In part 5 of this series, David and Andrew discuss the pitfalls of managers acting as judges versus the benefits of acting as a coach. They explore the history of traditional management practices, and how Dr. Deming’s philosophy creates happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces.
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. The topic for today is: management through coaching and counseling. And as a reminder, we are reviewing the role of a manager of people in The New Economics that Dr. Deming wrote. And if you are in the third edition, this is on page 86, if you’re in the second edition, this is on page 125. Now we’ve been through steps or the list, let’s say, all the way up to number four was our last one, and now we’re into number five. And what Dr. Deming says pretty short to the point, and that is the new manager, a transformed manager is a coach. He is coach and counsel, not a judge. David, take it away.
0:01:07.7 David Langford: Okay, thank you, Andrew. Yeah, so this seems like a pretty short point and pretty obvious on the surface, but the more you get into it, the more you start to really think about, Well, how do you do that on a daily basis? And once again, I’m applying all this to the field of education, so when we’re talking about the management of people, we’re talking about teachers, we’re talking about principles, professors, we’re talking about administrators, so we’re not… It’s not just corporate thinking that we’re after here. So what does that mean managing through your, somebody’s a coach and counselor? Well, why, I had to always think about Why did Deming say this? Why did he make that as a point? Well, through his lifetime, 80 years in applied management, he constantly saw people that were, sometimes is called Boss management. It’s: either my way or the highway management. There were the years during World War II where there’s military management, and if you didn’t follow orders, you could be court marshaled, or shot or whatever. And so really after World War II, all those people in the military came back, and people who had been in the service went right back into management positions in corporations, and so what philosophy are they bringing back with them. Well, they’re bringing back military management.
0:02:54.1 DL: It’s my way or the highway kind of thinking. And all these phrases that have bounced around for the last 50, 60 years, you’re not getting paid to think, you’re getting paid to do. Well, Deming was just the opposite. He was always trying to get people to think. In the previous point, we spent quite a bit of time talking about creating training and learning for people, and on the job, all kinds of training and learning, not just things that are gonna help you with your job because you wanted people to think. And why. Why would he want people to think? Because that’s where creativity comes from. You get everybody in an organization and you have a Thinking Organization going on, you’ve really got something fantastic happening.
0:03:48.8 DL: If you don’t have that and you got boss management and everybody’s just waiting around for the boss to tell them what to do, you’re not gonna get creativity, you’re not gonna get new thoughts. In fact, creativity gets shut down in a situation like that. I’ll never forget, a friend of mine talked about working in an auto plant in California during the 1960s, and his job was to put in screws. And as the cars came by, he’d put in these screws and he kept noticing that the tool that he had to put the screws in was stripping the screws out every tenth screw or so. So he actually took his time to create a special little attachment and a tool to make sure that every screw that he put in would be perfect, and he wouldn’t be stripping those screws out in these vehicles, and he was so excited that when his manager came around, he’s shared with him this idea about…
0:04:50.2 DL: Look what I’ve done, I’ve created this tool that goes on the end of the rivet gun or whatever it is, and to make sure that the screws are always in perfectly. Well, he got in huge trouble. Manager just ate him out and one side down the other. You’re not getting paid to think, you put it back on. And that was prominent thinking then and probably management thinking that Deming encountered in our auto industry and why the Japanese suddenly started beating us in the auto industry is because they had people that were thinking and not just doing. So Deming wanted… What does that mean for like a teacher? Well, you’re trying to get students always to think on their own. I’ve helped teachers many times, especially young kids to come up with a flow chart with their students, what to do when you don’t know what to do. And there’s a lot of thought in that. Right. I have a whole flow chart, well, what do you do when you don’t know what to do. Do you just sit around and goof around and bother other people? Do you… What happens in those kinds of situations?
0:06:11.5 DL: Or have you gone through a process to try to solve the problem yourself? I know after a couple of years of working like this with students in classrooms, I’d have students come up to me and they’d get ready to ask a question, and then they’d look at me and they’d go, never mind. I said, No, I’d say, No, wait a minute, don’t leave, why don’t you wanna ask your question? And… Well, I haven’t really gone through the process of trying to solve it myself yet. Oh, okay, well, let me know how that goes. Because until you do that, you’re not really thinking and you’re not really… The neurons are not gonna connect in a pattern that next time around, you can actually think through and solve the problem yourself. And so there’s steps to going through those things and getting students of all ages to be able to think and solve problems themselves, and unfortunately, we’re not getting better at this in organizations, we are still reverting and going backwards in many cases, partly because once you become a manager, there’s power in that and control. And if I think that people don’t need me, does that make my job sort of worthless? Maybe I don’t need to be there.
