The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

The Greatest Waste

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The greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of people.

Money and time spent for training will be ineffective unless inhibitors to good work are removed.

Page 53, Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

The power of Dr. Deming’s ideas on management increase the more deeply they are explored. Superficial overviews miss a great deal of the value of adopting Deming’s ideas.

The sentiment of failing to use the ability of people is not that uncommon. But putting the thought and effort behind changing that failure is. Dr. Deming consistently re-inforced the creation of a management system that sought to take advantage of the ability of people.

Simplistic solutions don’t effectively deal with this problem. Providing training while leaving in place systems that counter the ability of people to contribute effectively is not the solution. “Open door” policies and “submission boxes” when in reality they are just dead ends is not the solution.

What is needed to take advantage of the ability of people is to create systems that:

    • respect people
    • provide joy in work (see how their work contributes to providing customer value)
    • allow those doing the work to improve the process for doing so (give people authority to make changes, along with the tools, training and support to make the right choices)
    • provide support (training, coaching, job instructions etc.)
    • put people in the position to succeed
    • avoid creating pressures that run counter to doing this (for example, setting up competing sub units within the organization – which will discourage efforts to help those in the organization that you are competing with)
    • support intrinsic motivation

Dr. Deming created a systems view of management. The longer you work at applying these ideas in your workplace the greater the understanding of how inter-connected the system of management is. Efforts to improve are often greatly limited by existing management practices. Attempts to change require changing existing management practices. Hoping to capture the benefits of all the great minds working in your organization without questioning many existing practices is likely to result in minimal improvement.

Related: Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources by William G. Hunter – Managing Human SystemsDr. Deming on Innovation


Categorised as: psychology, respect for people


5 Comments

  1. […] The Greatest Waste by John Hunter – “The sentiment of failing to use the ability of people is not that uncommon. But putting the thought and effort behind changing that failure is. Dr. Deming consistently re-inforced the creation of a management system that sought to take advantage of the ability of people.” […]

  2. […] that do the opposite is damaging and all too common. We have written about this topic in the past, The Greatest Waste, and will continue to do so fairly often I would […]

  3. […] Knowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of Management – The greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of people – We Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively – Appreciation for a […]

  4. To me it was amazing what people could do when they had purpose, knowledge, and a small stake in the outcome. It was the greatest management experience in my life…

  5. Other institutions can have such drastic consequences at times (hospitals and the military for example) but many other organizations have less dramatic consequences (failures in education may actually have consequences that are as dire but most of those are consequences that might be manifest years and decades later)…

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