This podcast was originally published on In Their Own Words for The W. Edwards Deming Institute
In this third discussion in a series on the Role of a Manager, David and Andrew discuss how a manager should view, and treat, people. Deming wrote, “It’s just not ranking people, it is instead recognition of differences between people and an intent to put everybody in position for development.” David applies this to education: literally looking at how to support everyone with limited resources.
0:00:02.2 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’m 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, and before we get started, David, I have to apologize my voice, I got a little bit hoarse. The topic for today is Optimizing Diversity. David, take it away.
0:00:28.7 David P. Langford: Well, you’ve been talking too much, Andrew. So we’ve been working in this section in Dr. Deming’s book, The New Economics, and we’ve talking about the role of the manager, and the reason we’re doing that is because I often get asked all the time, well where do we begin, and what do we do and how do we start stuff? And people get fired up about Deming concepts, and then they wanna know what to do next, and so that’s why we’ve been talking about this about the role of a manager in a system and studying the aim of systems so on and so forth.
0:01:06.5 DL: So this is point number three, and I will just take a stab at just reading it. First off in Deming’s words, so he says “A manager of people understands that people are different from each other. He tries to create for everyone interest and challenge and joy in work, tries to optimize the family background, education, skills, hopes and abilities of everyone. It’s just not ranking people, it is instead recognition of differences between people and an intent to put everybody in position for development.” So in today’s lingo lingo, we would call that diversity, and there’s lots of different diversity, of course, there’s diversity in cultures, there’s difference in languages, there’s diversity of thought. There’s lots of different ways to think about this.
0:02:01.9 DL: And I really like what Deming is talking about here. He said… He’s talking about, what’s your role as a manager? And so in this podcast, we’re always talking about what are these things mean in education, obviously, Deming was talking mostly to corporate managers and people like that in business, but he was also an educator himself, so I always applied all these things to education in the same way. So as a teacher, you are a manager of people in a classroom, and when that group comes into the classroom, your job is to optimize the ability of them to work together, and that’s what Deming is talking about here. And so there’s lots of ways to do that. One of the ways that I picked up on a concept that was in Lean management called huddles, in which the Lean managers are taught to have a huddle with your employees first thing in the morning, well I transferred that into education and taught teachers all over the world have a huddle first thing in the morning. I just read a local research paper that came in on the web the other day, and a teacher was talking about the value of morning meetings.
0:03:28.5 DL: Well, call it whatever you want, but a huddle is just that basically, you just get everybody together. And it works fantastic, even kindergarten, whatever it might be, and get a chance to optimize their diversity. What happened over the weekend? What was memorable or not memorable. Does anybody have anything they wanna talk about? Something that happened that maybe you need support with or you don’t have to say anything, but if you wanna say something, you can. And I’ve always found those things just to be amazingly helpful to everybody, because once somebody in the group knows that somebody else is hurting in some way throughout the day, they can do little tiny things, and kids have amazing hearts and will help people if they know that they need help. Another way that I’ve taught people to optimize the diversity through the classroom or problems and issues that people have is an exercise called fear and a hat, and with fear and a hat you get people to write down what are their fears, and works really great, like when you’re trying to form a group, like in the beginning of the year, maybe even like day one, what are your fears about this year and what’s happening or this class or just anything. You don’t have to put your name on it.
0:04:58.8 DL: In fact, we don’t want you to put your name on it and then just drop it in this hat, and everybody drops it in a hat and then you rummage them around and you pull one out. I’ve had kids put in things like, well, I don’t know how to swim, and I’m afraid that other people are gonna find that out, and I’ll get ridiculed for it. And these are high school kids. And so all we do is get in the huddle and just say, Okay, this… If you had a friend that had this fear or you had this fear, what advice could you give them about how to operate or what to do. And amazingly, kids come up with just fantastic ideas about how they could help somebody else, or sometimes kids will say things like, well, you could tell somebody else, you could tell somebody that you don’t know how to swim, and so maybe they could help make accommodations for you or help you work through that, or you could take a swimming class and learn. It’s never too late to learn how to swim.
0:06:03.8 DL: I have a good friend in Texas said she started taking a swimming class when she was, I think, 55 years old. Never learned how to swim really had convinced herself she doesn’t know how to swim, and she started taking the class and lo and behold, she actually learned how to swim. You can overcome problems at any stage in your life, and when I read this point that Deming’s making is that your job as the teacher/manager in that class, is to find out what is the diversity that you’re dealing with in that class, and then learn how to optimize it within the group, because chances are the next group that comes in next year, you’re probably gonna have somewhat the same diversity of thought and culture, you don’t often get radically different groups in communities, you pretty much get the same kinds of kids coming through a system, unless they come from outside the country or outside the state, etcetera. And that diversity or those differences between people is something to be celebrated, not to be looked down on. And… Yeah, so I just found that to me, that’s what Deming is talking about, is your job as the manager is to understand all these things about people, and then learn how to optimize that. And he goes further about… Go ahead what?
