Each Person Doing What They Are Told Isn’t Enough

By John Hunter, founder of CuriousCat.com.

The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way that they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to the management.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, page 134

Knowledge of what Deming taught provides an understanding that an individual’s contributions are the result of an interaction of their effort with the existing system. Attributing results to an individual is not sensible. See the Red Bead Experiment for one example showing the flaw in such thinking.

Within an organization managed using the principles Dr. Deming proposed, people are expected to think; their job is not merely to do what they are told. The system must be designed so that everyone is able to contribute their thoughts.

The way most organizations are run, even today, those doing the work have limited ability to improve the system. In some organizations, this situation is better than others. Even in organizations where things are fairly good at the process level, where those close to the process can make decisions, often larger systems are still out of their control.

Those trying to improve the system often can’t change the supplier (purchasing) system to deal with the continual problems caused by switching between low initial-cost suppliers. They often can’t get rid of the annual performance appraisal process and all the problems it causes to the management system. They often can’t change the bonus system that rewards certain behaviors that are almost always short-term and focus on sub-optimizing parts of the system at the expense of the overall system. They can’t ensure that senior management and executives are getting adequate training and education to learn how to manage more effectively. And on and on…

We have to understand that we need to create a management system that allows those closer to the process to make improvements as needed. Of course, they need the proper training and coaching and support. And we need to give everyone, and that means everyone – executives, front line staff, engineers, etc., the education they need to understand the organization as a system (as well as another topic: understanding variation). Exactly what they need to know depends on their role.

Executives need a higher level understanding of the complex interactions of the management system, policies, investment decisions, market, etc.  on the organization. Customer service representatives in a call center have the need to understand the organization as a system in a different way. But everyone needs to be educated on how to understand and continually improve the organization.

Related: “the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance” W. Edwards DemingAttributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the SystemKnowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of Management

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