Knowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of Management

By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

The Essential Deming includes (from an interview with Dr. Deming): Knowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of Management (page 170)

If factory workers are unemployed —or anyone, for that matter— it is because of bad management, and not because unemployment is inevitable.

Page 171:

Of course, when you talk about improvement of processes, you must include improvement of people. If management truly understood the concept of continual improvement, they would give their people every opportunity to learn and improve— and a chance to make contributions to the company. Organizations can no longer afford to just have good people— today, they need people who are improving continually.

To learn about factory floor problems, for example, you have to talk to people— and I don’t mean by just walking around. Somebody once described good management as management by walking around. Well, it helps to walk around a bit, but you do not learn about the real problems that way. When you are just wandering around, everything looks rosy. The only way to find out about problems is by talking to workers in a group setting. Just ask questions. Start off by asking, “What robs you of your pride of workmanship?” They will tell you.

These ideas are familiar to those using modern management methods, but far too many organizations still haven’t addressed the deadly diseases of management, that Dr. Deming discussed decades ago. The ideas Deming discussed are relevant because good management isn’t about applying brand new thinking that wasn’t known to our ancestors. Most of what managers need to improve they just need to listen to what wise people (Deming, Drucker, Ackoff, Scholtes, Ohno, Joiner, etc.) were telling managers decades ago.

The challenge with managing people is not that good sources on what is important don’t exist it is that far too often we make superficial application of management ideas and then give up and superficially try another management idea.

Learning from the gemba is important. But superficially visiting the gemba and doesn’t work. Without an understanding of how the components of a management system fit together and a long term commitment to create a management system that focuses on respect for people the organization fails to capture most of the gains possible with better management of people.

page 172:

Fear takes a terrible toll. Where are the comptroller’s figures on the losses from fear? They are enormous. Nobody knows their magnitude. Getting people to express their ideas without fear of retribution requires fundamental change, starting with the abolishment of the annual rating system and, in its place, major emphasis on teamwork. You see fear on the factory floor when the foreman won’t stop a machine that is getting dangerously warm, for fear of missing the day’s quota. There are hourly workers who are afraid to complain about tools that don’t work or defective materials. Complain three times and you are a marked man at some firms.

Related: Bad Management Results in LayoffsWhere There is Fear You Do Not Get Honest FiguresLong Term Thinking with Respect for People

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