0:07:43.2 AS: At the end of that sentence. At the end of that whole section, he says, in an attempt and an attempt to put everybody in position for development. What… Is he talking personal development, is he talking development of the organization. What does he mean knowing that next section, he’s gonna talk about learning, life-long learning and coaching and things like that, what do you think he meant by this word development?
0:08:10.1 DL: I think just that, that the development of the person. I’ve had students in classes that I didn’t hear this one girl I had in class she didn’t make a sound, didn’t ever… You’d call on her she just look down at her desk. So I quickly learned, I can’t really do that, I can’t single her out, she was so embarrassed about that, and it was finally about January or February, one year, about six months into the school year, she was in a group, and they were going around the group and you could either participate or just say pass, and she couldn’t even say pass. She would… It would just get to be her turn and all the kids just knew, Okay, well, we just waited a little bit here and then we’re just gonna go on because she’s not gonna say anything, and I’ll never forget that it got to be her turn and all of a sudden, she looked up and she said, in the softest voice. Well, I think that… Around the kids and they were just like, everybody froze and it was like, oh my God, she speaks. And don’t say anything, don’t do anything, don’t intimidate her in any way or she’ll never speak again.
0:09:24.8 DL: But this was a girl that two weeks later, I had her giving a multimedia presentation in front of corporate heads at Motorola Corporation, and I’ll never forget at the end of that that one of the managers came up to me and said, “Where do you get these kids?” Well, there’s no way that he could see a nine months process in place, and this child had come in, and in many cases, sometimes people would have just written her off, but just gradually, tiny little challenges and getting the group to understand that their job was to support people that… You’re always gonna have an issue or a problem going on. Well, that all came from this point, number three, of Deming’s right here.
0:10:17.1 DL: And so when I would take students out to do presentations, we would talk about this very point, and everybody had a job of supporting everybody else. So when somebody got up to do a presentation, there was somebody running their video, there was somebody running this, there was somebody making sure their sound was correct, there was somebody who was doing this. And every time a student got up, there was this huge support network, and I will not forget, I went to a major state department, education state department at a capital in the US, and these kids gave a presentation, and I had just tons of people in education department, coming up to me saying the same thing, “Where do you get these people.” And I thought, wow, you don’t really even know the background of these students, some of them, we had to take them downtown and show them a stop light and go over the rules of the stop light, they’d never seen one before in high school, and these are the very same kids that are giving this presentation in front of all these people. So…
0:11:26.4 DL: To me, that’s what he’s talking about here, is getting everybody to work together, challenging them different levels, giving them experiences where they’re learning new things and working together, but you’re actually… You’re creating a team, you’re creating an interactive team, and it’s a conscious effort that you’re doing that, it just doesn’t happen organically or by itself, it’s a conscious effort that every day you’re thinking about how can I optimize this team and move people forward? And if you do that and you think like that, pretty soon you have this amazing team of people.
0:12:10.2 DL: So I remember, I think in one of the videos that The Deming Library, there’s a superintendent that I worked with in Texas for years, and he was talking about. People would come to his district and experience being around his staff, big staff, 3000 teachers in his district, and invariably superintendent from outside the district would say to him, “Where do you get these people?” Even in a system that big, and the first couple of times that would happen, he would just look at them kind of blankly and just say, “Well, I get them the same place you do, but I guess we just go about working together differently and thinking about supporting each other differently.”
0:12:58.5 DL: The other thing I found out that through this process is that you have to be very patient because whether you’re talking about students in a classroom whether you’re talking about employees or entire student body or whatever it might be, you have to be patient that they’re gonna come around over time, if given the right amount of support and challenge through that process. And be very cognizant of the small little ways that people are actually are moving forward and they are learning and they are feeling like they’re supported, because if you don’t have a very supportive classroom, you’re not gonna get kids to take risks. You don’t get kids to take risks, they’re not gonna learn new things, they’re not gonna try new things, and basically the only ones that achieve in an environment like that are the ones that really didn’t need to be in the class in the first place, probably they could already aced everything that you are gonna have them do in that class, but you have to always remember that your job is to optimize the system and as… Get as many of these people to the highest level possible in the time that you have to work with them.
0:14:14.4 DL: And people that do that are very profound, and that’s why Deming calls it Profound Knowledge, because when you see people like that, you are truly amazed that this can go on, so…
0:14:29.0 AS: One last thing for me is, why did he need to write this point, it seems so obvious that we should be trying to get the most out of everybody and get the uniqueness out of each person and bring that into value to our system, to our customer. I’m just curious, why isn’t this being done?
0:14:56.1 DL: He’s saying that, this is not about ranking people, so if you think your job is to rank people, you’re not gonna be thinking like this, you’re not gonna be thinking that, oh no, my job is not just to find out the weak ones and get rid of them or the people who can’t do what they need to do, my job is to develop everybody as quickly as possible, giving them new opportunities and being supported within that organization. When you do that, you get amazing creativity at the same time. Because creativity gets shut down any time people feel intimidating… Intimidated, those kinds of things. This is also where bullying comes in, so if you’re setting up the classroom where you’re more concerned about ranking and rating people and grading people, then you are about optimizing the whole… Everybody’s learning in that class. You’re really opening it up for bullying and all kinds of things that go on. I’ve run into so many examples of parents telling me that all of a sudden their child was doing really good the year before, and all of a sudden this year, they’re in a class and they just… They wanna quit, they wanna give up, they wanna get out, whatever it might be, and people wanna blame it on bullying, but you have to realize that 98-99% of the bullying is systemic.
