Fostering Cooperation: Role of a Manager in Education (Part 2)

This podcast was originally published on In Their Own Words for The W. Edwards Deming Institute

In this episode, Andrew and David discuss how managers can help people to see themselves as components in a system, working with those before and after them in the process of educating children – for the benefit of all.

This podcast series is inspired by chapter 6 in The New Economics, Andrew and David apply Dr. Deming’s 14 points for “the role of a manager of people after transformation” to the world of education. (Note: this is not about Deming’s 14 Points for Management.)


0:00:02.3 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I’ll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today I am continuing my discussion with David P. Langford, who has devoted his life to applying Dr. Deming’s philosophy to education, and he offers us his practical advice for implementation. Today’s topic is cooperation with proceeding stages in education. And ladies and gentlemen, we are going through a checklist or a list that Dr. Deming put in his The New Economics book on page 86 of the third edition, or page 125 of the second edition. And the title of this list is Role of a Manager of People.

0:00:45.4 AS: This is the new role of a manager of people after transformation. The first point on the list, which we previously talked about was, number one, a manager understands and conveys to his people the meaning of a system. He explains the aims of the system, he teaches his people to understand how the work of the group supports these aims. And today we will be talking about number two. He helps his people to see themselves as components in a system to work in cooperation with preceeding stages and with following stages toward optimization of the efforts of all stages toward achievement of the aim. David, take it away.

0:01:26.7 David Langford: There you go. If you understand that, then the podcast is over. [laughter] So yeah, I think the profound nature of Deming’s work was his ability to take these simple concepts and just state them. And for me, working in education, people, they start to get the philosophy and they start to understand Deming, et cetera, and they always wanna know where to start or what to do. Well, here you go. These are all steps of what to do, where to start. So the last podcast we were talking about the development of an aim. And so you… The first question you have to decide is, do I have an aim of the system? And is that being communicated? And we talked a lot about that going through that. So the second point actually feeds on that, and remember this whole section is the role of the manager of people, see, what are you doing with the people in the system?

0:02:25.7 DL: And so this whole point is about understanding a systems’ perspective in any organization. But in education, it’s really clear. And we’ve said several times that the product of education is the learning itself. It’s not students. And I think people really get screwed up on that, when they start to think about that, “We’re producing students.” No, you’re not. Yes, students are going through the process, but they’re gaining a level of learning that’s gonna, that’s getting them closer and closer to the aim of the system, right? And so those things are measurable, and then you can begin to understand those. So what he is talking about here in step number two is… Often when I work with educators, no matter what level, university, K through 12, whatever it might be, I’ll throw out the idea that, let’s say you’re a 10th grade math teacher.

0:03:32.8 DL: What’s the one thing you could be doing this year that would significantly increase the performance of your students next year? And a lot of times people say, you know, better technology and they’ll go through this whole list of all these kinds of things they could do. But that’s what Deming is talking about here. You could keep right on doing the same curriculum, the same thing you’ve done for 15 years, but if you start working with preceding stages, where did these students learn math before they got to you? Right? And so if you’re a 10th grade math teacher, one of the best things you could do is start working with the ninth grade math teachers. Like going over, what are they doing, how are they teaching it? What’s happening? How are they going through stuff?

0:04:22.4 DL: And you’re actually preventing your own problems. Later in The New Economics, Deming talks about that prevention is the key to quality. And that’s what he is talking about here. If I am going upstream in the process, so to speak, and preventing my own problems, right? I could actually just keep doing the exact same thing I’ve always done. I’m gonna get better results because I’m now preventing problems that I used to have to work with all the time. And some people say, well, you know, our students are coming from outside of our organization and I don’t have the chance to do that. Well, you sort of think of a class that you’re teaching as a system in and of itself.

0:05:06.7 DL: So what I could do is the first week of school is not gonna be, you know, really getting to the subject at all, right? I’m gonna become my own preceding stage [laughter], I’m gonna make sure that all these students have the same base knowledge that I need them to have in order for the rest of my teaching, the rest of my curriculum to actually work really well. That might take a week, it might take two weeks, but it’d be worth it to you [chuckle] to go back and do that rather than just keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result and then putting pressure on people to make, sort of make them think it’s their fault that they’re not achieving.

