The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Change has to Start from the Top – Webcast with David Langford

by    

David Langford quotes Dr. Deming as saying “Change has to start from the top.” As David says in the video he struggled trying to get the top of his organization involved in management improvement. And then he realized:

You are the top of your system. Change your thinking, change your process – you change your system. As soon as you start to modify your system you are going to have an effect on the larger system: the way you organize, the way you manage what you do everyday, how you process the work that you are doing [will impact the larger system].

This is the time to start practicing what you are hearing.

You start right now. And you start thinking about: what can I do? How do I manage things? How do I work with my supervisors to change the system and get a different result?

Deming message is really about transformation. Are you transforming the way you think, how you look at your situation? Are you learning to apply management techniques with people around you?

David’s direct message is to start by changing your thinking. Figure out what you are in charge of, what is your sphere of control, and get to work. As you are part of a system you will likely interact with that larger system in many ways so then you need to use your ability to work within your sphere of influence to lead improvement in the larger system.

As Dr. Deming said you have 3 ways to influence others, your authority stems from: position, knowledge and personality. Each of those area can grow over time to expand both your circle of control and your circle of influence. Learning how to successfully influence the organization is a critical step to expanding your ability to help create positive results.


It is important to learn how to bring about change in your organization. That “change has to start at the top” is not meant as an excuse for inaction. If the positional leadership is not committed to management improvement then determine what you control and start to improve. By learning and then acting you create a learning cycle.

You won’t have all the answers when you start. And actually you won’t have all the answers when you finish (with your project or your career). But the way to improve your organization is to get started. Then learn from what you do and keep going; you can’t learn everything before you start.

As you begin to learn and have success you will need to examine how to best influence the existing system to improve with you. Learn how you can increase the scope of the organization (finding a new “top” that encompasses more of the organization) that is committed to improving the way the organization is managed?

As with system improvement, in general, this path is challenging. It is easier to make excuses for why improvement is not possible; just as it is easier to manipulate the data or manipulate the system compared to improving the system. But those organizations that achieve success were lead there by people that learned how to make changes in their own thinking. Those people then changed how they worked and then expanded that new way of thinking and working to the rest of the organization.

The path is not easy but the rewards are tremendous and they only happen after you get started. So if you haven’t gotten started yet, take this opportunity to get started now.

Related: How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedPodcast discussion on how to build enterprise capabilityIncreasing the Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationDr. Deming Video with David Langford: A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers


Categorised as: education, systems thinking, The W. Edwards Deming Institute


13 Comments

  1. Dan Robertson says:

    Appreciation of a system is such an essential element of Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. I especially resonate with the statement, “That “change has to start at the top” is not meant as an excuse for inaction.” — It is so easy to take the position of it not being our personal responsibility to take action. This is a good reminder for us all to keep in mind (and recognize the full implications of); that we CAN make a difference from wherever we are…

  2. […] David emphasizes focusing on the aim of the system (are we really doing what is needed to maximize the system for the aim) and to use all 3 of their sources of power (position, knowledge and personality) to lead. […]

  3. […] Change has to Start from the Top – webcast, included here, with David Langford: “You are the top of your system. Change your thinking, change your process – you change your system. As soon as you start to modify your system you are going to have an effect on the larger system: the way you organize, the way you manage what you do everyday, how you process the work that you are doing [will impact the larger system].” […]

  4. […] challenge to everybody in this room is don’t wait. Start applying the philosophy today: start and don’t stop. The more you learn, the more you apply, the more you will gain and that is what the PDSA cycle is […]

  5. However I can say that it was no longer a big problem. As a class we could move on to other things, such as learning about life in Victorian London. The children in my class were very happy not to be living in an era where they would have been caned for chattering during a lesson!…

  6. […] Hunter, of Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog, shares  Practical Ways to Respect People  Leading people effectively requires more than authority.  Change has to start from the top.  You […]

  7. […] In the last post we began to look at the efforts to improve the Maine State Prison. The efforts to adopt a management strategy and practices guided by an understanding of Dr. Deming’s management system are hampered by the overall management system. This is a common situation. The current state could best be seen as what David Langford discussed at the 2012 Deming Institute conference’s ago, where those interested in Deming’s ideas seek to adopt systemic management improvement thinking wher…. […]

  8. […] There are different paths to success but you need to have others respect for your knowledge on the topic, your ability to make solutions work and your trustworthiness. Different leaders lean on different areas. Some people win over the hearts others may offer a low charisma aura but others are confident they have the ability to deliver based on their knowledge. As Dr. Deming said you have 3 ways to influence others, your authority stems from: your position, your knowledge and yo… […]

  9. […] He discussed this idea in this clip from his presentation at the Deming Conference a few years ago: You are the top of your system. As he says in this […]

  10. […] Change has to Start from the Top, David Langford at 2013 Deming Conference. […]

  11. […] Somebody at any level does have some sphere of influence that they can impact… by just thinking from a systems standpoint, by looking at the organization differently than some of the other folks who view it as an [organization with] very segmented, very separate roles and positions and responsibilities. […]

  12. […] Langford discussed this well at a previous Deming conference, Change has to Start from the Top (that link phrase might seem to conflict with Tripp’s quote but follow the link to see that […]

  13. […] David explains that when looking to improve the place to begin is to examine your circle of influence and determine where you have a chance to help move toward better practices. A clip from David’s presentation at a previous Deming Institute conference explores this idea: Change has to Start from the Top. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *