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.

Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s Business Wisdom

Gift of thoughts is the best gift we can receive. After my talk at Ahmedabad Management Association recently, I was gifted with a book titled “Purely Prahalad – Business Wisdom from Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s thoughts”. This book is compiled and edited by AMA’s team.

It is a brilliant collection of useful gems. Here are 5 thoughts from the global thinker that I learned the most from:

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Continuous Change

I am not interested in “charismatic leader” approach to innovation. Companies need continuous changes – not just episodic breakthroughs.

Don’t Wait Too Long

Finding the motivation to affect change is very difficult when the existing business model seem to be working well. But the question to ask is, “Will their zone of comfort force them to wait too long before they make a transition?”

Next v/s Best

Best practices lead to agreement on mediocrity. I do not have much interest in best practices. Because all of us benchmark each other, we gravitate towards mediocrity in a hurry. What we really need is to ask what is the next practice, so that we can become the benchmark companies, benchmark institutions around the world.

Creating an ‘Unlearning’ Organization

Creating a ‘learning organization’ is only half the solution. Just as important is creating an ‘unlearning organization’. To create the future, a company must unlearn at least some of its past. We’re all familiar with ‘learning curve’, but what about the ‘forgetting curve’ – the rate at which a company can unlearn those habits that hinder future success?

Helping Others

If you are honest about helping others rather than showing how smart you are, things are very easy.

Metrics: Are They Mapped With Your Business Objectives?

You can measure almost anything in your business, but if those metrics don’t serve a real business objectives, they are just numbers with no real meaning. Measurement is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I have seen extreme cases where organizations either measure so much or they don’t measure anything at all. Both extremes are dangerous, because it de-focuses people from doing the right things.

A lot of business leaders. quality consultants and improvement experts are obsessed with fancy metrics that may not have direct relevance to the business objectives. Whether measuring a project or a business, here are a five steps to map your metrics with your business objectives:

  • Know your goals: Identify what are your strategic, tactical and operational goals. Understanding your business challenges and goals is the first most important step. If you don’t know why you are measuring something, you will get numbers and you won’t know what to do with them. It won’t help.
  • Identify metrics: What metrics can effectively help you meet your goals? For example, if you reduce your defect rates, you can keep your customers happy. Reducing overrun on your project can have direct impact on your bottom lines. You get the point.
  • Identify impact: Some metrics directly impact the goal, while others may have an indirect impact. Identify whether identified measurement has direct or indirect impact. A great way to do this is to draw a two dimensional table with business objectives horizontally and measurements vertically. Map the impact and you will have a great view of your business goals and impact of those metrics.
  • Establish operational procedures: You can now establish processes and methods to collect the data, frequency and consolidation mechanism. This is also a great way to ensure that all your operational processes are aligned to perform in a way that it satisfies at least one or more business objectives.
  • Don’t forget the “invisibles”: My earlier post “The Invisibles in Business Performance” touched upon one of Deming’s seven deadly diseases – “Running a company on visible figures alone” and listed out some areas of your business that cannot be measured, but can have direct impact on your business. Striking balance between managing these invisible aspects, managing by visible numbers and focusing on people seems to be the optimal route to manage the business.

As I mentioned in my earlier post – “With visible figures alone, a business is run. By managing the invisibles together with the visible figures, a high performance, sustainable and scalable organization is built.”

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Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Bonus: Read my post (How to) Have a Great Monday! – and have a wonderful start into the week!