0:07:39.8 DL: Well, it’s actually just the opposite, that if you have people taking autonomy, solving problems, figuring things out on their own, and when they come to you, you’re giving them coaching and counseling. Have you thought about this, have you thought about this way? And what do you think would happen if you did this? And rather than judging them about it, you get people thinking on a higher level all the time. I’ll never forget… I can’t remember if I told the story or not, but the school district I was working in, in Texas, the State Board of Education asked me to come and speak to the state board and talk about what I was doing with the schools in Texas. And I said, Well, I won’t come unless I can bring a hundred of my friends. And he said, What are you talking about? And I said, Well, I won’t come unless I can bring some of these students that are already in classrooms functioning this way with Deming thinking. And he said, Oh yeah, that’d be great. We never get to see any students. Isn’t that odd? State board of education never sees their customers. Anyway, so a school district brought a bus load students, and in that bus load of students was a teacher and her kindergarten, five and six-year-old students, and they had told me at the state board that I had 10 minutes to make a presentation.
0:09:16.3 DL: So I talked about 3 minutes, and it’s about who was Deming and applied thinking, etcetera, and then I had these kids talk. Well, I’ll never forget these kindergarten kids were at the microphones and they’re talking about how autonomous they are in their classroom, how they solve their own problems, how they work together, how they support each other, they’re just amazing. Going on and on. And one of the state board members says, “Now, I understand that you have a lot of control and responsibility in your classroom,” and all these kids are shaking their heads, yes. And she said, “Well, if you have all this control and responsibility over what you do every day, what’s your teacher doing?” And this little boy without hesitating grabbed a microphone and looked right at her, and he said, The teacher is not in the closet, you know. It was stun silence. There’s like 300 people in the room, it’s dead silence and you hear all those whispering, What did he just say? Deming said profound knowledge is not limited to age. At five and six, he knew that he’d had a coach and a counselor in the classroom, and he was able to do this and take this kind of responsibility because of the teacher, not in spite of the teacher.
0:10:44.4 DL: So if you’re not allowing your students to take responsibility and own their own situation, then you can have a rebellion going on. And you might never even know it because it could be an underground rebellion going on.
0:11:00.1 AS: Yeah, by the time you know it, it’s too late. I was just thinking about some of these words, just to make sure that we’re super clear, like I was looking at the word coach online, and one dictionary says someone whose job is to teach people to improve at a sport or skill or a school subject. Another one was counsel, which is to give advice, especially on social or personal problems. Another one was judge: to form, give or have an opinion or decide about something or someone. And I’m also reminded of a very good book that I found helpful in the coaching space, written by Michael Bungay Stanier, and he has some questions, it’s called The Coaching Habit, and he had the questions that being a coach, he said You should ask, what’s on your mind? What else is on your mind? And another question is, what’s the real challenge for you that you’re facing? What do you want? How can I help? If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? And what was the most useful for you in that process? So those are some of the words, and I’m just curious, can you really be a coach in school? Or do you need to be kind of authoritarian to control a classroom? That’s one of the questions that I’m sure some people are like, Yeah, that sounds great, David.
0:12:24.9 AS: But my classroom is out of control and I’ve gotta really… I’ve gotta squeeze down here to get things together.
0:12:32.8 DL: We need some discipline around here.
0:12:34.8 AS: Exactly.
0:12:39.2 DL: Yeah, the beatings will continue around here until morale improves.
0:12:43.4 AS: Exactly.
0:12:43.5 DL: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, every time I hear educators talking about, Oh, we got a discipline plan, or these kids need more discipline or… Every generation says, These kids today, they don’t understand discipline. And I often will tell teachers, have you ever looked up discipline in a dictionary? Most dictionaries, the first definition of discipline is training.
