrusive, maybe even to the point of affecting the results. And of course, sometimes the measurement method doesn’t really tell us what we need to know. Communication is often a simple method; why is the process being measured, how will the data be used (and not used), acknowledging impacts to the participants, and seeking their feedback before finalizing the strategy. Doing so can help you identify allies who can help you influence others; remember the part about winning hearts and minds? No one said you have to do it alone. Then consider creative ways to collect the data. Does it have to be done by the participants? Can it be done without them being aware of it? Does the data already exist? Think outside the box; there’s more to process quality than control charts.

Those are just a couple of guerilla tactics. Of course, there are many more. Ready to become a Quality Guerilla?

More details on the tactics mentioned here and others will be presented during a half-day workshop at the Minnesota Quality Conference on Wednesday, November 10. QRx Partners can also provide this training on-demand by contacting us at or 833-779-7278.

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