As we have struggled to keep our momentum going for the past few months, many of us on our management team (I like to think of myself as a part of the team even though I’m just a staff analyst) have been looking at what other organizations have done to complete their turn-arounds and sustain the gains that they have made. Almost daily now, Fred and I have had deep discussions about what is right and what is wrong at M.E. Burdette Co. When Jimbo found out about these discussions, he began attending the informal meeting several times a week.
Now many of our managers, who are definitely on board with what we are trying to do as a company, have begun to have similar discussions among themselves. Several have asked me what I think. While I’m flattered that they are asking, I still wonder if they really want my opinion or are looking for the scapegoat if this all fails. However, just the fact that people are talking about how to sustain the gains we’ve made is great. The discussion wrapped around how to fix those areas that just don’t seem to get it may be even better. People appear to be really looking around at the whole company now; not just at their little slice of the world.
But as I write this entry today, I am focused on a conversation I had with Sheila Poling at a meeting this week. After having listened to a couple of our managers debate about Dr. W. Edwards Deming, his Philosophy and his methods, I actually got the opportunity to talk to someone who worked with Deming. What an honor. What insight. What knowledge.
Sheila spent considerable time with Dr. Deming towards the end of his illustrious career. And while he is still held in much higher regard in Japan than in the United States, his influence on American business cannot be denied. One 30 minute conversation with Sheila was all it took for me.
I asked a very simple question: Does Deming and his system of profound knowledge still apply today? Sheila’s answer was profound. “What Deming believed and professed is very relevant today. Should we take his lessons and methods and apply them exactly as Deming did? Of course not. The world has changed. They way we interact with each other in the workplace has changed dramatically over the past 60 years. But the tenets of Deming’s philosophy are as relevant today as they were in the 1950s and 60s.”
Sheila continued to share her thoughts in an almost professorial manner. “Deming’s vision of the transformed individual was simple; 1) set a good example, 2) be a good listener, 3) continually teach other people, 4) help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and embrace the new ways without guilt. If he had one flaw as we view his philosophy today it might have been where he professed that you should be a good listener, but do not compromise. Today’s world and the quest for continuous improvement with an empowered workforce allows for some compromise in order to keep the ball moving forward.”
I ended the conversation by asking Sheila what she thought of what M.E. Burdette Co. was trying to do and about what we had learned from Housholder Sprockets and Max Housholder. After a brief explanation from me on what we had been through, Sheila responded. “Isn’t what Max brought to the battle for your company strongly embedded in Deming’s 14 points? Doesn’t it all start with point #1; create constancy of purpose toward improvement while aiming to stay in business? And then I’d say based upon the cleansing of some management, Fred is strongly committed to point #8; Drive out fear. And finally, without going through all 14 points, Max’s whole measurement style seems to be based on Deming’s point #10; Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets and substitute leadership. Getting better each and every day is what’s important.”
As I left my meeting it occurred to me that I had some reading to do. Deming is just as relevant today as he ever was. The question is, why are we still not listening to him?