0:05:48.9 AS: One question I have just because I’m not familiar with education so much, more business, if I think about business and I think about the preceding stages. You’ve got a manager in that department and he’s got his own motivations, or she got their motivations, they’ve got their KPIs, and they’ve got all these things that are preventing cooperation. But it must not be true in education, David, when people are so dedicated to helping young people, it must be that the ninth grade math teacher is absolutely ready and willing to cooperate with the 10th grade math teacher. Wouldn’t that be?

0:06:25.4 DL: Oh, when I started working with schools I often would have teachers come up to me at breaks and stuff and say, you know, I taught with this guy across the hall for 11 years, and I can’t tell you anything that he does over there, or she does over there. The silo mechanisms of, you know, close my door, do my thing and don’t communicate was just rampant. And it’s still largely that way. And especially in a lot of universities, just people working in silos, you know, the college of business has no idea what the College of Education is doing and vice versa and so on and so forth. And you begin to break down those barriers. Deming talks about that later too. But you break down those barriers between departments, you start to see everybody wins. Student are better trained. The whole system seems to work together.

0:07:24.6 DL: I remember when we first started having visitors come to our high school where we’d been working with Dr. Deming and trying to implement these things for several years, after about three or four days, I’d have people that were visiting would say, you know, everybody here seems to know what everybody else is doing. And I’d say, isn’t that the way it is in your school? And they said, no, I have no idea what other people are doing. And so I had to really start to think about, well, what had we done? Well, one of the things we’d done was we kept reiterating this point, right? Work with preceding stages, understand what’s going on.

0:08:08.3 DL: We actually formally set up time where you could actually get together as a department or get together and look at a whole curriculum throughout the entire system. Now, some districts have over the last 30, 40 years, you know, they’ll have a K through 12 curriculum alignment, right? And that’s getting towards this point so that we’re all working in preceding stages. So I don’t have fourth graders, fourth grade teachers spending time doing stuff that has already been done in second or third grade, right? And the kids are just going, you know, they might be really dutiful kids and they just don’t say anything, but they’re just bored out of their minds because they already did this, right?

0:08:54.7 AS: When you were speaking, it made me realize the importance of step number one, about identifying the aim and getting everybody on board with that aim and communicating that and helping people see their role in that aim. Otherwise, there’s like no incentive for people, oh, why are we having another meeting to talk about this? You know, what’s the point? Well, when the aim is clear, all of a sudden the intrinsic motivation just explodes.

0:09:19.0 DL: Yeah. I mean, my own children is a good example. Remember one of my kids came to me and said, you know, dad, this is the third year we’ve done an insect collection in science. So were they really good at collecting insects by the end of the three years? Well, yeah, but they could have had a much higher knowledge about insects or something else that was going on rather than just this mundane project of going out and collecting insects and categorizing them.

0:09:51.4 AS: One of the questions I have, there’s two points to this that I was thinking about. One is kind of the academic freedom of a teacher to be able to, you know, particularly in a university, they want to feel like I can do and say what I want. The second one is that they’re so damn busy trying to prepare their lectures that it’s hard. David, cooperation is difficult to bring a system to optimization. You realize like one of the reasons why people don’t do it is it’s just hard. It’s way more coordination. Tell me your thoughts on that.

0:10:24.2 DL: You just described why Deming calls it Profound Knowledge, so the places that it is happening, right? Or making it, making sure that it’s important. Setting aside time, talking about specifically how we can do that. You get a new professor in, you got economics 101 and Economics 102, right? So are they aligned? And the benefit in the end is for the students, right? Because they’re not going through the very same thing that they just went through in economics 101, right? And the students will recognize things like, wow, these people are actually really working together. They really understand what’s going on.

