Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Deming; Are Your Employees Afraid or Fearful?


Reminder: I'll be on “The Lean Nation” today at 4 PM (more details)

In this article about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “Inside Mark Zuckerberg's (rather run-of-the-mill) house: Facebook founder gives rare glimpse into his private life on Oprah“, there is an interesting detail about the setting of the Facebook office.One of Dr. W. Edwards Deming's most important points was the need to eliminate fear from organizations, so people can do quality work.

According to the Telegraph article:

The open plan office has a fun and creative feel. People can be seen riding skateboards, while walls are covered with inspirational phrases like ‘Fail Harder' and ‘What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?

Forget the skateboards and such. When I had a chance to visit the Yahoo! headquarters in 1998, it was intriguing that they had foosball tables in the workplace, but not something that every organization should go copy (or has it guaranteed success in the long-term for Yahoo!).

Now, Dr. Deming was opposed to slogans and posters in the workplace, but I think the deeper point was that “empty slogans” such as “Quality is YOUR responsibility” were damaging when not backed up by management's actions.

If Zuckerberg and Facebook are serious about a “no fear” workplace, that's a good thing. I hope they take that seriously, including not relying on “shame and blame” as an aspect of their workplace culture. I hope it's not just an empty slogan, like a Successories poster.

In the “Lean Startups” approach, Eric Ries emphasizes the need to have rapid improvement and to focus on the process, not blaming the person  as I wrote about last year. I wonder if Facebook was looking to blame somebody when they had massive downtime last week?

Many workplaces are effectively crippled by fear, including hospitals (or some might say “especially hospitals”). Hospitals are notorious for having “name, blame, and shame” cultures. Dr. Deming wouldn't have liked that.

These old cultures certainly interfere with “going Lean.” If you try to implement Lean methods in a fear-based environment, people will be afraid to really try to change anything.

As I tweeted yesterday:

if your  #lean efforts are struggling, ask how much fear is in the org: fear of trying, fear of failing, fear of blame or punishment?

I know some might say “well, people shouldn't be afraid.” That's not always realistic. Lean is difficult, you're really asking people to change their mindsets and their approach to things. You can't just ask front-line staff to change and to be creative if senior leaders aren't also willing to change.

That's why it's so important that Dr. John Toussaint worked so hard as CEO of ThedaCare to eliminate the old fear-based shame and blame culture (as are  Patrick Anderson and other leaders). You can read about Toussaint's work in the book On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry.

What are you doing to help eliminate fear in your organization? Does fear hamper your organization's Lean efforts?

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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. Posters with empty slogans won’t cut it. But even Dr. Deming might have supported the Successory parodies from http://www.despair.com. As they say, “we believe motivational products create unrealistic expectations, raising hopes only to dash them. That’s why we created our soul-crushingly depressing Demotivators designs, so you can skip the delusions that motivational products induce.”

  2. Mark,

    Great post. I had a good day today working with a health care client. The CEO set the tone with his folks (and he has been nothing but consistent). He told the 16 person team (big team!) that the primary purpose of the activity was to develop their skills as problem-solvers. Gotta love it!

  3. Consistency is critical. Guess my real point (sorry for my poor communication) is that leadership is moving the organization from one of fear to support, learning and growth. The old days were along the lines of, “here’s the target, hit it and no excuses.” Now it’s a partnership and more of, “how can I help you reach the objectives?”

  4. Excellent question. In this instance the desire to achieve pilot-proven patient, provider and staff satisfaction is the only juice they need. They are engaged and invested. Plenty of WIIFM, here. The other targeted performance improvements will be gladly and consciously pulled along.

  5. What are you doing to help eliminate fear in your organization?

    Maybe by trying to improve interpersonal communication. I read once a book about Nonviolent Communication, and it definitely changed the way I interact with people. I would recommend it to managers who want to get rid of the “name / blame / shame” culture while reinforcing their own leadership.

    Very interesting article.

  6. From a facebook friend:

    “I can’t help but remember a school superintendent, newly converted to Deming and TQ, pounding on the table and shrieking at his exec team, “I mean it, guys, ‘FIRST DRIVE OUT FEAR!!!'”

  7. […] Respect for the health care worker must be reestablished. Berwick said that all participants “must be assumed to be trying hard, acting in good faith, and not willfully failing to do what they know to be correct.” He pointed out that people make unintentional mistakes and they “cannot be frightened into doing better.” The influence of Dr. W. Edwards Deming is very strong here. Berwick says when people are afraid, they “will be wasting their time in self defense instead of learning.” Deming said we need to “drive out fear” from the workplace (as does Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg). […]


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