Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?

By John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

cover image of The Leader's Handbook

The common objection to seniority pay is, “It’s rewarding dead wood!” My response is, “Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?”

Peter Scholtes, The Leader’s Handbook, page 331. Peter worked with Dr. Deming and presented at the 2 day Deming seminars with W. Edwards Deming.

You will see this quote attributed to Dr. Deming even though it shouldn’t be. Dr. Deming was very quotable, and often gets credit for wonderful management quotes even when he didn’t say them. Dr. Deming was always careful to credit others when he repeated their quotes in seminars, in writing or elsewhere.

Peter was another management expert who was very quotable and someone that worked closely with Dr. Deming for quite some time so it isn’t surprising people confuse the credit for some quotes. This is one of the best quotes showing the fallacy of blaming the employee when the system is providing evidence that the result is created by the system.

Most managers that complain about “dead-wood” do it quite often and it is obvious it isn’t a special cause but instead an expected result of the system. The result of employees they consider “dead-wood” is a natural outcome of the organization’s management system. Blaming the “dead-wood” doesn’t fix the problems that need to be fixed. To achieve success management needs to focus on improving the system, not blaming individuals.

Related: Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameQuality Comes to City HallWhere There is Fear You Do Not Get Honest Figures

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