QMRs: The elephant in the room.

Sorry for a bit of hiatus.  I’ll try to catch up on a few major issues this week.  First off, we held our first “Quarterly Management Review” last week down at the Shipyard.  These are meetings hosted by GIS wherein they provide OSU and NSF leadership the status on major issues.  I’ve attended quite a few of these types of reviews over the years and I’ve seen that these kinds of meetings can rapidly veer into the realm of “dog and pony show.”   Too often, people are afraid to honestly discuss issues when there is a large audience. It’s natural. Few want to air dirty laundry or look bad in front of an audience– and there’s a tendency to want to “take it off line” where people feel safer to discuss problems more honestly.

I understand this, but for the most part, I don’t follow this approach personally.  These meetings are expensive in both dollars and time. In fact the Dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences was in attendance as were managers from NSF and other parts of OSU.  My thought is this. If we’re not going talk about anything real, why bother going to these?  We can find out status in weekly reports! Right?

So the challenge is to create an environment or, rather, a culture that is open and honest in a public setting where anyone can speak up. You all have been there. Sitting in the back row, knowing something, but staying quiet.  Or sensing something is amiss, but not asking the question.  I’ve been there for sure.  There are different reasons for this and one can be the sense that someone is too junior or otherwise whose voice shouldn’t be heard.  I remember studying this in “Bridge Resource Management” (a course for sea-going deck officers) where we learned about some of the factors that led to a tragic Korea Air Crash.  Basically, it boiled down to “power distance” and that the co-pilots were afraid to question the pilot right up to where the pilot ran the plane into the ground.  Malcom Gladwell dives deep into this issue in his book Outliers, and I encourage you to check it out.  My take away is twofold: when I’m junior and I see a problem, I don’t hesitate to speak up.  When I’m senior, I try to reduce that power distance and encourage OTHERS to speak up. I’d really prefer not to run aground.

We’ve got about 20 more QMR’s ahead of us and maybe six Annual Review where we, OSU, are in the hot seat rather than GIS.  My hope is that these are open and productive. I don’t want them to be easy or comfortable unless we are completely on schedule and on budget and no risks loom.  I’m reminded of a talk I saw at the Workboat Show a couple of years back. A CEO of a large shipyard vigorously told us about how he actually used a big stuffed elephant that he’d bring into meetings in order to remind people to name the elephant in the room. It might seem hokey, but he saw the importance of not tip toeing around problems.

This is a long winded way to say I’m not a fan of the quarterly management review unless it provides a real forum in which to discuss real problems honestly.  The idea of preparing for a big presentation that provides information that we already know and where everyone tip toes around the big issues is, simply, a waste of time. Don’t agree? Drop a comment below.

After all this, you might think that our first QMR was nothing but slides, furtive glances, and people avoiding hard truths.  It really wasn’t.  But we can do better. Honestly.


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About Demian Bailey

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