Monday, May 20, 2013

Did Dr. Deming really say what Dan Pink is saying today?


I read Julia McIntosh’s post rounding up the ASQ World Conference on Quality with unusual interest. Firstly because I wasn't at the conference and wanted to remain updated. Secondly  because Julia had written it. I am sure we all on the Influential Voices program have remained impressed with Julia’s dedication for the program. This post was a way to assess how good she is at writing – something she expects us to do every month.  Must say, she didn't need this assessment. Her post is a well-rounded summary of the conference and if you were not there, it is highly recommended reading.

I am delighted that Dan Pink was one of the keynotes at the conference. His work on what motivates us to give our best is amazing. I wrote about his book Drive in one of my earlier posts. I have also written about how quality professionals are risk averse for a range of reasons including personal traits of being calm, composed, academic, rigor oriented. Read Dan’s theory and think about the characteristics of quality professional and you won’t need a PhD to understand that quality professionals can not be motivated by short-term benefits. They need, in Dan’s words - Self-direction, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

John Hunter of the Edwards Deming Institute has supported Dan Pink’s findings a recent post. I read this piece with interest – looking for evidence on how Dan’s views are in sync with those of Deming’s. I found little. Now, I completely respect Dr. Deming for his work but am not sure how his views matched what Dan Pink is now saying. Deming's most famous point around managing people was eliminating work standards and management by objectives. What Dan is saying is that standards and incentives are good for repetitive and mundane tasks. So, a lot of credit is due to Dr. Deming but not on this point. Sorry.

If we adopt what Dan Pink is saying, then autonomy, mastery, and purpose are more useful in getting quality professionals to deliver. True. Not always maybe. I would rely on something Juran said on empowerment. Capability precedes empowerment. Similarly Stephen R Covey has written about trustworthiness being a function of character and competence. Only one is not enough. Similarly, if a quality professional is not trustworthy or capable of being empowered then trusting and empowering him/her will be disastrous.

A large majority of us would be managing teams where many of our team members are not yet ready for more responsibility. Using Dan Pink’s philosophy on them is a path to be walked with caution. Rushing to remove incentives for quality professionals may not work always. There is always some work which is repetitive and there are always some people who should be managed with the immediate lure of more money than the more long term lure of mastery and purpose. Once again judgment of a leader/manager in such situations is a perquisite.