I’m always happy when the wisdom of Dr. W. Edwards Deming spreads in modern social media, almost 20 years after his passing. His message is timeless and it always seems to resonate with people. In my life, education, and career, I was exposed to his teachings before I even got deeply involved with studying Lean.
I recently tweeted the following that I believe is just a paraphrase of Deming’s thoughts, or I saw it in a YouTube video of him:
“…if management stopped demotivating their employees then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about motivating them.”
As you can see in this screen grab from Twitter, it was “re-tweeted” over 73 times, which shows the message really spread somewhat virally. I hope it made people stop and think. Upon a little more research, I think the quote I was remembering actually comes from a Harvard management article that John Hunter cited.
Why Your Employees Are Losing Motivation by David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer from the Harvard Management Update:“Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.”
I think what I tweeted is correct in spirit, though. Deming talked about “nurturing” intrinsic motivation (see the video, below), but it seems to be that he thought you can’t restore people to their initial motivation levels once it was been “crushed” out of them.
But enough of the Twitter talk…. we can have a deeper discussion of this idea here in the blog comments.
On page 121 of his book The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (now available on Kindle!), he writes:
Effects of the present style of reward. The accompanying diagram (below) shows some of the forces of destruction that come from the present style of reward, and their effects. what they do is to squeeze out from an individual, over his lifetime, his innate intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity. They build into him fear, self-defense, extrinsic motivation. We have been destroying our people, from toddlers on through the university, and on the job. We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.
The illustration shows that motivation can only go DOWN in current management structures. We must maintain people’s intrinsic motivation. Click on the diagram for a larger view.
The “forces of destruction” going across the top from left to right are:
- Forced distribution of grades in school. Gold stars.
- Merit system. Judge people; put them into slots. Competition between people, groups, divisions.
- Incentive pay. Pay for performance.
- Numerical goals without a method.
- Explanation of variances.
- Suboptimization. Every group, every division, a profit center.
As Dr. Deming taught, “extrinsic motivation gradually replaces intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity. Here is a video of Dr. Deming speaking on this subject. He says he wants to “mourn” the intrinsic motivation and dignity, and other attributes that are “high at the beginning of life” but are “gradually crushed out, year by year, throughout life.” Dr. Deming certainly seemed to be a very intrinsically motivated man, to continue working and teaching into his early 90s.
Deming says “we can’t just remodel the prison [of current management practices]…. we have to get out of it.”
It’s my lucky early exposure to Dr. Deming that makes the work of writers like Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, and Samuel Culbert. Check out my podcasts with these three guests (and help me test-drive the design of a new podcast-specific site that the content will live on):
- #117: Samuel Culbert: Get Rid of the Performance Review!
- #107: Dan Pink: Lean and “Drive”
- #57: Alfie Kohn: “Punished by Rewards”
It’s easier to diagnose that people get demotivated over time. Think of a person in your workplace who is considered to have a “bad attitude.” Do you think they started their career or their job at that point? If so, why were they ever hired? You needed just “any warm body?” Well, that’s disrespectful, isn’t it? What do you think happened to turn the “live trees” you hired into “dead wood” as Peter Scholtes said?
Does the waste and frustration in people’s workplace turn into accumulated demotivation? When employees aren’t listened to by managers, that’s demotivating. When people don’t have the tools and systems required to do their best work, that’s motivating.
All of the prizes, bonuses, and workplace rewards and perks in the world can’t fix that motivation. It always troubles me when I see the “Best Places to Work” lists articles so dominated by bullet points about the great perks that companies offer. Can free cubicle neck rubs from a trained masseuse really make up for otherwise toxic workplace? I think not. Instead of headlines about perks being “epic” at a given company, I’d love to see headlines about how it’s “epic” that everybody is treated with respect in our workplace!
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