The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

W. Edwards Deming Discussing the Leadership We Need in Our Organizations

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This is a very interesting interview with W. Edwards Deming by Bill Scherkenbach (recording in February 1984, during this time Bill Scherkenbach worked at Ford and Deming was consulting with Ford). In this post I continue to explore this powerful video; it is part two of: Bill Scherkenbach’s Interview with Dr. Deming.

Dr. Deming discusses the importance of talking to those doing the work.

They will bring it up that they would like to take pride in their work. Well, what is holding you back? Why can’t you? And they will tell you a lot. And that is the only way you can learn about the problems…

He mentions that walking around can be useful but it isn’t effective. Without the proper focus you only see a glossy picture. Going to where the work is done is important. But as with most management practices it must be done within a proper context and sadly it is often done in a superficial way. I discussed these ideas in my blog post, Management by Walking Around, (don’t miss the comment I added to the post).

The most important figures are unknown and unknowable, that comes from my good friend Dr. Lloyd Nelson…

One, for example, is the multiplying effect of a happy customer that brings business into the company. Another one is the multiplying effect of an unhappy customer that warns his friends and some of his enemies about his experience.

Another one is the multiplying effect that comes from a group that is able to make a contribution to the company as a team. They see their jobs now as not just appearing in the morning, going home at night and receiving a paycheck. They see their jobs as important for helping the company to improve. Their life changes. I see them. They have an interest in the company. That takes teamwork and it takes good management to bring that about.


In my experience it is very hard for people that haven’t seen it to understand the profound impact of creating a management system that focuses on providing meaningful work. The change between theory x thinking (we have to trick people into doing good work with incentives, threats etc.) and theory y thinking where the job of management is to eliminate the barriers to people doing good work is transformative. But to those in the old mindset it is difficult to comprehend. This is a true paradigm shift – it is difficult to comprehend the advantages from within the embrace of the old paradigm.

Control charts are pretty important in the right place. But all told, all put together, in spite of meteoric accomplishments (one I mentioned, $186,000 per day is not to sneer at) is such a small part of the total accomplishments. So though it seems huge it is almost insignificant compared to what management must do.

It is almost insignificant compared to what management must do. Deming understood the most significant changes were in changing how we manage, changing the behavior and action of management and executives. We still have little understanding of his work in the leadership of most companies.

Deming continued his thoughts saying that those with an understanding of variation would understand the problems of management. When you understand the ways we misuse data and the ways we managed based on incorrect beliefs about how we understand data and experience you see the problems with current management practice. And though, he said these words in 1984 they are just as true in 2016.

As Dr. Deming states in the video “the teaching is pretty shallow.” Sadly, I find that today we still have this problem. Even the small subset of people that appreciate the words “understanding variation” and “control chart” and even the smaller subset that use those ideas to some extent in their work there is still a very shallow understanding of what understanding variation means. They couldn’t for example, explain why that understanding illustrates the failures in the current management practice that he states an understanding of variation would (at about the 43 minute point of the video).

We have made progress over the last 3 decades in increasing the adoption (and the depth of such adoption) of Deming’s ideas in the management of our organizations. But that progress is slow. We need to figure out how to improve our efforts to increase the impact we are making.

In the last 5 years The W. Edwards Deming Institute has continued to work to do this and we hope those efforts are and will continue to improve that progress. Some of the efforts continue our long term efforts, such as the annual Deming Institute conference and our seminars. Some are new such as this blog, publishing videos of Dr. Deming online, the Deming in Education initiative, The Essential Deming, publication of Deming conference presentations online, our podcast series, the W. Edwards Deming quote web site, scholarships and grants to learn about Deming’s ideas (to attend conferences and seminars and study his work at the Library of Congress), publishing a Chinese language edition of Out of the Crisis and the new Deming Fellow position. And we have more planned.

Bill Schekenbach asks: Where could good management come from and Dr. Deming replies:

Adopt the attitude that they need to learn and that we can do it.

It must be developed. You certainly can’t import it.

So many think it is instant pudding. Just tell us what to do and we will do it.

In case you don’t watch the video (though you really should, it is packed with much more than I highlight in this post), instant pudding isn’t the answer.

Related: If Japan Can, Why Cant We? (1980 NBC Special Report)Deming Chain ReactionAll That People Need to Know is Why Their Work is Important


Categorised as: data, Dr. Deming, psychology, respect for people, The W. Edwards Deming Institute, understanding variation, video


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