Tag Archives: leadership

Organizations as Social Systems

Organizations are social systems made up of people.

Social systems often amplify what happens.

If good things happen, more good things often follow.

When bad things happen, more bad things often follow.

To improve it is wise to this into account and design elements of the management system to encourage the amplification of what is good and that seeks to stop what is bad from being amplified.

Building in elements to stop the negatives from reinforcing and creating more negatives is important.

Building in elements to support and enhance positives so that they led to more positive results is also useful.

people at seminar listening to speaker at a flipchart

John presenting a Deming seminar in Singapore.

Related: Podcast with John Hunter on Building Organizational CapabilityWhat to Do To Create a Continual Improvement CultureUsing Incentives to Guide Social System ImprovementsBuilding a Great Software Development Team

Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

It is confusing to know that better methods exist but to see those better methods being ignored. It seems that if there were better ways to manage, people would adopt those methods. But this just isn’t the case; sometimes better methods will be adopted but often they won’t. People can be very attached to the way things have always been done. Or they can just be uncomfortable with the prospect of trying something new.

In this post I will look at a very visible example of free throw shooting. A few details in this post might be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with basketball but I think the underlying idea can still be understood.

For shooting free throws the evidence seems pretty clear that results can be improved by using an underhand style of shooting. I won’t go into it here, the data is sparse so conclusion are perhaps not absolutely conclusive yet. In addition to the data, there are good explanations on the physics of why the underhand shot is more likely to be successful.

Personally, I just wish the Wisconsin Badgers would adopt the better method and everyone else can keep ignoring it. Rick Barry’s son can continue using the style (he plays for Florida Gators now and uses that style successfully – see video). His father was one of all time most accurate free throw shooters (using the underhand style). I believe, Chinanu Onuaku, a little used player, is the only current NBA player using the underhand style (he is 2 for 2 this year).

Sadly if Wisconsin did use this improved method, then others may copy them. But that isn’t certain, as you can see this better method has been known for decades without most people taking it up.

The reluctance to use better methods can be very strong. Just as the USA auto companies didn’t use known better methods until Japanese automakers were dominating them in the marketplace my guess is other teams will ignore adopting better free throw methods until a team, or even several teams, have most of their players using the better method. Often the reluctance is very similar to adopting the free throw improvement. It isn’t done just because it feels uncomfortable to do something in a new way (whether it is a different way to shoot a free throw or a different way to manage).

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20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2016

These posts were the most popular posts on the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog in 2016 (as measured by page views, as recorded by my analytics application).

photo of John Hunter

John Hunter, Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, USA.

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Podcast: Building Organizational Capability

The Software Process and Measurement Cast 420 features an interview with me, by Thomas Cagley, on Building Organizational Capability (download podcast).

John Hunter in the podcast:

Changing how organizations are managed makes a huge difference in people’s lives, not all the time and I understand most of the time it doesn’t. But when this is done well people can go from dreading going to work to enjoying going to work, not every single day – but most days, and it can change our lives so that most of the time we are doing things that we find valuable and we enjoy instead of just going to work to get a paycheck so we can enjoy the hours that we have away from work.

photo of John Hunter

John Hunter, Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Here are some links where I go into more detail on some of the topics I discuss in the podcast:

Thomas Cagley: If you have the power to change any 2 things that affect decision making what would they be and why?

John Hunter:

First that results are evaluated. Make decisions then evaluate what actually happens based upon what you do. Learn from that, improve how you make future decisions and keep iterating.

That idea of evaluating what actually happens is extremely powerful and will reinforce going in the right direction because if you evaluate most decisions many organizations make nothing got any better. And after doing that many times you can learn this isn’t working, we need to do something better.

And the second would be more prioritization. Make fewer decisions but take more time to make those decisions, implement those decisions, evaluate those decisions, learn from those results and iterate again.

I hope you enjoy the podcast.

Related: Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John Hunter on my book Management MattersDeming and Software Development

Lead by Building Organizational Capability

The result of a recent interview with me has been posted: How to Lead From Any Level In the Organization

2. Help people solve their problems.

Similar to helping other people grow their careers is the idea of helping other people to solve their problems. Again, this starts with a clear understanding of your sphere of influence. “It determines what strategies you can pursue, and building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.”

