Bill Scherkenbach Interview with Dr. Deming

By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

YouTube video

This is a very interesting interview with W. Edwards Deming by Bill Scherkenbach (recording in February 1984, during this time Bill Scherkenbach worked at Ford and Deming was consulting with Ford). The interview provides many insightful quotes from Deming and shows his concern for the widespread failures of American management and the suffering caused by executives and senior managers.

This video also provides a view of his personality. He repeatedly expresses the importance of changing the management of our organizations to let those doing the work use their brains, which far too often American management represses due to hierarchical management systems.

Mangement can face almost every problem, except for problems of people. Some live in constant fear of their jobs… when it comes to problems of people they turn the job over to somebody else… Factory workers the world over has always been interested in quality… They tell me they are the only ones interested in quality. All they ask for is a chance to take pride in their work.

It is not what management says, it is perception and rumor that runs a company.

As with so many quotes of Deming, this short segment is packed with ideas (in this post I barely scratch the surface of a very small number of the ideas he raises). Also, this video, as with many similar ones, can be a bit of a challenge as he dips into dozens of ideas and flips from one to another, often without finishing the thoughts on the first. Still it is filled with powerful ideas.

This quote again shows Dr. Deming’s focus on the importance of letting those doing the work guide the organization. Instead we often have those far removed form the work setting policies and guidelines and frustrating the ability of those doing the work from doing the best job. Deming believed we need to focus managers and executives on managing the organization as a system. And to do so they needed to provide the training and organizational framework (policies, practices etc.) to let them do so.

And as he started off the video those most in need of training are senior managers and executives. That is where the transformation is needed. And sadly it is still at that level where training is most needed. To some extent executives in some organizations have learned to treat employees with more respect and focus on creating the proper systems to allow people to take pride in their work and delight customers. But there is still a huge amount of work to be done in this area.

The last line I included in the quote above is so powerful but so overlooked. What matters isn’t what management says. What matters is what management does. People know saying customer service matters while forcing customers to deal with impenetrable bureaucracy when they need support. Employees don’t focus on rumor and guesses about what really matters because that is how they naturally would act.

When management creates a system where if you take what they tell employees (quality matters, our people are our most important asset, customer happiness drives our decisions…) as if it were true you get insight into what the real vision behind decisions being made are people have to ignore the rhetoric and pay attention to rumor and perceptions and guesses. This is the emergent behavior that is created when management doesn’t act on what they say but instead says one thing and acts based on different priorities.

Another point Deming makes is in most organizations if you complain about systemic problems that should be addressed so that performance can be improved you are seen as a problem. When the culture is guided not by a continual improvement focus but a get through the day without problems focus bringing up problems is seen as the problem. Addressing the problems we cope with day to day (especially if it is front line workers that must deal with it) isn’t a priority. Calling attention to things that should be improved is seen as creating work. This is obviously silly (if you have a view of the organization as a system or believe in continual improvement), but it is very common. And while most managers would say they believe in continual improvement when you examine the actions of the organization it is obvious they do not.

Bill Schekenbach asks Dr. Deming if you then blame the foremen (for among other things focusing on getting the work out today and not continual improvement). And Dr. Deming says he does not. The system in place at the organization creates the conditions where that foreman is under tremendous pressure to behave as they do. This is consistent with his belief in fixing the system, not blaming individuals.

Deming mentioned a good question that all of us can ask to our employees: what is holding you back from having pride in your work? Now in most organizations fear will hold people back, either fear of being seen as negative or just fear of expressing different thinking than the culture tolerates. But if you have built up trust you can ask this question but if not a consultant can ask it and get at least some people who will be more open to a consultant than those inside the company.

Minimizing costs in one place can often lead to maximizing costs in another. Only management is responsible, and I mean top management, for looking at the company as a whole, to minimize total cost and not the cost here or there or there. …must get departments to work together. That is difficult in the face of the annual rating… because they get rated on their own performance.

As I mentioned above I barely touched on a few of the important ideas he raised. If you are interested in Deming’s ideas (which is pretty likely if you are reading this) watch the whole video.

Related: Lessons From the Red Bead Experiment with Dr. DemingDeming Library Video with Dr. Deming Discussing the 14 PointsAnalysis Must be Implemented by People to Provide ValuePeople Take Time to Believe Claims of Changed Management PracticesDon’t Treat People How You Want to be Treated

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top