in Leadership

Dr. Deming on Joy of Work, Innovation and Leadership

Having worked in Quality management role for a long time, I could not have afforded to miss insights from Dr. W. Edwards Deming whose thinking was way ahead of time. Dr. Deming is remembered for transforming Japan into a formidable business competitor through his management and leadership practices, especially Deming’s 14 principles.

In 1994, at the age of 92, Dr. Deming gave his last interview to IndustryWeek magazine which I read with great interest.

In part 1 of his interview, Deming says,

The source of innovation is freedom. All we have—new knowledge, invention—comes from freedom. Somebody responsible only to himself has the heaviest responsibility.

3M is a 100 years old company that thrives on innovation. 3M’s William McKnight first instituted a policy known as 15% rule – that engineers can use 15% of their time on whatever projects or initiatives they like. Later, Google also had a similar policy. McKnight used to tell his managers,

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”

This is even more crucial when an organization grows and if you want good people, you cannot manage them traditionally. They would want to do things in their own way. Providing a conducive space for performance is one of the primary responsibilities of a leader.

In the same interview, Dr. Deming also touched upon a topic businesses are still struggling with – how can leaders enable joy at work? He suggested,

The alternative is joy on the job. To have it, people must understand what their jobs are, how their work fits in, how they could contribute. Why am I doing this? Whom do I depend on? Who depends on me? Very few people have the privilege to understand those things. Management does not tell them. The boss does not tell them. He does not know what his job is. How could he know? When people understand what their jobs are, then they may take joy in their work. Otherwise, I think they cannot.

If we keep all the glorification of leaders aside, the two fundamental tasks of a leader are to get great talent (good people who care) and then help them succeed by providing clarity, reiterating the vision, mentoring and serving to their needs with a focus on achieving business outcomes.

After reading insights by Deming in this interview, I was only wondering about the depth of Dr. Deming’s passion about better business and better leadership that kept him engaged even at 93!

I am glad I stumbled upon this interview.