Inviting people to learn about their own processes LO29345

From: Malcolm Burson (
Date: 10/17/02

Replying to LO29283 --

In response to my original posting in LO29283, Mark Spain wrote off-line on Saturday, October, 12, as follows,
>You recently wrote on the LO list
> "I won't bore the list with further details, but would go on to say that a
> key element in our success has been the ability of our design to invite
> people to learn about their own processes, and come to their own
> conclusion that in some cases, improvement actually makes work better.
> I'd be happy to provide some further details off-line if you like."
> I would be very interested in you sharing the approach you use to invite
> people to learn about their own processes.
> Are you able to give me an insight?
> I also don't think it would be boring if you shared this with the list.

Mark, thanks for the reply. I guess I don't really regard what we do as
very original or insightful,but it works like this:

we treat the auditing process as to some extent an exercise in
Appreciative Inquiry, so both in the planning/scoping for an internal
audit, and when interviewing staff, we try whenever possible to use some
variant on, "When things are really working well around here, what's going
on? what's contributing to your success?"

In comparison with some QM approaches, I think we also put a lot more
emphasis on working collaboratively with program-level managers to design
the audit. Since we are particularly sensitive to the issue of 2nd-party
objectivity (insofar as this is possible with an internal process) AND to
avoiding the perception that auditing is about looking over people's
shoulders as a hidden performance evaluation, and/or auditing is just a
bunch of people who don't actually know telling other people how to do
their jobs, we work hard to use an inquiry-based method to help our
auditors learn what makes a program tick. And since one of our explicit
goals is to cross-pollinate best practices from one part of the
organization to others (with the auditors being the carriers), we get a
double benefit: the inquiry process gives the auditor information for use
in the audit, and in his/her home unit, AND the person in the unit being
audited actually learns about his/her own work by needing to respond to
the question. This is to me a process of making implicit knowledge
explicit, and then diffusing it.

As this implicit knowledge and understanding surfaces, we often find the
auditee experiencing a sort of gestalt, as in, "That's how we do it, but
I've just realized that it's really not very efficient/consistent. I
wonder how we could do that better."

All of this, of course, when it actually works.

Malcolm C. Burson
Director of Special Projects
Maine Department of Environmental Protection;


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