0:11:11.2 DL: And if I’m teaching economics 201 and I can constantly refer back to now when you took 101, I know that you went through this exercise and you went through this and you had this kind of experience, and this is how we’re gonna build on that in 201 and… Right? So that’s what Deming is talking is about here, is that if I carve out that time to work with preceding stages, the benefit is for me and my students and my classes and, in that, everybody wins, right? Because as a professor, I can go on to a higher level knowledge with the assurance that these students had this level of knowledge and mastered it before they got to my class. And that’s the whole idea basically about why we’ve set up classes like 101, 201, 301, right? That’s supposed to be the philosophy, really understanding that.

0:12:12.6 DL: And I’d say most departments or school districts, they loosely sort of do that. But from experience, if you consciously put in the effort to align curriculums, communicate with the preceding stages you get a huge benefit out of that that’s just unbelievable. And Deming goes on to say, you know, and the following stages, right? So let’s say we’re using this example of Economics 101 and 201 or whatever you might be, right? And then some of those students are gonna go on to 301. Well, I would wanna know that my students were much more prepared going to the next stage. So how am I gonna do that? Well, I’m gonna start talking to the teacher in the next stage and saying, hey, how are my students doing? And were they prepared to come into your class or not prepared or, you know, what’s happening?

0:13:18.7 AS: I was thinking about how one of the… I had a discussion with someone this past week, and it’s a guy my age, you know, young and healthy and happy. [laughter] And getting close to 60. And he said, young people these days, you know, blah, blah, blah and all that. And I said to him, I said, you know, I think basically the young people these days realize they’ve kind of been let down by us and we’ve done all kinds of, you know, whether it’s safety or whether it’s education or whether it’s, you know, whatever. There’s so many things where I think that they just don’t trust it. And then we go to online learning and all of a sudden all of these adults are giving us these super boring presentations. And it’s like, we are not delivering to young people.

0:14:10.4 AS: And then, oh, add on 32 trillion in debt. Oh, by the way, you gotta pay that also. And the streets are, you know, cities are on fire and all of that. And then you just think, yeah. Part of what’s happening is that when we incentivize teachers to optimize their classroom, that’s what they’re gonna do. They’re gonna do their KPIs and they’re gonna focus on that, and they’re not gonna be thinking about how are these kids going through this process and getting to a result that we want? And yeah, you just made me think about that, but I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that?

0:14:45.6 DL: Well, Deming talks about in the last sentence, that work with preceding and following stages for the optimization and efforts of all stages towards achievement of the aim. So what are you trying to accomplish with the achievement of this aim? I’m working with a college of business now, and through the pandemic, almost all the classes went online and now students are graduating and going to work and stuff. And what are employers saying? These people aren’t trained as well.

0:15:20.4 AS: The communication skills.

0:15:22.5 DL: Yeah. The university is struggling because they know this online thing doesn’t work as well, but they’re struggling with, how do we change this? Because the following stages are telling you the learning that these people are coming out with is not the same as it used to be. We used to be able to depend on the quality of the students coming through the system. And now we can’t depend on them. Well, that’s dangerous because that could lead employers to say, okay, we’re no longer going to hire people from this university. We’re gonna go to some other university and look for places. So I always think about, you know, Deming is talking about the system, but how big of a system are we talking about, right? Could be talking about a whole university as a system, and the more I can get the entire university to talk to each other, work together, align curriculums, right? Well, who wins in the end? Well, students going out into the world, right?

0:16:24.8 DL: And they get to employers and employers start to realize, wow, I never knew that I needed somebody with this kind of knowledge. And so, who’s first on your list to hire next year? I want more of these. Very simple example, the first couple of years that I was leading classes and teaching my high school students about this, well, in Alaska, the popular summer job is what they call the slime line. So working in fish plants, salmon processing plants on the line where fish comes through and you have to process them and gut them and take their heads off and do all this kind of stuff. So we didn’t tell students about anything, but after about two years, I got some phone calls from these canneries, managers in these canneries and they said, hey, do you have any more of these students? And so I called them back up to talk to them about what was happening.

0:17:31.5 DL: And they said, well, we found out that every place there were students from your high school that were on the slime line, productivity improved. And sure enough, they started talking to these kids and they said, well, we took this to heart. And one kid said, all I did was I just said to the guy next to me, when you pass that fish to me, it’d be really helpful if you just turned it like this. And then all I have to do is do this. And then he said to the guy next to him, he said, what do you want me to do? What would be most helpful for you? And that guy says, well, that girl says, oh, well turn it like this or do this, and then this would happen.

