757px-flywheel_from_old_factoryThis post picks up on Part 1 and examines the first of Deming’s 14 Management Points. As I said in the first post, I believe Deming’s 14 Points have great resonance in today’s economy, even if his original language seems a little stilted in today’s world of Tweets and sound bites.

Let’s take his first point:

Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and stay in business, and to provide jobs.”

Constancy of Purpose

Western Executives, especially in the US, are well known for jumping on management fads – quality circles, total quality management, business process reengineering, balanced scorecards, benchmarking, six sigma, and so on.  I’ve consulted to organizations who were in the midst of both a TQM program and a new reengineering initiative and had a group of teams and initiatives to improve processes and another group trying to blow up and re-engineer the very same processes!  Needless to say, mass confusion reined, lots of effort was wasted and no real improvement was achieved.  I’ve seen many companies caught up in the Six Sigma fad, where “death by 1,000 Six Sigma projects” was a real issue, where keen would-be green-belters are firing up dozens of projects in the interests of belt certification, but with a combined effect that was actually detrimental to firm performance!  I’m sure a dose of enterprise-wide collaboration towards continuous process improvement and innovation would have turned a net-negative to a highly net-positive contribution over time, with the power of compounding!

Collin’s Flywheel Effect

In his excellent book Good To Great, Jim Collins describes how successful transitions don’t happen overnight. He analogizes their success to that of a flywheel, where a sustained momentum accelerates the energy output.  Any phenomenal change in its final state looks like a flywheel going very fast. The thing about a flywheel is it takes a great deal of energy to get it moving, but once it’s up to speed, takes little energy to keep it moving.  The energy to get it up to speed typically has to come in a sustained series of small steps.  In the TQM/Re-engineering example I cited above, you have one set of teams trying to turn the flywheel one way, and another set trying to move it another way.  The flywheel stops and starts, changes direction, and never gets enough momentum to sustain change.

Thus, I see the flywheel analogy as a wonderful way of illuminating Deming’s “constancy of purpose,” and a valid dictum to counteract today’s tendency to jump on management fads, while never sustaining the focus and energy long enough to see positive results.  It’s a form of “short-termism” in part fueled by Wall Street expectations, and “get rich quick” aspirations.

Improve Products and Services

Also note that Deming refers to “product and service”.  He recognizes that both need constant improvement, and that there is typically an important relationship between products and services.  And yet the people responsible for products and those responsible for services are often not collaborating towards the bigger picture, so service opportunities are missed by the product folk, and product opportunities missed by the service folk.

Though not evident in Deming’s first point, he does elsewhere (in books and lectures) address the distinctions between improving and innovating, and between improving a product or service, versus improving (or innovating) the process that delivers the product or service.

Become Competitive, Stay in Business, Provide Jobs

Note that Deming links the three ideas of becoming competitive, staying in business, and providing jobs.  I believe he was very deliberate in connecting these ideas.  Many of our institutions today do not try to be competitive (think government or health care).  The notion of “too big to fail” gives new meaning to the idea of “staying in business” as a management driver.  And increasingly, people are treated as a commodity – ensuring jobs is no longer part of the management compact, with companies firing then rehiring workers according to monthly business cycles, and dot com start ups generating billions of dollars in share capital, without real products and only a handful of employees.

I further believe that the dreadful state of employee engagement – especially in the West and the US today is a sad reflection on leadership, and a leading indicator of more “trouble ahead” in the immortal words of Jerry Garcia!  My esteemed colleague Tammy Erickson defines employee engagement as the degree to which employees are willing to give of their discretionary effort.  According to a study by BlessingWhite:

Although North America has one of the highest proportions of engaged employees worldwide, fewer than 1 in 3 employees (29%) are fully engaged and 19% are actually disengaged.”

Gallup Organization cites:

Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.”

So, what are you doing to achieve “constancy of purpose”?  What about employee engagement?  Is it an issue in your organization?  Is the issue recognized?  Talked about?  Addressed?  How can you apply Deming’s 1st point?

Image courtesy of INK08

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