A Mention of Dr. Deming in a UK Editorial


Robert Heller: Why don't we hang bad admirals of industry? | Business | The Observer

I don't think the columnist is literally suggesting hanging CEO's… but his point is a good one, that the “carrot & stick” management philosophy is all carrot, no stick.

Heller makes a tie in to the Deming philosophy at the end of his piece, valid comments from Dr. Deming (of course), but I didn't quite get the connection to the rest of the commentary:

That great teacher W Edwards Deming made managers play competitive games to prove that achievement is largely random and that in any team, somebody inevitably comes bottom. Belabouring that unfortunate loser does nothing for overall performance. Treating people as individuals and helping them to succeed and improve is the true answer. Top managers who don't know or practise that truth don't deserve employment, let alone incentives.

Help me out… what are your comments on this? I don't think Dr. Deming would have advocated NOT holding top executives accountable. The failure of many of these CEOs is far from random — it was based on badly failed business models and greed, for the most part.

Subscribe via RSS | Lean Blog Main Page | Podcast | Twitter @MarkGraban

Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

, , , on the author's copyright.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleA Funny Example of Not Delivering "Value"?
Next articleABC’s Show "Hopkins"
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. My guess is by games he is referring to the red bead experiment, which does show the system results negating individual impact.

    Dr. Deming also strongly advised against performance appraisals with arguments that determining the impact on the system due to one person was impossible to determine.

    Dr. Deming did, however, challenge senior executives very strongly about their actions. It is difficult though to understand exactly how this plays out without a great deal of reading on Dr. Deming’s idea, I think. My take would be that he was very critical of those in authority that failed to maximize the well being of all the stakeholders by clinging to outdated notions like performance appraisals, management by numbers (MBO and cost accounting), short term thinking, disrespect for people…

    He did definitely challenge those with authority for not doing all they could to improve results for all the stakeholders. And he would certainly criticize practices engaged in by senior executives that he found wanting.

  2. Mark/
    Good post. Thought provoking as usual.

    After reading Heller’s article. I think the game he refers to is Deming’s Red Bead experiment – but his interpretation is not accurate. The game (experiment) was not designed to prove that achievement is random (it’s NOT) but rather to demonstrate that an individual’s performance in a system/process is largely the result of the system – not the individual’s best efforts. Deming would hammer this point home with warnings, hectoring and wall posters (e.g. “Take Pride in Your Work” or “Increase Productivity”) – none of which altered the daily production outcomes.

    Secondly, Heller mistakenly states “in any team, somebody inevitably comes out bottom”. In a team, there are no individual results. When the Phoenix Suns win, they all win and vice versa. What he may have meant to say was – again from the Red Bead experiment – that in any set of system/process results, there are inevitably “high performers” (results we like) and “low performers” (results we don’t like) – and that an individuals position in the results is essentially random.

    To your question, Deming was indeed famous for holding top executives accountable – for the system and its relentless improvement.
    /Dr. Pete

  3. I agree that it’s probably the Red Bead game. It’s amazing how competitive people DO get in that, given that the # of red beads is pure chance.

    I think managers and executives don’t want to believe it’s “the system” giving them good results when they happen (it’s because they’re brilliant execs). But when things are bad, somebody must be blamed (or “it’s the system”).

    They can’t have it both ways.

    I agree that there’s not necessarily “a loser” in any team. That’s the old GE forced ranking “fire the bottom 10%” scheme. That’s not a Deming system. On a winning team, everyone can be a winner.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.