Last year I decided to climb each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall. Since starting, I have been writing brief descriptions of the hikes, along with some reflections on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago. On development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way …
The tenth of the 48 peaks that I summited was North Tripyramid (4180 ft, 1274 m), on 24 June 2016. I did the whole loop over both North and Middle Tripyramids that day; in this posting I will describe the climb up North Tripyramid, the first half of the hike.
The Tripyramid hike begins at the Livermore Road parking area, in Waterville Valley. I arrived from Durham at around 11am, and began to walk up Livermore Trail.
The first part of the walk, up Livermore Trail, is easy: a wide, unpaved forest-access road winding along a small brook, up past the Norway Rapids. Eventually, I turned off the access road and, an hour later (3.6 m), I had arrived at the beginning of Mt Tripyramid Trail, which loops up over both peaks and back to this same junction:
One of the most interesting features of North Tripyramid is the enormous rock slide on the northwest side of the mountain – apparently the side of the mountain gave way during heavy rains in August, 1885.
Hikers are advised to do the loop clockwise – up the north side of North Tripyramid, and then over to Middle Tripyramid, and down its south side. This is because going up the large slabs of granite on the north side is much easier (and safer) than going down them, especially when it’s wet or icy; being on the north side, the slide often remains icy long into the spring. And also the south side, past Middle Tripyramid, has a long section of loose gravel which would be frustrating to ascend, sliding back constantly. So: do the loop clockwise. I’ll write about Middle Tripyramid, and the descent down the loose gravel, in my next blog…
About 1/2 mile after the junction shown in the image above, I reached the bottom of the famous rock slide, and the steep ascent began. Here are a few views looking down the rock slide, as I neared the top, around 1pm that day:
It’s a long, steep haul up the rock slide but, as you can see, I enjoyed a spectacular, clear day with fantastic views to the north and west. It was a sweaty but exhilarating climb.
I arrived at the top of North Tripyramid at around 1pm, so it took me around two hours to reach the peak from the parking lot. Sadly, the top is forested and somewhat unremarkable:
Although the top of North Tripyramid isn’t special, the climb up the northwest face, up that rock slide, was very memorable.
After lunch at the top, I continued on to Middle Tripyramid, which I will describe next time.
In my last blog entry, I described how Plan’s first Regional Office – for South America (SARO) – had embraced a key strategic shift towards what we called “empowerment” in 1991. That’s what we called our change of approach, that emerged in the early 1990’s, from having Plan’s own staff manage the planning and implementation of development projects, to putting community members much more at the very centre of things in every way.
This shift had come as we at the Regional Office noticed, studied, and embraced innovations that we saw emerging in Field Offices, in places like Plan Cañar (led by Annuska Heldring) and Plan Loja (under the leadership of Mac Abbey) and others. These particular innovations were very similar in nature, seeking to “empower” local communities.
While we were very enthusiastic about the shift, as I mentioned last time I think that in some ways we might have been going a bit beyond our brief, filling an important, agency-wide void that was being left by an increasingly inward-looking International Headquarters. But it was an exciting time for us in SARO.
Parallel to the move towards “empowerment” in South America, there were several other initiatives taking place in Plan. Three task forces had been set up, working in a related fashion but not exactly in harmony. All three of these efforts were connected, in some way, to stresses related to Alberto Neri’s initiatives and management style (described in earlier posts). They represented efforts to correct the situation.
A “Morale Task Force,” was established, with representatives across the agency. I think that the establishment of the MTF itself was an indication that Alberto was in trouble. In fact, he would soon leave his position. I wasn’t too involved in the MTF and, in fact, my morale was very good! That’s not to minimize the real sense of discontent that had spread across Plan, and the MTF did a professional job of identifying the problem and proposing solutions, without being unnecessarily disruptive.
Two additional, separate, initiatives were undertaken as measures to address the morale situation inside Plan. The “Strategic Plan Task Force” had begun to prepare a set of new guiding documents for Plan, including drafts of a “Vision” and a “Mission” (and, later, a “Commitment to Quality” that related to the work of the Quality Council – see below.) These statements, which I will quote below, proved to be long-lasting and very effective in building unity of purpose across the organization:
- Plan’s vision is of a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies which respect people’s rights and dignity;
- Plan aims to achieve lasting improvements in the quality of life of deprived children in developing countries through a process that unites people across cultures and adds meaning and value to their lives by:
- Enabling deprived children, their families and their communities to meet their basic needs and to increase their ability to participate in and benefit from their societies.
- Building relationships to increase understanding and unity among peoples of different cultures and countries.
- Promoting the rights and interests of the world’s children.
I found present-day references to Plan’s Vision and Mission statements, crafted, agreed, and approved in 1992, on several Plan website pages, though no longer at the level of governance. Still, these statements guided the organization for well over twenty years, which is a tribute to the work of the people involved, including the SPTF Chairperson, Kevin Porter.
