Where There is Fear You Do Not Get Honest Figures

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

Fear invites wrong figures. Bearers of bad news fare badly. To keep his job, anyone may present to his boss only good news.

W. Edwards Deming, page 94, The New Economics

Using data to make decisions is important to effective management. But using data goes far beyond math. To make judgements we need to understand the source of data. We need to understand the potential weaknesses in the data. We need to understand how to apply statistical thinking to make decisions using the data.

image of the cover of Managing Fear DVD
Managing Fear DVD with Gerald Suarez. From CCM productions – the producers of the Deming Library.

The data gathered are a result of the system. If the system creates fear among employees the chances of tainted data increases. Another way Deming stated this is where there is fear you do not get honest figures. If the system creates incentives to have the data look good to get promotions or bonuses or credit the chances of tainted data increases. If the system doesn’t use good operational definitions to define how to collect the data the chances of tainted data increases. If those looking at the data don’t deeply understand the processes from which the data are meant to measure (they don’t understand the gemba) the chances of tainted data being used increase.

And all these factors, and more, work together. Weaknesses in any increase the impact of weaknesses in the other areas. The problems fear creates result in bad data, ineffective decision making and the destruction of joy in work.

For these reasons Dr. Deming included as one of his 14 points for management:

Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company

To improve results management needs to focus on improving the system. Blaming people for problems will increase fear and decrease honest data on the current results. If you find your organization consistently finding the reason for bad results was a person or people failing that is a sign you are likely to have fear based thinking and figures that are not trustworthy. The significant interactions between the various aspects of Deming’s management ideas are clear when you examine one simple quote.

Related: The proxy nature of dataHow to Drive Fear and Inaction Out of OrganizationsDeming’s Point 8 of 14 – Drive out fear by Michel BaudinDrive out fear by John Wenger

3 thoughts on “Where There is Fear You Do Not Get Honest Figures”

    1. Christina Dragonetti

      We’re so glad you want to learn more about the Deming philosophy! In his book The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education Dr. Deming walks through the System of Profound Knowledge, including the element of psychology. We recommend the 3rd edition – it has a new chapter called “Why Deming, Why Now More Than Ever?” Deming also talked about “unknown and unknowable” figures in Out of the Crisis. He specifically mentions the impact of “fear” as one of those figures, and Point 8 of his 14 Points for Management is “Drive out fear.” I hope that helps!

  1. As an MBA student, I had to look up the meaning behind “…drive out any fear employees”… could not connect my thoughts with what this meaning truly meant.
    Thank you for the insight into what Deming meant when he said these words. A great read.

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