Attributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the System

Fundamental attribution error: attribute fault or defect to the individual without first considering the systemic effect.

When we fall into this trap the system is not improved. What we want to do is when we find poor results is think about how the system can be improved to consistently produce better results. By using management improvement concepts such as (all of these are present in David’s short example): operational definition, shared vision of desired outcome, process improvement, visual management, flowchart, continual improvement, respect for people, coaching, 5 whys… we can find ways to change that will result in consistently better results.

Blaming people is a low yield (often negative yield) strategy. Figure out why the results were not good and figure out how to change the process so that it reliably produces better results.

The punishments will continue until motivation improves. Nobody is really looking at why…

It is much more effective to determine why the system is causing people to behave in ways that are seen as “motivation” problems. Exploring to determine how the system can be improved so that people don’t get de-motivated is a better use of management’s time. The “motivation” problems are normally a symptom of an underlying weakness in the management system.

My 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 all about. Make a plan, do your plan, did that plan work? Think about it. What is my new plan? Go again.

Related: Deming’s Ideas Applied in High School EducationDr. Deming Video: A Theory of a System for Educators and ManagersHow Did We Do on the Test?

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7 Responses

  1. August 28, 2013

    […] Attributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the System – John Hunter […]

  2. February 25, 2014

    “The webcast shows excerpts of Dr. Deming carry out the Red Bead Experiment with participants from the audience.”

  3. September 18, 2014

    Over the years, and due in large part to Akin’s leadership, LISD has put into practice many of Dr. Deming’s theories and teachings. They have developed a true appreciation for systems thinking…

  4. April 20, 2015

    […] As Dr. Deming said “The people are not the problem, it’s the system. […]

  5. August 27, 2015

    […] scientific) and the humanistic… Dr. Deming brought an important scientific insight into why individual employees should not be blamed for systemic failures. At the same time his teachings also help explain why collaborative organization, ones that include […]

  6. October 1, 2015

    Alfie Kohn: “We [in the United States] don’t like to look at systemic explanations. If you take a systemic or structural explanation seriously, as he [Dr. Deming] did, then you have to start questions all sorts of basic management beliefs, not just Taylorism, but the whole idea of rewards and punishments, and performance appraisals based on the premise [that] I accomplished as much as did, or didn’t, alone…”

  7. March 23, 2019

    […] blog. After a little browsing, I settled down to watch the following video by David Lanford -> The impact of this video was so profound that it eventually led to a programme of […]

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