Early on in my career my thoughts about the world and work were fragmentary. They often conflicted with one another. These conflicting disorganized thoughts were the source of a lot of confusion and frustration.
Then I read W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis. On page 4, Fig. 1 shows a diagram of “Production viewed as a system”. It instantly reshaped my perspective. I had an “Aha!” moment. It gave me the context to understand my differentiated knowledge and experience. I understood where and how I fit in.
I sense that most people suffer from confusion and frustration from a lack of context for what they do. While I believe everyone should buy and read Out of the Crisis, it is not an easy read for the new worker.
This year I discovered two books that I feel are more accessible: Improving Performance Through Statistical Thinking and Statistical Thinking: Improving Business Performance. Both provide the worker a frame for understanding their job, how it fits within an organization, and how to work better, both individually and together.
These books aren’t just for quality people. In fact I think they are more helpful to everyone else–Marketing, R&D, Design & Development, Manufacturing, Sales, Accounting, Finance, Legal, and any other department I might have missed. I think every worker who reads them will have an “Aha!” moment, and can immediately benefit from them.
Dr. Deming pointed out, “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” You already do your best, but with confusing and frustrating results. These books are wonderful resources to help you understand what you should do so that your best efforts produce satisfying results; ones that make you feel good and proud.
I feel it’s important for me to say this: Don’t let the reference to Statistics in their titles scare you off. You don’t need to know any Statistics to read them. In fact, I feel you will benefit more if you didn’t know any Statistics. You will learn three important lessons from these books:
- All work occurs in a system of interconnected processes
- Variation exists in all processes, and
- Understanding and reducing variation are keys to success
 Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Center for Advanced Engineering Study, MIT. 1991. Print. ISBN 0-911379-01-0
 Britz, Galen C., Donald W. Emerling, Lynne B. Hare, Roger W. Hoerl, Stuart J. Janis, and Janice E. Shade. Improving Performance Through Statistical Thinking. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press. 2000. Print. ISBN 0-87389-467-7
 Hoerl, Roger, and Ronald D. Snee. Statistical Thinking: Improving Business Performance. Pacific Grove, CA: Duxbury, Thomson Learning. 2002. Print. ISBN 0-534-38158-8
Yesterday I had an interview with the Human Resources Director of the company. He asked me what I was looking for in my next job. I shared that I was looking for a good group of people to work with. I was looking to build relationships with my coworkers wherein I could help them feel good about the work they were doing. I was looking for a company where I could reduce wasted effort, boost productivity, and build pride in personal craftsmanship.
This was music to his ears, and he said as much. He said that the company wanted to be an employer of choice. He shared the effort made by the company to improve its culture to that end. Like many of my previous employers, they had surveyed their employees to find out what management could do. Employees, while happy with the cafeteria, had said the food was too expensive. So the company decided to subsidize it with $20 per employee. They also started making people take their birthdays off.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? It makes it appear as if management was listening and responding to employees, that it cares for their well-being.
The trouble is that such actions do nothing to improve an individual work process or the system within which workers work. And we all know by now that the bulk of the problems workers deal with reside in the process or system. Workers are powerless to affect them. What does subsidizing the cost of a meal do for improving the way work gets done? How does making people take their birthdays off boost productivity? Will installing an espresso machine help with reducing rework?
The assumption going into providing such fringe benefits (perks) is that problems are the result of workers holding back. That workers do not give their all or that they do not do their best. If only management rewarded them more, then workers would work better. Much has been written about the negative impact of boosting extrinsic rewards without changing the work process or system. Rather than feeling better, workers become more stressed, make more mistakes, take more time.
Management’s diagnosis of the cause of productivity problems is fundamentally flawed. Worse, management knows it. But working on the system to improve it requires management to work in ways they are not prepared to. Effects of changes to the system are not immediate nor are they easily perceived. But providing fringe benefits makes a real splash, however short-lived it might be. So here’s to hoping the pizza and beer will stop all of you workers from whining!