Buildup Ourselves Through Buildup the Community
Many people don’t see the linkage between volunteer work and career development. I’d like to use my personal example to show the link. I’d also like to use the opportunity to share some thoughts in section operations that affect everyone but hardly get the chance to be publicly debated through regular venues.
Most section members know me now as the current VC of Program. Some also knows me serving on MFESTS board as ASQ rep. Yet my engagement with professional activities is much wider than that. Outside the section, I also participate in activities at the national level, such as serving on the editorial review board for Six Sigma Forum Magazine, judging for International Team Excellency Award, writing question items for ASQ certifications, etc. Outside ASQ, I’m very active in Toastmaster group, to continuously buildup my capacity in public speaking. I also use it as a venue to practice my interest in political debate. My career has always been closely tied to volunteering at the professional communities.
I’ve been in Six Sigma arena for the past 9 years, mostly in Master Black Belt (MBB) function at Seagate. Now I manage Sigma program at Entegris. Before that, I’ve been teaching at a university for 7 years. I still carry a guest professor title from them now. Adding my education, I’ve been in university environment for 17 years. From there I developed a unique work habit that is lasting today. At university, people work late at night and sleep into the morning. I’ve been a night owl ever since. At university, people don’t observe 8 hour working rule; don’t have to work in the office. They control their own schedule quite independently, yet many work long hours at home. From there I developed a terrible compelling habit that I’m on duty 24/7, like a person on-call. I prioritize my work, both job related and non-job related together, and on tasks 24 hours a day. At university, volunteering at professional communities is almost a must be thing to make career advancement.
Speaking about the benefit in career development, I’d like to hit on 2 things particularly.
- Volunteering environment can be the test bed and internship for things we want to do at work. I’ve used it as my test bed to experiment forefront or debatable management practice at work. As I explained before, people like to avoid high risks at work, because of the high stake business consequence. Yet at our community the consequence for taking risks will not be super negative. We can be less confined to try controversial things and learn valuable lessons and bring back to work. I personally benefited a great deal from that. For example, personality wise, I’m an analytical type, not a driver. I’m less confrontational and don’t push people very hard at work, since I don’t have a very good sense on how far is too far. Yet at section board, I feel I’m more opened up to push the envelope and test the boundary. I’m more outspoken and sometimes feel comfortable to be confrontational. – A very valuable experience. Another example, at work is a less open environment. We are more constrained at work therefore creativity is somewhat stifled. We generally are used to work in the existing framework than jumping out of the box. I personally didn’t get to practice carrying out much visionary thinking. Yet at the community, we are not constrained as much. I get the free hand to practice the way I liked, not the way the work environment specified. I benefited a great deal from that and accrued valuable experiences. I feel I’m more visionary at the community than at work.
- Volunteering environment helps to build up higher level discipline.
Responsiveness is a big deal in volunteering community, because people are less bounded. Before Lean initiative got popular, people didn’t so clearly realize that waiting is a great sin (waste) in operation efficiency and effectiveness. In fact the health of an organization is largely depending on members’ responsiveness. So is our modern life in this electronic era. Over years I developed an unhealthy compulsion to respond messages instantly, not to leave them over night. It’s not unusual that people receive my responses after might night, since I frequently keep up until 2AM or wake up at 3AM just to catch up with emails. Hope through involving in the community activities people can buildup the right sense and discipline of responsiveness.
I’d like to use the opportunity to share some thoughts in section operations that affect everyone but hardly get the chance to be publicly debated through regular venues.
- Recognizing and appreciating member contributions
I’m a big fan of rewarding people / volunteers. My belief is members should contribute to the community and the community should use every chance it can to recognize and appreciate people and their contributions. It’s the minimum an organization can do in return. So the moment I got exposed to MEFESTS Engineer of the Year award, I see right away it’s a great venue the section can use to recognize member contributions. I become a strong advocate and actively campaign for that ever since. The section can do more in this area.
- 2-way communication.
The information flow within a healthy organization need to be 2-way, close loop, from the org to members and from members to the org. Member engagement is a pre-condition for that. What usually happens at an org is that information flows only one way, from the org to members. We do currently have some channels for 2-way communication, but the 2-way flow has not gain momentum yet. Both section and members can do more in this area.
