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The importance of relationships to research

Troy_Mumford_PortraitProfessor Troy Mumford is a very interesting teacher. I remember how he would keep our attention in class by throwing pens around the room. It worked. In our interview he didn’t need to throw pens around to keep my attention. We did a little bit of catching-up, talking about how things had been going for each of us. Eventually we got on topic and Troy’s research became the main focus of our interview time. It was also enlightening to learn about the connections he needed to make in order to accomplish this project.

We live in a time of immediate gratification, which can be detrimental to the mindset needed for research. Troy has been building relationships with his peers at the Shingo Institute for 8 years in various ways. Troy said to me, “Trust comes by sharing a history with someone, a history of sharing risk.” You have to be willing to invest in relationship for years before expecting to get anything from it. Troy’s personal view insists that, with a relationship, everyone wins. The current project he’s working on would’ve been impossible without the relationships he’s built over time with Shingo. The group Troy works with has been working for one and a half years on a project called SCOPE.

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SCOPE is a project which will become a tool for developing an assessment of organizational culture. It could lead to quality improvement for companies as they learn how their culture can impact quality. He has been working with Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management Brian Fugate at Colorado State University, academic peers at the Shingo Institute, and peers working in the real business world in order to research and develop this assessment. “More and more the kinds of questions we are asking and the complexity of the questions we’re asking require expertise from a lot of different perspectives,” said Troy. The team has collected data from over 3,000 leaders, managers and associates working in 20 organizations. SCOPE measures the behaviors that make up the culture of a specific company. It helps companies understand what rules and behaviors, written and unwritten, pervade the entity. Additionally it looks at the approaches, leadership styles, and behaviors best suited to produce quality in a company.

To create this tool, and make it effective, the team of researchers had to survey people at different levels of the company. They then had to try to perceive the culture of employees at each level of the organization. Troy found the culture within any given company varied based on where the person was positioned in the company. For example, an executive could be very focused on trying to create a culture of teamwork, yet an employee in the manufacturing facility could be more focused on personal efficiency. These findings appear consistent with a self-interest model. This means different groups within the company will perceive a company’s new initiative differently based on their own interests. The same company can have different cultures within it causing employees to work in different directions.

Troy and the team have written an initial paper reporting their findings. They were able to present a preliminary report at a supply chain management conference. Troy is emphatic that the project wouldn’t work without diverse perspectives. It is often said that there is the real world and there is the ivory tower of academics. “The fun part of this project is having those worlds meet together on the dance floor.” When both meet to study the world as it truly is, everybody wins.

Troy really enjoys seeing what the lasting effects of this work will be. He hopes this project will encourage continued investigation of operational and organizational excellence. When you walk into his office and look carefully at Troy’s desk, you’ll see a rather impressive fossil case within it. Troy’s goal is to make an impact which will last as long as that fossil will. Without relationships to bring researchers together, that impact would be impossible.

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