Posted by: knightbird | March 25, 2013

Whack-A-Mole

One of Dr. Deming’s 14 points proved to be somewhat difficult for me to define and implement as a CEO. That point was to “Drive out fear”. Deming sees management by fear as counter-productive in the long term, because it prevents workers from acting in the organization’s best interests.

David Marx, author of “Whack-A-Mole: The Price We Pay For Expecting Perfection,” laid out a conceptual framework that helps to clarify this issue in my mind for the workplace, and also gives a framework for changing our society to more positive terms as well.

Marx is an engineer who worked at Boeing, a Lean Managed company since 1989. He is also an attorney and consultant working on risk management with a wide range of businesses. His concept of a just society fits extremely well in a Lean Managed environment.

Marx speaks about the widespread prevalence of “Human Error.” He says, factually, that we all make errors. It’s the human thing we do. Yet we as a society do not accept errors. Instead, we demand perfection to our detriment. In a Lean workplace, errors need to be acknowledged and corrected. Instead, we punish human error. Dr. Deming felt we should not punish human error, but encourage self-recognition of error so the one making errors will be willing to acknowledge it so they can participate in fixing it.

“Risky Behaviors” are the second category Mr. Marx writes about. We have rules in the workplace, and most of us follow them. But there are some who push those boundaries, thereby encountering additional risk. But taking on additional risk doesn’t mean we are punished. Those who make errors aren’t always punished, and as they observe others are punished, they learn hiding behaviors. They learn how to deflect being responsible or accountable. Accepting risk also encourages hiding behaviors, and discourages being responsible or accountable. But the difference between human error and risky behavior is the assumption of the risk by flaunting the rules. When risky behavior produces negative results, the actor who accepts the risk should expect punishment. And when a manager encounters an employee who takes unwarranted risks should be coached so they understand the consequences of continuing to take risk. If they continue to take risk, their behavior may rise to the level of reckless, and ultimately receive punishment.

Finally, Mr. Marx talks about “Reckless Behavior,” or a conscious disregard of the rules. Reckless behavior cannot be condoned and does need to be punished.

Here is an example regarding on time start of work. If the workday starts at 8 am, then employees need to be there early enough to start work. If an employee fails to set their alarm clock or turn it ahead during daylight savings time, that is human error, and should be a learning process that they can correct, perhaps by setting a second alarm. If an employee stays out late the night before work, and pushes the snooze button a few times, knowing that they are pushing the time limits, then showing up late becomes accepting risk. This employee needs to be coached and if the behavior continues, then punished. Finally, reckless behavior could be as bad as getting drunk the night before and failing to wake up at all.

Mr. Marx’s framework fits Dr. Deming’s point of driving out fear. I like it.

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