- The balance between continuity and new blood, long-lasting and freshness.
Each new person will bring in new ideas and new ways of doing things. Improvements rely on new things. My observation, compared to some other organizations, the current section setting and established routine are very good in maintaining continuity, yet not as effective as it could in in-taking new blood and fresh ideas. The two sides need to be more balanced. The selection of new officers each year is a reflection of that. Under the current system, we end up with rotating mostly the same group of seasoned veterans year after year. Adding new members is ad hoc or at luck. People inactively take whatever presented to them and don’t have much say in alternatives. I do personally know that some people wanted to do more, yet the system didn’t to provide enough room to bring them forward. Or I’m not sure if the current system can handle competitions for the same offices. I observed examples that new people or things get swiped aside when not in line with the old pal routines. I also frequently see signs that veterans get quite burned out or struggle with merely day to day work. Seasoned veterans carry tremendous value and should certainly be preserved; yet balancing it by generating new blood maintains better health in long run. I’m sure the nomination committee is trying to do the best as it can to achieve balance, yet its outcome may be limited by the system. I’d like to see mandatory rotations, ie. Something like 25% officers didn’t hold office in the past 2 years, at least one never held office before, the same person holding the same office is limited to 2 consecutive year, etc. This will provide more breathing space for seasoned veterans, while allow new blood to get in develop. I see it’s an opportunity area for the section.
Speaking about developing new blood, I’d like to appreciate some people who contributed significantly in my development. All the section chairs I’ve worked with, Gary Townsend, Mavonne Prokop, and Connie Mclinn, have been very instrumental. Yet there are 2 people on our committee who are like my role models and have led me to this far. One is Marilyn Pehl. She was the program VC at the time and solicitude me to the program committee. Right away she put me in the incubator for the VC role and prepared all the ground work for my 1st term. She remained to be my mentor during my terms. It’s such a powerful jump start that enabled me to fly high quickly during my terms. Now I’m trying to mimic her and duplicate whatever she did to me to develop new successors. I’m always amazed by the way she speaks and handles difficult situations. Her words are so graceful which will melt all of the negative feelings away.
Another role model from our committee is Darrel Untereker. He handled our high profile or challenging meetings that anchored the success of the past 2 years. We are on the track to bring the program meetings back to the high point in the decade. At his level as corporate VP at Medtronic, he can still be so down to the earth; do the hand dirty work, personally attending all of the details. It really changed my view on executives. I know some senior executives at large corporations (ie. Seagate) who volunteer at professional communities. Because they are inherently much busier than average us, they usually stay at high level guiding without doing the hand dirty work. Last year, I’ve been suggesting having Darrel take over the program VC role, if he stays on the committee. But Marilyn explained that his time will be better used if focusing on recruiting hard-sought speakers instead of administrative work. He ended up with covering logistics for those meetings anyway. So speaking about time constraint, I’m a frequent traveler. 50% of my time was on the road last year. I spent a week to 10 day in Japan each month in the past 5 months. I really felt the pain of volunteering locally while on the road. Yet by seeing what Darrel has done, I feel I can’t complain. He should be much busier than I and travel no less.
Jim Mclinn is another person who has been very instrumental to me. He is the 1st person introduced me to ASQ activities, through BB certification program. People know him everywhere and he is on everything. He is low key and very responsive. I’m always amazed and wonder how he got the time and energy to put on so many things.
With all being said, member engagement is a pre-condition for all of them. They don’t mean much if members are not engaged or don’t care. I’ve been struggling with the level of engagement of our members to our community. We have close to 3K members. I figure not too surprisingly that one 3rd lives in metro area. Yet our program attendance usually doesn’t exceed 1 hundred. Through my involvement with MFESTS, I know some other communities are at the opposite. They struggle with their size, not the member involvement. They have 80+ people, but almost all attend their meetings. The biggest discouragement to volunteers is their handwork nobody cares. I personally feel very disheartening when very few people show up to meetings. Yes, the meetings may not provide what members needed. Yet let the organizers know what’s really needed could be the 1st step to get involved.
To conclude, hope more of us can buildup ourselves through buildup the community, any community.