Wow! Before I start, let me just say one thing. I cannot believe that I am writing another blog promoting the concepts of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. I once thought, largely based on what I have heard during my professional journey, that Deming and his ideas were antiquated and insignificant in today’s working world.
But, as I have read and listened to the many sides over the past couple of years it has been revealed that it’s not Deming and his ideas and philosophies that are antiquated; it’s those Deming followers that continue to try to apply Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and his 14 points today exactly as they were explained and applied to organizations and processes originally. I don’t even think Deming would agree with this “no forward thinking” application.
So here we go:
“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.” A quote from Deming that rings as true today as it did in 1993 when he published The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education. Dr. Deming emphasized that top-level management had to change to produce significant differences, in a long-term, continuous manner. Think about that statement for a few moments. In order for an organization to produce different results, top-level managers must change . What a unique idea (not really, but sarcasm seemed appropriate).
Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over a gain and expecting different results.” And isn’t it amazing how many top-level managers use this quote in the course of their professional lives and yet still we suffer from the problem. Twenty years after Deming called out management as the problem and/or the solution, we still suffer lack of leadership at the top of many organizations; largely because we keep trying to get different results from the same old traditional top-level processes and thinking that management has used for decades.
Deming said it a bit stronger, in his Cultural Transformation Discussion Guide, when he said “The worker is not the problem. The problem is at the top! Management! It is management’s job to direct the efforts of all components toward the aim of the system. The first step is clarification: everyone in the organization must understand the aim of the system, and how to direct his efforts toward it. Everyone must understand the damage and loss to the whole organization from a team that seeks to become a selfish, independent, profit center.”
An old school look at what Deming was saying suggested that if management created processes, documented them, trained employees to do the standardized work, and disciplined and rewarded the employee for their performance that this was all the organization needed to succeed. Problem is, that wasn’t all Deming was saying then, and it surely won’t work that way in today’s fast-paced workplace connected continually to the outside world.
Often lost in this Deming debate is what he was actually professing: Give employees the training, the tools they need and provide them with expectations and the goals of the company and let them do what they do best. In other words, quit doing what we’ve (management) always done, and change how we run our organizations dramatically to produce long-term gains. And that doesn’t mean change the goals or objectives; it means change the process.
Invest in the workforce; define the organization’s vision and give them that vision. Tell your employees what is important. Standardize and document the processes, and then measure what you value. With the right tools and knowledge in hand, your employees can be empowered to do the right things.
This doesn’t mean turn them loose with no controls. Their still has to be boundaries and “veto power” since that is part of management’s role in the organization. Give them daily feedback and listen to their problems AND their solutions. Hold them accountable for their actions. But as managers, we must also be held accountable.
So, in closing let me say it in very plain English: If management wants the organization to succeed in the long run, then it starts with changing the way we manage today.
If you are not a servant leader, lean champion, or some other equally progressive manager focused on empowering your team to do what they do best, then perhaps you need to rethink your management style. Perhaps reading a little Deming might help.