0:18:14.2 DL: Just that, that’s a very simple example. But employers loved it, [laughter] because productivity started to go up. One student said, yeah, it actually got to be more fun because I put a chart up behind me and how many fish we were processing per hour. And it sort of became a game to see if we could increase not only the quality of what we were doing, but the number of fish that we were processing per hour. Well, you might say, well, you know, yeah. What’s the big deal about that? Well, guess what? Those canneries wanna hire those people again next summer. [laughter], you got a guaranteed job if you wanna come back.

0:18:50.6 AS: It’s interesting because when you actually ask that question, or when you ask someone, hey, would you mind when when you send it over to me, could you put it in this way? People would be like, I never even knew that you needed it that way.

0:19:06.2 DL: Yeah. Or you’d find out that people have been ticked off at you for some cases years because you just keep on doing the same darn thing, but nothing ever changes because that person never doesn’t ever say anything to you, and you never asked. You have to be proactive in all this too, going to the following stages and saying, hey, what could I be doing differently that would be significantly helpful for you?

0:19:36.6 AS: Yeah. Also, you reminded me of a story, when I was head of research in a research team here in Thailand, I had about five analysts. And our objective is to write high quality, big reports. I hired the best analysts. They know exactly what they need to do. They love doing it. And what I did is I put up on the wall a bar, a stacked bar chart showing each person’s output each week. And what I did is I just put it up on the wall. I didn’t explain it. I didn’t, you know, I just looked at it occasionally, I went back to my office and and I didn’t, I mean, I never really explained or said anything. And then one time one of the younger analysts came to me and she said, I think I’ve just figured you out. And I was like, what do you mean? And she said, I had lunch with a counterpart, like at another, a competitor, and she covers the same sector.

0:20:30.2 AS: And she asked me, how many reports did you do last month? And I said, you know, meaning my employee said, I did, I don’t know, 10. And she’s like, oh my God, how did you do 10? And she said, how many did you do? And she said, well, I did three, and there’s similar style reports. And she’s like, well, what’s Andrew’s target for you? And that’s when she looked at me and she said, I realize you never set a target. You just put that information up on the wall. And it got all of us looking at it and thinking about it. And then I realized that I was producing 10 reports compared to my competitor was producing three. And that just made me think of that when you were talking about putting that up on the wall.

0:21:15.4 DL: The genius of Deming, Dr. Deming is when he went into manufacturing plants. And here you have a manufacturing plant where this person is stuck doing the same thing all day long. Right? Well, from early studies, from Hawthorne studies back in the 1920s and thirties, what did we try to do? Well, we gotta motivate these people, right? So, let’s turn up the heat. Let’s turn down the heat, let’s play music for them. Let’s do this, let’s try. And what they found out is everything that they did actually, productivity worked, but they couldn’t figure out what was it for a while.

0:21:52.5 DL: But, in the end, what was really happening is employees were perceiving that that management cared. And so they were trying to do stuff to make things better, but the genius of Deming was he just said, put people to work improving their own process and taught them how to do that, how to do a PDSA, and how to look at improving their own process. And it actually work started to be enjoyable. And that’s what we’re trying to do. And yes, you gotta do stuff. I’ve had teachers, especially math teachers tell me, well, not everything can be fun. Sometimes math is just hard. Well, maybe in your class, but I’m sure there are places that people make…

0:22:45.1 AS: How about if you just smile?

0:22:45.5 DL: Yeah. Make math really fun. And kids look forward to coming every day and being a part of it and learning the next level of what they’re doing. And change the situation, you get a different result, rather than what we’ve always been taught to do is we leave the situation alone, but then we manage the behavior, it produces either good or bad. You know, we reward the good and try to get rid of the bad, which is a classic example of what Deming said don’t do.