0:13:11.0 DL: So you have a discipline problem, Oh, you got a training problem. And that totally changes things, and it actually goes to Deming’s point when he says, Don’t sit around and judge people. Train people in the way that you want them to go and what you want them to do and how you want them to act and let them make decisions and… Don’t just judge them and heap so many demerits, this is gonna happen to you, and three tardies equal an absence, and three absences is equal this, and that’s judging people and you’re not actually improving the situation at all. I just read an article that Los Angeles has a chronic absentee problem. Well, partly because nobody wants to go to school there, right? You’re not gonna miss something you think is fun and you’re involved in, and you’re actually learning. Learning is the most motivating thing that could be happening, and if students are going to school and they’re not learning, then why am I even bothering?
0:14:27.8 DL: Now, you can try to discipline by heaping judgments and punishments and all kinds of things on people, but the bottom line is people are gonna vote with their feet and they’re just… They just don’t wanna put up with it over time or they’ll show up, they won’t do anything, they won’t learn anything, they won’t get involved. And the thing is that we always wanna blame the people and not the system, and that’s what Deming is talking about, not being a judge, stop judging and blaming the people in this system and start fixing the system. And you’ll get a different result.
0:15:10.4 AS: I went on the dictionary again to look at discipline, once you said that, I’m your handy-dandy fact checker here, and in fact, the first word in the description in the dictionary is training, and it says, training that makes people more willing to obey or more willing or more able to control themselves.
0:15:30.7 DL: Yes, and that’s ultimately what you’re after is to get people to control themselves instead of you thinking that you have to do everything.
0:15:43.9 AS: Another way of looking at this too, is to think about, How would you like to be treated? I think one of the best questions in a job interview that I’ve learned to ask is, What’s the best way to manage you? And sometimes, I’ll ask it by saying, if I was to talk to your last boss and ask them, what’s the best way to manage you, to get the most out of you? And then it’s amazing what that opens up. Some people say, like for me, I often explain that I’m kind of an incrementalist, so if I have a project, I want to check that it’s on track, and I wanna work on a bit of it at a time, and then go from there, whereas there’s some other people like, Just leave me alone and I’ll produce this thing at the end of the… And when a boss or a colleague understands that that’s the way my mind works, then it’s easier for them to understand that doing a project with me, it’s better to have daily check-ins versus someone else that may not want that, so think about how you would describe yourself to your boss, to your administrator, and describe how you would like to be treated, and surprisingly, it may be the way you should be treating other people too.
0:17:04.0 DL: Yeah. So take that same thinking and translate it to a second grade classroom. Do you really know your students and know how to coach and counsel each of those students either collectively or separately? And rather than thinking that since I’m bigger and have a stronger voice, and I’m the authoritarian person here, I can just tell you what to do and if you don’t do it, I’m just gonna make your life miserable until you do do it. It’s not a really good way to manage, and…
0:17:36.1 AS: Yeah. I’m imagining a little kid saying, and a teacher in that classroom saying, So how do you learn? How do you learn to memorize something? And they say, I take the first letter and then I make a rhyme. Alice likes such and such, and then I sing it in my head, and then people are like, Wow, okay, I never even thought about doing it that way. I know for me, I write out, let’s say the first letter of something that I wanna memorize and think about it as a neumonic, but the idea of sharing those things in classrooms, and that’s one way to coach, Counsel and discuss.
0:18:16.0 DL: Well, when you hear athletes in interviews and there’s great coaches and that these athletes have worked for and they say, what about this guy? What makes him a great coach? Invariably, they’ll say things like, he’s a teacher, or she’s a teacher. And just an incredible teacher. So when you’re a manager of people like that, like whole groups of people, whether in a classroom, a team or a company or whatever it might be, and over time, you are a coach and a counselor versus being a judge with people. What does that do for you? Well, when times of crisis do come along, Covid, whatever it might be, if you’ve trained people up well, discipline them to think and understand and to work well with each other and support each other to a very high degree, you are now capable of taking on challenges that just across the street, the same kind of organization, they can’t cope with it, they just fold because they have no internal ability to work together to a high degree to support each other to get through a crisis kind of a situation.
