Interview with Irina Molochko, Quality manager at Unomedical, Unomedical, Minsk in Belarus.
Bureaucracy and inflexible working practices were replaced by a more flexible cooperation where the results of the quality department suddenly gained strategic importance. The quality manager had made herself the focal point for all changes and she was of course constantly stressed. She was the only working force, but she managed to get the others to pull so they were several who pulled in the same direction. She found it to be much easier that way and the results came out better when she made more use of the employees. The quality manager had learned to let go of the control and use the expertise within the organization.
– My life changed completely following Race®concept – both my professional life and my personal life.
Irina Molochko – 44 years old, engineer specialized in software development and citizen of Minsk in Belarus – had to grapple with herself and do away with all the old habits, traditions and routines when her workplace, Unomedical, chose to ask for outside assistance to get the plant to perform better.
– The fact that people could really change and that it led to very visible results for the company was the greatest pleasure of the implementation of Race®concept. We were at the bottom of the list of the group’s 13 units and over the course of just one year we had placed first in the regular performance measurements several times. This is really something that creates job satisfaction and fighting spirit. And it has also been a victory for the entire workplace, says Irina Molochko.
The plant performed so well that it was one of the model companies that the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, paid a visit in April 2011.
– We were very proud when president Lukashenko chose to visit Unomedical here in Minsk. He was toured throughout the plant and was told that we by means of a goal-oriented effort went from being number 13 to being the group’s number 1 plant.
Irina Molochko is responsible for quality control and documentation at Unomedical which manufactures products in the field of critical care. It is not unusual with female engineers in Russia, but Irina Molochko’s career is a little unusual. She is the manager and has 19 people working under her in her team. According to her, it has taken a though discipline and an effort to always achieve the highest grades in school.
– I have had a career that is more typical of a man in this society so I have spent much effort to prove that I’m intelligent enough and that I really know my stuff. I must confess that I’m a perfectionist and almost impossible to budge and to get to let go, she says during the interview which takes place in a conference room at the end of the open-plan office for the administrative staff.
Intentionally and for the sake of concentration she has been told to sit with her back to the colleagues behind the glass wall. The 44-year-old quality manager likes to keep an eye on everything and in the beginning she catches herself in turning her head slightly towards the working colleagues. She is not comfortable with immediately reporting about the radical changes in the business life and warms herself up with a quite more harmless story of her childhood and family life.
Irina Molochko – a tall, slender woman with vibrant, intelligent and inquiring eyes – was born, raised and attended school in the old Soviet Union. She is single and like many other Russians with that marital status she lives with her parent. She and the 75-year-old mother are sharing an apartment in Minsk. Her leisure time is spent on reading and classical music. She herself is a performing artist and plays the piano. She spends a lot of time with her nieces.
Irina Molochko has worked at Unomedical since 1999. She has experienced a various numbers of managers and owners; firstly Danes and later American.
– They were looking for a quality employee to work with quality and within two weeks I got the job as a quality auditor. Since 2006, I have been the manager. I was really surprised when they promoted me. It had not even crossed my mind that they would give me that kind of responsibility.
The promotion meant that Irina Molochko also got to travel a lot for example to the UK, Australia, Slovakia, Malaysia and Denmark. The trips, a couple of previous courses, a good deal of curiosity and little knowledge of Soren Kirkegaard were Irina Molochko’s basis before meeting with Dane, Lars Moeller from ResultPartner.
– That have to take me some of the way, I thought, but right from the beginning, the meeting with the Race®concept was different from anything else I had experienced. I thought we just had to slightly adjust the business plans at the plant in Minsk, but it ended up with me reassessing myself and my life; even to such an extent that it affected my feelings as well. The process of getting used to the new things simply surprised me – especially in the beginning of the change process. Normally, I’m not one to show emotion.
The employees at the plant in Minsk were already put under pressure by the new American owners.
– The legislation of the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, is very strict. No errors are allowed and it places great demands on quality control and documentation. Under the Danish ownership, the requirements really were the same, but the Danes’ working method was more relaxed. For example the Americans expect that we are always ready with an answer if they email us in the evening. The expectations and requirements were massive after the change of ownership in 2008 and meanwhile we were pressured by the group’s competing departments around the world.
I became a professional
– We weren’t performing well enough here at the plant in Minsk, but we worked hard. When an outside consultant was given the task of improving us, my very first question to Lars Moeller was: “Do you want us to work twice as hard?”
The quality manager in Minsk felt that she already worked hard. Maybe it would be okay to be asked to run a little faster, but she could not bear or cope with having to hand some of the work over to others – at least not to begin with.