What it comes down to is proving yourself in this way—and doing so consistently. “It isn’t some secret sauce. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas.” And helping people to solve their problems doesn’t mean you are giving them the answer. It may mean you asking empowering questions.

John says if you focus on building the capability in the organization to understand variation and to appreciate how to use data—then you are on the right path, and can increase your influence in addition.

“You need to build into the organization things like a focus on pleasing the customer instead of pleasing your boss.” When combining all of these methods, that is when your leadership is going to be most effective.

Hopefully you will find the entire post worthwhile.

More links related to interviews with me about improving management: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System, Business 901 Podcast Deming’s Management Ideas Today, Meet-up: Management Improvement Leader John Hunter.

Giving Executives 40% of Revenue is Insane

I have previous written on my belief that excessive executive compensation had reached the level of a deadly disease of western management (building on the W. Edwards Deming’s list of 7 deadly diseases). I named excessive executive pay and a broken “intellectual property” system as new deadly diseases in 2007.

Here is a graphic from, It’s Twitter’s birthday, and its executives are getting huge stock-based gifts, showing the massive executive give-away at Twitter.

chart showing how much Twitter gave to executives as percent of total revenue

Twitter has given executives $2,000,000,000 in just stock based compensation from 2011 through 2015. Twitter’s revenue for those 4 years was only $4,709,000,000. So Twitter gave executives 42.5% of revenue. This is of revenue, not earnings, Twitter isn’t even profitable.

Granted this is an extremely bad case but this pattern of giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to executives is common. It is destructive. It is disrespectful. It is a stain on those participating in the looting of companies for the benefit of the executive bureaucrats – those that enable them to siphon off the returns generated by companies into their pockets.

Related: Toyota Post Record Profit: Splits $15 million in Pay and Bonus for top 21 Executives (2014)Business 901 Podcast: Two New Deadly Diseases for Business (2013)Massive Bonuses Encourage Executives to Take Massive Risks (leverage etc.)

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Transform the Management System by Experimenting, Iterating and Adopting Standard Work

In this short video, Dr. John Toussaint describes how ThedaCare applied leadership standard work to create a successful management transformation. The changes to the management system were tested by applying standard work for all positions in 2 parts of the organization (including all senior management positions) and learning and adapting and then spreading the new methods to the rest of the organization.

Changes to the management system require the same testing and piloting of changes on a small scale as other process changes. Experiment by going an inch wide and a mile deep, iterate over PDSA cycles, and once we have a solution that works adopt it widely (the A in PDSA).

Related: Systemic Workplace ExperimentsTransforming a Management System, A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police DepartmentTransformation and Redesign at the White House Communications AgencyCulture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their BehaviorStandard Work InstructionsHow To Create a Continual Improvement Culture

Most Popular Management and Leadership Quotes on Our Site in 2015

These were the most popular quotes on the Curious Cat Management and Leadership Quotes web site in 2015 (based on page views). Follow the link on the quote text for the source and more information on the quote.

  1. Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.Taiichi Ohno
  2. Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.Russell Ackoff
  3. Don’t look with your eyes, look with your feet. Don’t think with you head, think with your hands.Taiichi Ohno
  4. The answer to the question managers so often ask of behavioral scientists “How do you motivate people?” is, “You don’t.”Douglas McGregor
  5. Performance appraisal is that occasion when once a year you find out who claims sovereignty over you.Peter Block
  6. A bad system will beat a good person every time.W. Edwards Deming
  7. People who can’t understand numbers are useless. The gemba where numbers are not visible is also bad. However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.Taiichi Ohno
  8. We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder number three… Because you’ve take care of the customer, take care of the employees, shareholder will be taken care of.Jack Ma
  9. A leader is a coach, not a judge.W. Edwards Deming
  10. Real benefits come when managers begin to understand the profound difference between “cost cutting” and “eliminating the causes of costs.”Brian Joiner
  11. Standards should not be forced down from above but rather set by the production workers themselves.Taiichi Ohno
  12. A problem never exists in isolation; it is surrounded by other problems in space and time. The more of the context of a problem that a scientist can comprehend, the greater are his chances of finding a truly adequate solution.Russell Ackoff
  13. 95% of changes made by management today make no improvement.Peter Scholtes
  14. blame the process not the person. We need to ask, “how did the process allow this to happen?”Brian Joiner
  15. Good execution of performance appraisal is not the solution. More people are realizing that improving how performance appraisal are done is an attempt to do the wrong thing better. If you insist on doing the wrong thing, I suppose you might as well do it better but how about just not doing the wrong thing at all?John Hunter
  16. A system is more than the sum of its parts; it is an indivisible whole. It loses its essential properties when it is taken apart. The elements of a system may themselves be systems, and every system may be part of a larger system. – Russell Ackoff
  17. All Models Are Wrong But Some Are UsefulGeorge Box
  18. It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.W. Edwards Deming
  19. the aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort. – W. Edwards Deming
  20. There are three ways to get better figures… Improve the system… Distort the system… Distort the figuresBrian Joiner

Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior

This month The ASQ Influential Voices are reacting to Luciana Paulise’s post:
Facing Cultural Barriers by Leaders to Strengthen a Culture of Quality.

As Luciana stated:

leaders need to change their behavior first if they want to change the entire company culture

W. Edwards Deming wrote in The New Economics:

The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge.

The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.

I believe for significant changes to culture transformation of the individual is required. And I have seen this take place many times. Real gains can be made by applying a few tools and concepts effectively; without transformation. But changes to the culture come from significant changes in how people think.

In a previous post I wrote about What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture

In order to create a culture that enhances your effort to continually improve you must crate systems that move things in that direction. Part of that system will be the continual assessment of how your organization is falling short of your desired culture. This requires honest assessment of the current state. And it requires those in leadership to design systems to get a clear picture on what is really happening in their organization.

Related: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police DepartmentChange is not Necessarily Improvement

Making Your Case to Senior Executives

This month Dr. Suresh Gettala writes about the Talking To the C-Suite About Quality in the monthly ASQ Influential Voices post.

My take is a bit different than Dr. Gettala (and most others) in that I believe CEOs are so wedded to short term financial measures that if you are speaking to them you need to both appeal to this bias while also fighting to move the organization away from being led by such a bias. That task isn’t easy, the financial bounty heaped on CEOs makes it very difficult for them to think of the long term and about the normal customer experience.

In order to “make the sale” the advice is pretty simple, short term financial measures are what will work (most of the time). Clear data that shows cost savings or increased sales are what they want to see. Of course, we have all seen how easy it is to manipulate data to make a case for whatever you are arguing for. If you are making the case that other powerful people (in the room) want to be made and the CEO wants to hear those claims will be easily accepted most of the time.

If you are challenging the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) (and/or their supporters) you will have great difficulty getting your data listened to no matter how compelling it is. Knowing this going into your meeting is critically important.

If you can’t find a very clear case to be made for your position, strongly supported by difficult to refute data you may well want to just go along with the desires of those with power. I tend to fight for what I think is right, no matter if my chances of success are low, but this isn’t really a wise strategy.

The Starry Night at the MET with a teacher standing and students sitting

The Starry Night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Photo by John Hunter; see more NYC photos.

I do try to focus on building the organization into one that will support my belief in a customer focused organization build on a foundation of respect for people striving to continually improve results through experimentation but this is a challenge. And trying to talk to the c-suite about quality when they are not ready to adopt that model of management doesn’t do much good.

Though admittedly I am not a good salesperson, I succeed by making things work better not by spinning good stories about how things could be better. Good salespeople will have more success with the challenge of getting a skeptical crowd to accept change, but senior executives normally are not easy to sell on new ideas. My strategy is to build my reputation by achieving results using good management practices. That builds the case for using the management ideas I believe in and listening to what I say (based on past results instead of my charisma or communication skill).

My advice is to grow your circle of influence and build the capability of the organization to adopt a customer focused continual improvement management system. Once that is done, speaking to the c-suite is easy. Before that is done, speaking to them is still easy, unless you want them to change their short term financial focus.

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