0:19:34.9 AS: When I think about Coach, I think about my dad and my mom to some extent, because they kicked me out when I was 18, and they said, Go make it on your own, but the deal was at that point, that was when they stopped giving any advice, it’s like, You gotta do it. And we don’t have any right to say, No, you’ve gotta make it on your own. My parents were never big on advice, but what they did is they listened to me, and then they tried to understand and all that, but I don’t really remember my parents giving me advice specifically, and I can say that I remember when I had a girlfriend a long time ago in Thailand and I had some difficulty in my life that was pretty bad. It was pretty tough. And she said, You know what did you do? And I said, Well, I called my dad. And she’s like, You talk to your dad about something like that!?
0:20:27.9 DL: Oh, wow.
0:20:30.5 AS: Yeah, and I learned in Asian culture, dads are not necessarily as approachable as they may be in the Western culture, which was a real surprise to me because I had seen Asian families as being very, very close, but what I just recall is just the comfort of being able to talk honestly and openly about a problem that I was facing. That was half of the solution, right there is to get rid of the anxiety and then start to think through. And so from a coaching perspective, I feel like coaching and counseling is really all about listening.
0:21:10.5 DL: Yeah, you made me think about… I grew up on a farm, and my father intuitively understood a lot of these things, even though his father was never like that with him, but my dad would take me out, we’d go to, put in a new fence or would repair something or do something, and one of the first things he’d say is, Okay, now what are we trying to do here? And the first few times, I remember thinking, Oh, don’t you know? [chuckle]
0:21:42.5 AS: Fixing this fence. What are you talking about?
0:21:43.5 DL: Right, that’s right. But he was trying to get me to think, and then by the time I was like 15 years old, he could just send me out to go, Hey, go down there and fix that fence or put that fence in. And he knew it was gonna be done right and done well. Because he taught me to think about situations and work through it.
0:22:04.9 AS: Well, maybe I’ll wrap up this topic by… First of all, I think highlighting… We’re on point number five. And that’s… These points that Dr. Deming has highlighted. There’s 14 of them. It’s different from The 14 Points. And remember, if you’re in the third edition, this is on page 86 of the new economics, if you’re in the second edition, it’s on page 125, and before I summarize point number five, I do wanna go back to point number four because you highlighted that, the point about being an unceasing learner, and let’s just review point number four. He is… So we’re talking about the transform manager, he is an unceasing learner, he encourages people to study, he provides when possible and feasible seminars and courses for advancement of learning, he encourages continued education in college or university for people that are so inclined, and that brings us to number five, which we’ve just been wrapping up, and that is he is coach and counsel. Not a judge. You highlighted the idea that particularly coming out of World War II, when military management, boss management or this management style of trying to tell people what to do was brought back into American industry, and all of a sudden it didn’t lead to the result that it was supposed to or maybe people didn’t even think about that, but what Dr. Deming is trying to teach us is that you really wanna get people to think.
0:23:34.0 AS: Particularly I was thinking as you were talking about that, the idea of continual improvement in The 14 Points, he’s talking about making a long-term commitment to continual improvement. You can’t get to continual improvement if people are not thinking. And so that’s where I think this coaching and counseling rather than judging, is all about getting people to think and getting people involved in it, and so you’ve raised some really interesting points in academic setting, such as talking with the kids and that type of thing, and getting them involved. Is there anything you’d add to this summary?
0:24:12.4 DL: No, I think that’s basically it. And sometimes we think that it’s so difficult to give up that power of controlling people and things and making all the decisions, but when you do give it up and you train and discipline people to know what to do, when they have that power, you see a level of performance and really a joy in learning and work at a level that you never thought was possible before. Over the years, I’ve seen teachers over and over and over, tell me just that, that… I’ll say, How is it going this year? And then say, I’m having such a great time. This is the best year I’ve ever had in my whole career. And they say, Well, what’s happening? He says, Well, everybody just seems happier because we all work together and support each other, and instead of the other way around that we use to work.
0:25:10.9 AS: Yeah, and that’s a great way to end it by also just refocusing all of us on the point that there is always an opportunity to improve, and in order to see the next improvement down the road, we can’t see it until we get through our latest work that we’re doing that then opens our eyes to the next opportunity. So I really wanna challenge the listeners to be focused and remember there’s always opportunity to improve. David, on behalf of everyone at the Deming Institute, I wanna thank you again for our discussion. For listeners, remember to go to Deming.org to continue your journey. Listeners can also learn more about David at Langfordlearning.com. 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.