Many in Plan felt that Alberto Neri had moved the organization’s focus away from program, in his single-minded determination to introduce “professional” management, accountability, and systems befitting (in his view) such a large institution. As a result, to bring focus back onto program, a third task force was established, building on an existing project that was developing indicators for program quality. I was named to participate in this effort, representing South America, and attended an organization-wide workshop on “Program Quality and Program Quality Indicators,” which took place in Newport, Rhode Island in May, 1991.
My presentation to the Newport workshop proposed that program quality could best be achieved by focusing the entire organization on meeting the needs of the children, families, and donors that were Plan’s vital customers. And I proposed that, to do this best, Plan should incorporate the principles and methods of “Total Quality Management” (“TQM”) into its working processes.
As best I can recall, my Newport presentation was similar to one I made a few months later, in Quito – which is here: quality-in-plan. Here I outlined how Quality was seen, and achieved, in Plan, and how it related to program quality:
Much of that presentation compelling, nearly 25 years later. The way that we connected quality in the organization with program quality is great. The focus on “community management” was the way that we incorporated “Empowerment” into the quality focus – nicely joined up. And I really like, on page 34 of the PDF, how we reference work with “a permanent element in the local environment – the appropriate government agency, a local, specialized NGO, etc.” – our way of talking about partnership with local civil society.
Total Quality Management was an important management topic in the early 1990’s, subject of a wide range of scholarly articles, case studies, and billable time for consultants. As I came to understand it, TQM sought to empower employees to address customer needs, and to use data to continuously improve the customer satisfaction by improving work processes. Several management theorists and practitioners had developed TQM over the decades, principally W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran.
Of course, TQM had emerged from the business world. Deming, in particular, had worked in Japan from the late 1940’s into the 1960’s, helping that nation’s manufacturing base move from low value-added industries to the high quality, high-value products that we see today. Juran had worked with Pontiac, for example, on the Fiero.
TQM was a very positive approach, leading to massive improvements in the quality of business processes, in the private sector and in government, even through to today. And by 1991, it was a huge management fad, with many consultants earning good livings helping organizations implement the tools and methods involved. As such, my suggestion that Plan adopt TQM was met with a large degree of skepticism by program staff in particular (my own peers!) It felt to many that I was moving the focus away from program and towards more systems and procedures, playing into Alberto’s hands!
My own point of view was that TQM would help us become more effective and efficient, and clarify how all Plan staff related to program quality. And I felt a huge affinity with the concept of “quality,” having been deeply influenced by Robert Pirsig’s classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Management.” In particular, I was very influenced by this quote:
A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristics of Quality.
I felt that this way of understanding “quality” fit well into the value-driven nature of organizations like Plan, and with people working in that kind of organizations. And TQM offered a way to combine that level of “caring” with a rigorous way of approaching our daily work. This was exciting stuff.
By the end of the 1991 Newport Workshop, Plan had agreed to address program quality while embracing Total Quality. A working definition of “Program Quality” was agreed, for consultation across Plan:
“(Program) Quality is the optimal utilization of all resources to enable our vital customers (Foster Children/Foster Families/Communities and Foster Parents) to meet their needs.”
Also, a Quality Council was formed, to synthesize and disseminate the substance of discussions that had taken place in the Workshop; obtain consensus with respect to the definition of Program Quality; identify Quality Indicators or a means for identifying such Indicators; and prepare a proposal for working towards achieving Program Quality through a universal commitment throughout Plan to Total Quality.
The Quality Council included:
- Me, as “Project Manager”;
- Tim Allen, Director of International Relations at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Marjorie Smit, Deputy Program Director at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Glorianne Stromberg, Secretary and Director of Plan International.
Glorianne Stromberg was a dynamic force for positive change in Plan. While serving as Board Secretary, she designed and implemented a major review of Plan’s governance, and led the resulting overhaul of the agency’s committee structure. Near the end of her tenure, she was asked to become a Commissioner on the Ontario Securities Commission, and to review the regulation of Canada’s mutual-fund industry, an effort that produced a hugely-influential report advocating much greater transparency and enhanced consumer protection. Glorianne remains a close friend today, decades later.
By October, 1991 (five months after the Newport Workshop), the Quality Council had synthesized and distributed a Report on the substance of the discussions and conclusions reached by the participants at the Program Quality and Quality Indicators Workshop. This Report was distributed with the Quality Council’s Update Number Two – quality-council-update-2, and is found here: fisk-workshop-report-may-1991. It contains summaries of all presentations (including mine), and notes the establishment of the Quality Council.
We had conducted focus group discussions and, with the assistance of the Regional Representatives at the Program Quality and Quality Indicators Workshop, conducted surveys to ascertain the consensus on a definition of Program Quality. The results of these surveys and of the focus group discussions were summarized in Part II of the Quality Council’s Report on Follow-Up Work Regarding the Program Quality and Quality Indicators Workshop. This Follow-up Report is contained in the Quality Council’s Update Number Five, which can be found here – quality-council-update-5.
