Problem-Solving: Involve Employees

problem-98377_1280Whatever happened to the Deming method for improving quality production? It became popular with some manufacturers and other organizations in the 1980s and early 1990s, but it’s rarely mentioned now.

Well, although W. Edwards Deming died in 1993, his recommendations for improving employee quality, productivity, and employee morale are very much alive and used to improve profits.

Deming’s Key Points for EmployeesDrive out fear. Sure, fear works to motivate, but only to the extent the employee wants to avoid unpleasant repercussions. The downside is… fear also is a demotivator. It drives down employee creativity which is needed to improve products and services in a competitive world.Eliminate slogans and exhortations from management. These preachings from the top create feelings of resentment in employees. Better: Empower employees, and they will set their own goals and create their own slogans.

Here’s a Quick Recap of Deming’s Approach:

Think back to the last time you barked at a worker for making a mistake.

Keep this incident in mind as you look again at the management philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. Deming would be wary of dumping the blame on the worker. Instead, he’d put the blame on a fouled system of production.

Evidence backs up Deming’s views. Research from the Argonne National laboratory showed that blame for only 15 percent of all work errors could be placed squarely on the shoulders of a worker. The remaining 85 percent are situation-caused errors, those traced back to poor design of the workplace.

Example: One plant’s manufacturing process included a “gold box,” a costly and delicate gold-plated component. When a worker dropped one of these gold boxes, management bellowed about carelessness and threatened punishment. Nevertheless, boxes continued tumbling to the floor.

In desperation, management rang for a consultant. Management said, “The gold boxes are handled only 100 times during the production process. There’s no reason for a high breakage rate!” The consultant wandered about the shop floor. He counted 1,000 chances during production for the box to fall from a worker’s hands!

What was Deming’s solution to cumbersome production systems which breed errors? Stop barking at workers. Instead, redesign the system. For instance, after the assembly line in the above example was redesigned, the breakage rate of gold boxes fell off dramatically.

The Deming method is big on involving workers in problem solving. Ask workers to analyze how the production system at your firm fosters errors.

Example: In another plant, employees studied how errors cropped up when they assembled circuit boards. They singled out 157 significant problems which promoted on-the-job errors.

One jam involved a drawing of the assembly they worked on. Essential explanatory notes were printed on separate paper. During assembly, workers often didn’t take time to hunt up the notes. Instead, they relied on their fallible memories for information in the notes.

What to do: When you ask employees to analyze work errors, reassure them you’re not on a witch hunt. You want to make their jobs easier, not blame workers or exact punishment from them.


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