0:16:33.8 DL: So the degree to which you have that going on in your organization, you need to be thinking about, okay, what am I doing that’s actually encouraging bullying. And when you’re grading people to 1/1000 of a point and ranking them and holding people up as being superior to other people, and things like that you’re gonna get bullying, because the only way to exceed an organization that’s like that is to put somebody else down. If I tear somebody else down, then somehow psychologically, that makes me look better, kind of thing, or even to the point of I’m gonna get rid of them ’cause they’re a threat to my ranking and what I look like. And so… It’s deep, it’s profound. That’s what the word profound means is deep. When you think about it in an organization, the last point I would wanna make about this is that because he’s talking about your role as a manager, well, if you take this on as that, this is your job, I will guarantee you, you will be happier. You’ll come every day, when you meet those students, you’re just much happier about being with them because you’re supporting them, but they’re supporting too. They’re supporting you as well.
0:18:01.5 DL: I used to do low ropes course training, and some of you may have heard of things like trust falls and things like that, where you fall back and somebody catches you, but we did a lot of those kinds of things with teachers and students to get teachers to learn to trust their students, and I’ll never forget, I was in a middle school one time and I had taught all the teachers about how to run certain events and said, okay, well, here’s how you do the first trust fall and then you can go all the way up to having somebody stand on a table and have all the students lined up behind them, and then they have to really trust and fall back and have the students catch him. Well, I was just kinda going around to all the groups, making sure everybody was safe and they were doing things correctly, etcetera, and I came by this one group in the cafeteria and this pretty veteran lady a teacher, she was really great at getting all her students that were in the group to do this trust fall and they well, clap and they were all happy about catching somebody and supporting them and stuff, and then this one little girl turns to her and she said, now is your turn.
0:19:12.0 DL: What this teacher came up with, oh, well, it’s this, I’m too old to this, I can’t do that, and they just let her go on with all these excuses, and finally one of the little middle school kids said, “Oh, but you have to.” And you could just see the blood drain out of her face, but everything was… She had to step up on this step and then step up onto the table every time she would make an incremental leap in performance, kids would cheer like crazy. And she finally did it, it took a long time, but she finally crossed her arms and closed her eyes and fell back in those middle school kids caught her.
0:19:58.2 DL: And she burst into tears. And she told me later, she said, “You know, when I hit those kids hands my first thought was, in 20 years of experience, I had never really trusted my students with anything.” And I thought, oh that was amazing. And I checked in with her a months later and a year later, and everything she said my whole life changed because of that kind of experience. So either you lead and you do these kinds of things to optimize the group and the diversity of the group that you have then and teach people to work together and support each other, or you end up leaving them up to their own devices, and then you end up managing the behavior that it produces all the time, because I can tell you that teachers that work in this kind of environment and really work diligently to optimize the diversity within their classrooms, they’re not dealing with behavior problems, they’re not dealing with bullying, they’re not dealing with all the kinds of things that a lot of teachers think that that’s their job. I’m supposed to keep track of all that and punish people that are doing it and etcetera. And Deming would say, well, you don’t know what your job is.
0:21:23.2 AS: Well, let’s wrap it up by thinking about optimizing diversity with the idea that the objective of a manager is really to get the most out of people and to get them to work as a team, and I think about it in the business world, it’s the same thing and bullying that happens in schools, goes into the business world, and when you start ranking people, you start… And you have a scarce reward, you know, it just turns into pitting people against each other. You’ve talked about a couple of tools, one of them is the huddles, which is one way a morning meeting or a huddle, a very short morning meeting to check in with everybody and the value of that, and the second tool you talked about was
“fear and a hat” and anonymously putting fear into a hat and then discussing those, sharing those in a group. You talked about the importance of supporting each other and working together to overcome challenges, and ultimately the idea of getting the most out of people and out of the system is also about creativity and getting that creativity, you never know where things will go. Is there anything you would add to that, wrap up?
0:22:38.1 DL: No, I think that’s done well with that, except the final thing we talk a lot about… Deming talking about people have a right to joy in their work. Well, the same thing in schools, students have a right to joy in their learning, and if it’s mudville every day and I hate going to school, there’s something systemic probably going on that needs to be looked at and understood. And it all depends on the largest system that you have to work with it. So you may not have a supporting school, but it doesn’t mean you can’t optimize your classroom and these 30 students that you see every single day.
0:23:22.4 AS: Well, David, on behalf of everyone at the Deming Institute, I wanna thank you again for this discussion for listeners remember to go to Deming.org to continue your journey. Listeners, can learn more about David at langfordlearning.com. This is your froggy host, Andrew Stotz, and I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming, and it’s very appropriate for this discussion, “People are entitled to joy in work.”