Monday, May 20, 2013

Dan Pink and Deming – Are they on the same wavelength?

Fellow ASQ Influential Voice Anshuman Tiwari wrote an interesting blog post regarding Dan Pink’s recent keynote address at this year’s ASQ World Conference on Quality and Innovation (WCQI).  I want to thank Anshuman because I wanted a copy of the talk and you provided me the YouTube video of the same talk.  Thanks for the link!
However, I do believe that Dan stayed true to Deming’s 14 Points.  I think where Anshuman goes off track is the interpretation of Deming’s points. Anshuman talks about the Deming point behind work standards or quotas and likens them to the standards by which people work by from a quality perspective.  Let me offer my interpretation of Deming’s point through a real-world experience.
In the mid-80’s, while serving in the US Army, I was put in charge of a company of soldiers who were responsible for recruiting young men and women in the Army.  Each month they were give a number of people that they were expected to recruit into the service.  If they met or exceeded their number that month, they were a hero; fall short and they were less than heroes. The soldiers that came to me were considered to be the top performers in their specialty and recruiting assignments were supposed to “choice” assignments. 
What usually turned out was the best example of what NOT to do according to Dan and Dr. Deming. There was a lot of pressure to “make your number.”  Although there was extensive analysis regarding demographics, we were evaluated based on your ability to make “cold calls:” calling a prospective applicant 3 times and giving a sales pitch. Yes, there are mechanics who are very good salespeople but excellent mechanics does not necessarily translate their success to another field.  Plus, it was not uncommon for higher HQ to increase numbers based on needs of the service, regardless of how the demographic analysis turned out.  Suffice to say, the pressure placed on young, previously successful soldiers could often drive them to bad behaviors in their drive to continue to be heroes.   
The other point that Deming made in regard to eliminating quotas was to substitute leadership.  Well, after consistently failing to make my numbers for a few months I got called into my boss’ office for a performance review.  We went over what I was doing and I asked point blank: “What else do I need to do?”  His response: “Work harder.”  I immediately knew I was never going to succeed and started actions to get me out of that position.
Suffice to say, my recruiting duties were of the cognitive nature.  I understood Pink’s principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Where things failed was the quotas. It was difficult to patch together how my struggles to make the monthly quota (about 0.5% of the monthly Army quota), was actually helping the Army being successful. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t having much of an impact and I sure was not getting the help I needed to be successful (read lack of leadership).
Deming’s 12th point about quotas actually has two parts. It addresses both the physical and cognitive types of work that Pink talks about in his keynote.  Management, by its nature, is more cognitive work and as such can never be subject to quotas (STUPID:  I have make sure I talk to 4 of my 7 direct reports each day?!?).
Final point: Deming’s points cannot be taken as separate entities.  There is so much overlap and I believe that is by design.  Deming’s 7th point talks about instituting leadership.  Specifically, “The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.”  To me, this is strong evidence that Deming talks about supporting both the physical and cognitive areas of work. 
So as quality leaders, what are we doing to help our people (in our organization, in our local community, in the ASQ family) and machines and gadgets do a better job?  Simplistic principle? Absolutely, but hard as hell to practice daily.
Until next time!
UPDATE:  I want to welcome the new ASQ Influential Voice bloggers to the fold.  Two of my particular favorites are James Lawther's The Squawk Point and Chad Walters' LeanBlitz.  Enjoy!
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