0:23:15.3 AS: So, let me wrap it up by asking a question and then I’ll review kind of what we talked about. Based upon this discussion, if I was taking over at let’s say a high school or something like that, and I thought about this specific lesson of what we’re talking about today, I made the aim clear, everybody knows, and now I’m thinking about it. Would it make sense to say, alright, what I really want is I want each teacher to know the one proceeding stage and the one… What would you call that? The stage after.

0:23:51.1 DL: Following stages.

0:23:52.4 AS: The following stage and the previous stage. And therefore, what I just wanna do is start a discussion where they have to have kind of like a regular meeting or some way to get them together to talk and just focus on one step behind and in front. And if you did that, it’s like the whole place would be on fire with conversation. Would that be a good place to start with this?

0:24:16.3 DL: Yeah, absolutely. You start with the largest system over which you have influence. And it depends on what your job is. If you’re just hired as a teacher in a system and you realize these people don’t talk to each other, they don’t work together, well, you don’t have to go get permission from anybody to talk to preceding stages. You just go into that person’s room at the end of the day and say, hey, you got a few minutes I wanted to chat with you about something, you know.

0:24:44.0 AS: Make a new friend.

0:24:46.3 DL: Or yeah. And or following stages, you go to them, I guarantee you, you go to them and you say, what could I be doing that would significantly help you next year?

0:24:54.7 AS: Well, sit down, let’s talk.

0:24:57.7 DL: Oh my gosh. Yeah. They would love you to death, right? And so it’s a great way that you actually start to gain power of changing things in the system because all of a sudden then your department actually seems to get along and function well together and students are doing well. And then I guarantee you somebody from another department is gonna say, what are you guys doing over there? What’s happening? Well, why do you ask? Because students in my class are saying, why can’t we do what’s happening over there? See? And so that’s how you actually start to expand influence. And pretty soon you’re operating on a bigger and bigger system, even if that wasn’t your original role, but Deming said the source of power is knowledge. So you become very powerful because you know how to improve processes and systems.

0:25:51.5 AS: It reminds me of a… When I was writing Transform Your Business with Dr. Deming’s 14 points. I had a friend of mine help me with the editing, and he would come over sometimes and he was… He never heard anything about Deming and he didn’t know much about even business that much. He just seen all kinds of negative things happen [laughter] in the business world. But what he said is, he said, you know, I’ve been reading what you’re writing and understanding this, and I think Dr. Deming is a humanist. He really cares about the human potential. And I was just like, that’s it, it’s not about this, charts and the graphs, and it’s not, it’s about how do we tap into the human potential.

0:26:34.0 DL: Yeah. Well, the average workers in corporations loved Deming mostly because he just berated management, totally, that you were the problem. You know, let these people do their job and get out of their way and you’ll be fine. Instead of you trying to manipulate and incentivize and manage and punish and all the things that you think your job is.

0:27:00.2 AS: Let your people free. So let’s wrap up. We’ve been talking about the list that Dr. Deming gave us in the third edition on page 86, the second edition on page 125, and it’s called Role of a Manager of People. And Dr. Deming said, this is the new role of a manager of people after transformation. The first part we talked about, he talked about understanding a system and making sure that people understand the aim, but now this discussion has been about number two, he helps his people to see themselves as components in the system to work in cooperation with proceeding stages and with following stages towards optimization of the efforts of all stages toward achievement of the aim. And what we talked about is that the product of education is the process of learning and the idea of working with teachers in maybe prior grades, prior processes. And maybe a lot of what we’ve really talked about is communication and alignment. Is there anything else you’d add to that?

0:28:07.9 DL: No, that pretty much sums it up. I would, I will say that if you’re listening to these podcasts and you’re in education and you’re trying to figure out where to start or what to do, we’re explaining to you what to do. And so each one of these podcasts, if you just went back and did one thing we’re talking about, and by the time we finish going through all these, you’ll have a massive transformation of your classroom, your system, whatever it might be going on within that. But here’s a great place to start right here.

0:28:36.5 AS: Wonderful. David, on behalf of everybody at the Deming Institute, I want to thank you again for the discussion. For listeners, remember to go to to continue your journey. Listeners can learn more about David at This is your host, Andrew Stotz, and I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming. People are entitled to joy in work.

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