I experienced multi-dimensional déjà vu this past Thursday as I joined the Wright team at the Q Center in St. Charles, Illinois, for our AQIP Strategy Forum. AQIP is the Academic Quality Improvement Plan pathway for accreditation Wilbur Wright College follows under the guidance of the Higher Learning Commission.
The first dimension of vu came when driving into the Center. I started my Accenture career by spending three weeks at what was formerly known as the Center for Professional Education, owned by Arthur Andersen & Co. The firm required every new hire in the firm to spend three weeks learning the methodology employed on client engagements. My class of 60 was the first to host more non-US attendees than US students. The experience was intense and exhilarating. It was my first extended interaction with teams from Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia. The firm imprinted its unique culture on every new hire throughout the world, not least by living up to its up-or-out creed. If you did not complete the case project (I believe it was some COBOL program controlling a shoe factory) over the three weeks, you were not welcome back in your home office. I remember the entire class rallying around Bob, the only person not finished with the case by Week Three, Day 4, before the traditional end-of-case celebration. We dragged Bob across the finish line, learning the value of teamwork along the way.
I spent 1-2 weeks each year at St. Charles for most of my 23 years. After the AA&Co meltdown, the facility became the Q Center, and they started to accept other companies for conferences and training. Yet even with the change in ownership and attendees, the Q Center retained much of its cultural feel. Perhaps it is the tiny hotel rooms (you can literally touch both walls of the narrow end of the room with your arms outstretched), its remoteness, and the changeless cafeteria ambiance that combine to make it a unique place. My arrival on campus brought back floods of memories, and it felt a little strange to be there in a new role, with a new organization.
The second dimension of vu was brought on by the subject matter. AQIP was influenced greatly by the Malcolm Baldridge Award, instituted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to combat the rising tide of Japanese competitiveness brought on by its industrial embrace of the quality principles espoused by Joseph Juran and W. Edwards Deming. Accenture spent a time pursuing the Baldridge Award. It is a comprehensive effort, not unlike preparing for an accreditation visit, that forces an organization to assess and document its adherence to continuous quality improvement. Like with many accreditation visits, the Chicago office received new carpet and a fresh coat of paint in preparation for the visit of the Baldridge examiners. As the Wright team reviewed our areas for improvement, identified strategies, and sketched out fish bone diagrams for root-cause analysis, I experienced a vu-like vertigo. David Byrne’s refrain started pounding in my head.
My third vu came about while working with the team, made up of faculty, staff and administrators from Wright College. Most were new to me. Yet, as we worked on our project, it was as if we had worked together for years. We wrestled with how to increase engagement of faculty and staff. We brainstormed about projects. We opened up about what was working and what wasn’t. This team cared about helping Wright become a better college. All of them are busy with their day jobs, yet they took three days from their schedules to come together and work on this effort. It was inspiring and gratifying. Great institutions are made by great people, people who care enough to see what needs to change and work to change it. Same as it ever was.