More Proof that Exhortations Don’t Work?


San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals, September 13, 2009

Singletary dropped pants at halftime – SF Gate

Funny story here about new 49ers coach, Mike Singletary, during halftime of his first game.

When his team hit the Candlestick Park locker room at halftime trailing the Seahawks 20-3, Singletary called everyone to attention, dropped his pants and pointed to his rear end, to fully illustrate what the coach thought of his players' performance.

According to a report that first aired on Phoenix-area radio XTRA-910, Singletary then berated the team for three to four minutes with his pants around his ankles.

Wow, that reminds me of some of the butt-chewings we would get from managers at the GM plant when I worked there in the mid-90's. Management by yelling and screaming, I suppose.

It typically got the same results attributed to Singletary:

Singletary did not deny the stunt, which clearly didn't work: The 49ers lost, 34-13.

If your team stinks, your team stinks. I guess Dr. Deming would say that football quality starts at the top of the 49ers organization. Instead of yelling at the “system” that he has, they have to improve the system and get some better players, I'd suppose.

If only “try harder” were the answer to most of our problems. It's not. If it were, our problems in industry and organizations would have been solved long ago, as managers have been screaming “try harder” and “do your best” forever.

You can read from Dr. Deming's 14 Points and Out of the Crisis for free via Google Books.

As he wrote:

10. Eliminate exhortations

Eliminate the use of slogans, posters and exhortations for the work force, demanding Zero Defects and new levels of productivity, without providing methods. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships; the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system, and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

Are your leaders like Coach Singletary or are they actually working to improve the system and provide the right tools and methods to get the job done?

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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. Good one, Mark. The world of sport is full of so many examples of ‘traditional’ thinking. Over here in the UK I frequently marvel at the way football (ok, soccer if you like) fans talk about the need for players to show more passion and ‘play for the shirt’ as if that is all it takes for a team to win time and again. Weird.

    Also, just wanted to say I appreciate and enjoy your sharing of Dr. Deming’s work. Many people know the man and his teachings were important to the likes of Toyota and the development of TPS and ‘Lean’, but there is so much to be gained from continuing to reflect on his work.

    One thing you might like to comment on, which I struggle with sometimes, is Dr. Deming’s Point 11 in relation to the concept of Takt time.

    You will recall, it says to ‘Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.’ Yet what is Takt time, even if the worker is unaware of it, but a numerical goal; do this many tasks in this amount of time?

    I was most troubled by this last year reading the Gemba Panta Rei post on the Secret Lives of Toyota Term Employees, Episode 4 (13 December 07). And specifically the extract titled ‘The weight of five seconds’, which recounts one workers real struggle to keep up when the speed of the production line was increased by just five seconds.

    Does it constitute leadership, when more productivity is needed, to simply increase the speed of the line? What about the capability of the process? Isn’t it just asking people to work harder? The Gemba Panta Rei extract gives pause for thought as regards the human cost. But won’t there be other losses, to quality for example?

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and those of others more expert than me on this subject.


  2. I wouldn’t be too hard on Singletary yet. He’s been thrown into a difficult situation. I would say he’s more like a middle-manager being told to “do lean” but given no support from above. I think he is trying to raise awareness that there is a broken system. Besides, didn’t Ohno dish out some butt-chewings on the way to deveoping TPS?

  3. To Anon — good point. He doesn’t have much to work with. Yes, that was Ohno’s style, but I don’t think most Lean/TPS practitioners today feel like they have to follow his model.

    To David — great question.

    Yes, Dr. Deming said we should eliminate numerical quotas. But I view takt time differently. I don’t think it would be very smart to run a business without knowing customer demand. Takt and lean teach us, for one, not to overproduce. But that’s not the issue here with quotas/goals.

    I think the worst form of quotas are arbitrary ones that cannot be met by the current system. The danger with quotas is that people get discouraged or start cutting corners on quality or safety to try to hit the targets.

    If you have a takt time of 60 units per hour AND you have a system that is designed and staffed appropriately to hit 60 units per hour without undue stress or hardship on people, then I think that’s OK.

    But just giving people a goal of “you need to double output” without the means of getting there — I think that’s the type of quota that Dr. Deming was talking about.

  4. Yes, I see what you are saying, Mark. I am sure you are right to draw the distinction between arbitrary goals and takt time, especially as it is employed by Toyota.

    However, it’s definitely one of those areas to watch out with. John Seddon has provided a number of examples of takt being used in office settings along the lines ‘We get this many application forms from customers per day and we have this many employees working on them, so they will need to do X an hour to get the daily work done.’ This doesn’t cut it.

    As you put it, it is absolutely necessary to have a system that is ‘designed and staffed appropriately’ in order to avoid ‘undue stress and hardship’ on employees. To get this right will require management at least to have an understanding of variation and to operate with respect for people, as Toyota put it. Without those, seems to me that takt is as likely to be wrongly used as 5S is being at Kyocera (By the way, great post on that one! Took the words out of my mouth.).

    Thanks for your thoughts.


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