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Randy Harward

It never ceases to amaze me how much time, focus and resources companies spend on trying to identify the "dead wood" and the "heros" in their companies. Entire HR departments, training sessions for managers and much strategic planning by Sr. Mgmt. teams revolve around some form of this activity. Yet there's little if any evidence that any good comes of it. Companies rid themselves of poor performers and reward their top performers with little impact on their overall effectiveness as an organization. It's not that there aren't poor employees or great employees, it's just that they matter less than whether a company is engaging all of those employees within capable systems. It seems all the time spent weeding out the bad and rewarding the good is always time taken away from improving the whole. It creates an environment of blame and self promotion - exactly the opposite of what is needed to pull people within a system into the work of optimizing it.
So refreshing to see this blog and these posts. Thank you.


Perhaps the best way of creating change would be to make the system the villain. The "Machine" grinds talented people into the ground and causes poor leaders to emerge because they are most willing to act as cogs and aren't attempting to change the machine. If more people thought of the system as either a helpful machine or a cruel, uncaring one you might see more people willing to break the bad ones and improve the good ones.

Tom Guarriello

Those new CEO results numbers raise suspisions: any of us who've been in the executive suite of corporations know that there are so many ways to juice numbers. Who's more motivated to do so than a new CEO?

The Toyota data sets have always amazed me. What's that book? "40 Million Suggestions," or some such thing? A real study in patient leadership. Of course, at that time, in that place, they could afford to be patient.

Bob Sutton


Yes, yes, I should have mentioned Deming's name as this is exactly his point. Your additional point that our love of heroes and villains in stories about organizational perfomance, and how it gets in the way, is indeed, on target. One trick -- as we are both doing with Deming -- is to glorify individuals who glorify systems.

Also, a bit of data to your point. Some research we talk about in Hard Facts shows that CEO changes do affect the performance of automobile companies -- by as much 8 to 10 percent. BUT there is one company that has never been affected, Toyota, because after all, they have a system that (at least historically) allows everyone to succeed.

Tom Guarriello

I know Deming's time has come and gone in the world of management ideas, but reading your post reminded me of the first time I read "Out Of The Crisis" many years ago. What an eye-opener that was!

In my opinion, our need to assign individual responsibility for any and all outcomes, despite evidence to the contrary, remains one of the most stubborn barriers to improvements of all kinds.

"Heroes" and "villains" populate almost all our myths and we continue to put people in those buckets. These are very powerful archetypes. "Systems" are impersonal, abstract, remote...and make us feel insignificant, as if we can't make a difference in the things that matter. Internal/external locus of control, and all that.

That's not to say that there AREN'T any heroes and/or villains, of course, only to point out that they aren't ALWAYS the cause of the things we attribute to them.

Of course, that word, "cause" is at the root of a lot of these difficulties...

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