– Lars Moeller made it clear that I didn’t have to work twice as hard. He wanted me to change my daily routines and schedules. And that was what I ended up doing to a great extent. I was indeed helped to establish goals for almost everything I do. I suddenly realized that I’m a professional person. It may sound strange, but I had actually had doubts of my professionalism. That acknowledgment worked so well for me that I got to use the new insights and methods both at work and in my private life. Maybe I needed it all along and maybe that is why the processing took such a hard turn on me at the beginning of the process.
To begin with, it was hard for Irina Molochko to understand that she didn’t always have to convince the other managers in the group by starting from scratch with long explanations. At the weekly Race meetings, arranged by ResultPartner, she learned to report straightforwardly and specifically on what had happened in her department during the past year and which adjustments she was going to make.
Irina Molchko came to regard herself as a professional person with substantial and important arguments. And she learned how to empower the employees in the quality department. Earlier, she had just been a tough Soviet aunt who gave orders and took the entire responsibility.
– The responsibility was entirely mine. I always endeavored to do everything myself. It also perfectly matches the spirit of a perfectionist. The employees did exactly as I said. I just explained the way of doing it and the benefits of doing it this way. Then the orders were followed. It was very hard to step away from this form as it was the easy and safe thing to do. Now, I had to allow myself to make mistakes. That is the way things will be when you suddenly delegate the work and never have tried it before. I had been accustomed to always being consulted and my words always being final.
ResultPartner strongly emphasized that we had to take more responsibility for the process and the ultimate goal. And that of course meant a certain failure rate – a situation that everyone had to learn to deal with. The employees were also skeptical or downright frightened by the prospect of having to be responsible and risk making mistakes.
– They had enough experience with making mistakes, but they had no experience with having to take responsibility for mistakes and were obviously afraid of the consequences. For a while it was simply a matter of accepting that having perfect quality wasn’t always the most important thing. I had to make mistakes if I wanted to improve. And I had to allow the others in the department to make mistakes. Otherwise I would never get the needed time and resources to improve in these areas. It would have been better for the others if I had simply stopped my career if I hadn’t developed in that area, says Irina Molochko.
The process was tough. Mistakes are usually associated with worry lines and worse from the senior management in Irina Molochko’s system world. As a perfectionist, she had been dependent on appreciation and approving nods from teachers, managers and family her whole life.
The customer as boss
Each of the employees in the quality department at Unomedical in Minsk had to personally take responsibility for maintaining the contact with customers within their field.
– I was of course nervous about this to begin with, but it also came as a relief when the employees realized that it basically wasn’t me, their manager, but the customer who restricted and reprimanded their work. Previously, I had to explain what went wrong to the customer if an employee had made a mistake. Today, they themselves have to explain to a customer why a particular piece of medical equipment is not functioning properly.
– In cooperation with the customer, it also became their responsibility to figure out whether the customer could do anything to get the equipment to function. For example, the case could be that the customer, the hospital staff, used a wrong kind of water and then the equipment wouldn’t function. And then it wasn’t due to a faulty manufacture at the plant. In this way, the vast majority of my department has become much more interested in their work and achieved good results. And naturally, they are happier about working and show more enthusiasm when they have influence.
The employees in the quality department have learned a lot from getting feedback directly from the customer. After the initial nervousness they quickly rose to the occasion and the numbers of mistakes were quickly reduced.
– Naturally, there will people who will never understand that they must take responsibility. Especially some of the older people still come to me and ask about most things. It is more difficult to motivate them and some of them have known of nothing else than receiving orders from others their whole life. Lars Moeller has taught me how to continuously adjust their job so they are forced to do things on their own and to take responsibility. I must always try to maintain my influence; always try to make it clear that the work situation will be best for everyone if all us are focused on the product and the ultimate goal.
Pros and cons
Irina Molochko saw more pros than cons in letting go of responsibility. The cons have been easy to disregard and some of them are simply unavoidable.
– It goes without saying that people are not as easy to control as back in “the old days”. It requires a little more effort to perform the documentation step when defining what went wrong in case of a mistake. We have to avoid repeating mistakes. This requires that I carefully explain the consequences of any mistakes. I must also be aware of the situation where people want freedom, but want to be free of that same freedom when things go wrong. It is easier to keep a fine balance if any mistakes and liability are identified clearly beforehand.
It was an eye opener for Irina Molochko that Race®concept without a doubt was able to get her employees and managers to change. The effort led to immediate results for the company – results that remained. But the stubborn Russian engineer was also shaken on a personal level.