With the assistance of the Regional Representatives at the Program Quality and Program Quality Indicators Workshop, we had conducted surveys to identify Program Quality Indicators. A summary of the suggestions for the development of Program Quality Indicators as well as an outline of PLAN’S efforts to date to develop Program Quality Indicators was included in Part III of our Follow-up Report.
And we had considered how PLAN could create a structured framework to strive in a unified way and on a continuous basis for Quality, as described in our Final Report – which is available here – quality-council-final-report.
In summary, the Quality Council had confirmed that there was general agreement:
- with the Working Definition of (Program) Quality which is quoted above;
- that (Program) Quality is part of Total Quality;
- that PLAN should undertake a systematic worldwide program to manage and monitor the level of Program Quality;
- that this program should be implemented through a Total Quality initiative, centering the efforts of everyone in the organization on high quality service to Foster Children, Families and Communities and to Foster Parents; and, finally
- that the focal point of this effort should be the needs and requirements of these people.
That consensus formed the basis for the Quality Council’s conclusions that the most effective way to provide quality Programs was for the entire Plan organization to focus, on a continuous basis, all of its operations in a Total Quality initiative.
We advocated the creation of a new Quality Council to push the effort forward, along with steering committees across the organization. Skills training would be required for all Plan’s staff. And the organization’s systems and procedures would need to be aligned with TQM. We estimated that this would cost just over $1m in Phase 1 (mainly piloting and training), and just under $1.4m in Phase 2 (staggered rollout across Plan).
What would Plan gain from this large investment? We made an attempt to quantify the benefits in our Final Report, and included some case studies of initial efforts (in South America and the Netherlands) to demonstrate that our estimates were based on real, tangible, proven experience. And, citing research, we indicated that between $3 and $6 of savings and improvements could be expected from every $1 invested in the initiative.
Looking back on the Quality Council’s Final Report, and the Updates that I have access to now, I’m struck by how often we made the case that organizations that employed TQM as a means of operating had better morale, greater commitment, and increased cooperation and communication. I find these recommendations included in the Final Report to be quite surprising and very forthright, considering that our remit was focused on Program Quality:
- Establishment of Organizational Priorities. In view of the organizational stress that is being caused by there being too many major projects under way at once, the Quality Council recommends that two to four clear organizational priorities be established. The Quality Council further recommends that the remainder of the projects be put on hold until they can be systematically reviewed and paced within the context of Total Quality management.
- Leadership. It is essential that the management team be composed of people who create and maintain an empowering management environment in which the principles of Total Quality can flourish.
- Decentralization. It is essential that the process of decentralization which was started with the establishment of the Regional Office in South America be completed without delay as the duplication of systems and procedures is placing undue strains and demands on the organization and its employees.
In this respect, it is recommended that the management structure with the corresponding staffing for the three remaining Regions be put in place forthwith and that these Regional Offices operate “offshore” pending completion of the necessary governmental agreements and concessions.
This step will facilitate the establishment of the Total Quality infrastructure that is necessary to support the Total Quality initiative throughout PLAN. In addition, it will expedite decentralization and permit staffing and the structuring of systems and procedures in a manner that facilitates improvement in Total Quality.
Clearly, as I have mentioned above and in earlier posts in this series, something was going wrong at Plan.
Our report was submitted to Plan’s board of directors in November, 1991. The Quality Council was excited and enthusiastic, and looked forward to what we thought would become a structured, methodical, scientific focus on program and program quality, centering the entire organization on our reason for existing.
Sadly, this effort became sidelined in the upheaval that followed the dismissal of Alberto Neri at that very meeting. More on that next time… but by the time that a permanent replacement for Alberto was found, many months had passed and initiatives such as TQM had lost momentum in the tumult. And, as a result, my own emphasis shifted towards working to rebuild the organization, based as I would soon be, at International Headquarters…
So was the work of the Quality Council a waste of time? I would argue that it was a very important effort, one that influenced many of us as we moved into different roles in Plan. The ideas and approaches informed how we approached our work, and had positive, subtle impact on many future projects.
But, certainly, had the Quality Council’s proposal been followed through as we hoped, there would have likely been a much greater, more-positive impact on the agency.
I would come to see other cycles like this in my career in Plan – a great effort to address a real priority, followed by poor followup, or worse. And repeat. This cycle seemed to breed cynicism across the agency.
I would learn some important lessons from my experience leading the Quality Council, and seeing our great effort result in much less impact that it could have had. And I would remain friends with Glorianne Stromberg from those days until now.
In my next post in this series, I will describe the rest of my hike that day, getting to the top of Middle Tripyramid and back down. And I’ll continue this story – the arrival of Max van der Schalk, who would soon bring me to Plan’s International Headquarters as “Director of Planning and Program Support,” where my main focus would be to re-establish headquarters in its proper role at the center of the agency.
Here are links to earlier blogs – climbing 48 New Hampshire peaks and reflecting on a career in international development:
- Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
- Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
- Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
- Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
- Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
- Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
- East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
- Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
- Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!