Six Sigma and More:
A Deming moment and its relevance to Six Sigma
by David R. Schwinn
Last month's column pushed a hot button
for many of you. Apparently, destructive performance appraisals are still
alive and well in many organizations. Some of the stories I received from
readers described selective evaluations based on who people are in the
organizations, and "stealth" systems based on secret observations
by co-workers. These sound a little like penal tactics to me.
The existence of these practices takes me
back to a fundamental belief that is, I think, essential for the long-term
viability of any initiative such as Six Sigma, or of any organization and
any culture. It is best articulated as part of the values of a wonderful new
international leadership initiative, From the Four Directions. The value is
"We rely on human goodness. Human nature is the blessing, not the
problem." If you want to learn more, check out the website at www.fromthefourdirections.org.
I fear that the value upon which most performance evaluation systems are
based is, "We must guard against the innate evil of human nature."
These reader responses and others took me to the title of this article, as
well. In the late 1980s, I was a speaker at one of the Ohio Quality
and Productivity Forums. I was to speak about some of the work we had
been doing in upper east Tennessee. I was preparing for the
presentation before it began, when in walked Dr. Deming. As many of you
know, Dr. Deming had extremely high expectations of his practitioners and of
managers in general. He was also not timid about publicly and loudly
criticizing the work of those he felt fell short. Although his presence
sparked some fear in me, I also knew him to be a kind mentor and generous
friend. After the room filled, I began my presentation with Dr. Deming
sitting in the front row.
The presentation was about a new approach that involved applying his
principles across a whole community, rather than just within a single
organization. I was just completing an explanation of a "Six
Sigma" type project successfully undertaken by the management team of a
computer manufacturer in the community, when Dr. Deming rose from his seat
and in a very loud voice, said "David, that is very interesting, but
unimportant." The wisdom of what he said struck me immediately and I
moved into a dialogue with the audience to help them understand his message.
You see, he knew that I was working with top management to help them learn
how to improve throughput. They, in fact, led the streamlining of the
documentation system used for building computers. Their project
resulted in significant improvements in cost, throughput, and quality.
Dr. Deming's point, however, was that they should have been working to
change the systems that had created the original inefficient and ineffective
documentation system and other systems that served to prevent employees from
best serving the customers and other. The systems, forms, and practices that
generally get in the way include the performance evaluation system, the pay
system, the management and leadership style, the systems for developing and
managing goals and objectives, the customer feedback system, the strategic
planning system, and the organizational structure. These are the
systems that, unless continually reviewed, revised, and/or redesigned are
likely to cause the failure of a Six Sigma effort.
One of the readers noticed Motorola's recent struggles after being a Six
Sigma pioneer. With virtually no knowledge of the case, I am happy to
hypothesize that failure to continually reexamine the beliefs and
assumptions that underlie these systems may have been the cause. We know, of
course, that everything changes. Six Sigma efforts tend to focus on
improving the performance and efficiency of existing processes, products,
and services. As customer expectations, competitive forces, resource
availability, and employee needs change, our Six Sigma efforts may help us
do an exemplary job on the wrong things, with the wrong view of people.
Information technology and our shrinking globe are accelerating the rate of
change. Make sure your Six Sigma efforts are supported by systems that
contribute to, not impede, your progress. And make sure your efforts
are improving the things that are important to your organization today and
tomorrow, not yesterday.
always, let me know what you think. You
can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org