– Personally, I have gained more confidence than I thought I could hold in the person I am. It has been a hard process. I have been tired, frustrated and longing for a vacation, but participating in this “conversion” has been way too exciting to give up. I’m much happier with my job now. As expected, I sometimes still wish for more control, but after being on a business trip for a month I came home and saw that nobody had died and that they actually were able to handle things on their own.
It was above all a positive experience for Irina Molochko that she had not destroyed the relationship to the employees in her department during the process of delegating work and responsibilities.
– A manager was better protected under the old system where we worked in accordance with the mindset that employees are all the same and should be handled in the same way. It was much easier to manage and control back then. ResultPartner has taught us to handle people differently. And we humans are different from each other no matter what kind of system we are born under. Some perform well under pressure. Others have to be shown more consideration. I have done a lot of to make sure I act in accordance to that part of the concept. I also learned to show more interest for the lives and hobbies of the employees. Knowing them better helps me to help them to gain more courage and desire to do something on their own.
Crossing the threshold
Weekly Race Meetings with specific reports on the individual effort was a difficult and sometimes painful threshold to cross for Irina Molochko.
– Getting the job or project done was no longer the most important thing. Now, we also had to follow up on everything – every time and with all projects. The report of what we had done during the week didn’t take long to write in itself. In return, we had to be a little more detailed when explaining what we wanted to do to correct or improve our performance. I found it to be transcendent. At first, it seemed like an accusation. In fact, I became angry and felt swamped with new expectations while I simultaneously had to cope with all the usual tasks. We were exposed as managers. It was an uncomfortable transition that we just had to get through.
– It is no wonder that you become insecure when you get all this attention and stand there alone talking about you own effort and what you intend to do about it. We had a tendency to blame each other and constantly look for excuses in our old working method. Now, we had no excuses anymore. We were only allowed to outline solutions.
After a while, the management group got used to the new way of working and collaborating and got closer to each other.
– It was crucial that the help came from the outside. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have believed that there were no special interests involved. It had to be someone who could see the whole situation from above. Lars Moeller was capable of doing this. These Race Meetings taught us to understand each other’s tasks and challenges and then we became better at working together and supporting each other. At least we realized that we would not survive and get good results at the plant in Minsk if we just fought amongst ourselves in the management group.
The fear of becoming redundant during the intense development work had crossed Irina Molochko’s mind.
– It is obvious that this thought comes to mind now that it turns out that the employees are very good at handling tasks on their own and taking responsibility. But after all, I have been more concerned with thinking: “And so what?” Earlier, I wasn’t a particularly brave person, but now I dare to say out loud that I can’t be satisfied by being a quality manager the rest of my life. This process has made me think about many things. I’m convinced that I will find something new to do, a new position, a new field of work and perhaps in a different country. Before, I would never have believed I could do that. Now, I really want set some higher goals, not just at work but also in my personal life and personal career.
Irina Molochko has been very bound by her role as a representative of a system that aims to give orders and handling employees in accordance to a specified pattern.
– Irina’s biggest challenge was letting go of herself and her perfectionism. She really needed help to gain more courage and confidence. All the preconditions were there. The properties were amazing. She is very ambitious, intelligent and good at her job, but she was about to burn out because she thought she was the only one who could solve the tasks, says Lars Moeller from ResultPartner.
– The fact that she thinks she is the best at everything has made it extremely difficult to teach her how to delegate.
In the case of Irina Molochko, ResultPartner had to use the elements from the lower part of the Execution Model. They needed to develop her interpersonal skills and they had to organize plans in the department in order to get her managers and employees to take on more responsibility. There was a need for clear goals and clear plans. Over the years, Irina Molochko had become the centre of everything because she had never involved her organization in setting goals and making plans for the individual. It is a very typical and eternal situation across countries and cultures. To delegate basically requires two significant characteristics of those you delegate to: They need to have goals and plans and they must have the necessary skills. She had plenty of competent managers and employees in her department, but they weren’t involved in the process of setting goals and making plans.
– It was fun to observe that she always cried out for more resources. Actually, she had them close at hand, but she didn’t use them. Perfectionists such as Irina Molochko trust themselves more than they trust others. Our task was to make her understand that she actually had access to skills all around her. It takes courage to dare to delegate. We had to provide her with that courage.
To summarize, Irina Molochko had to learn three things. She had to find courage and learn to trust the employees. She had to create a precise overview of how to set specific goals and plans for the department. And then she had to develop her interpersonal skills in cooperation with the management.
– She is superior to her management colleagues, intelligent and thinks at an enormous pace. She is also good at expressing herself, also in English. To put it mildly, her skills were very strong, but she had actually made herself inferior as she had committed so much strength in controlling others and always being the one who was in charge, says Lars Moeller.
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