T&D: Do You Have Enough Focus On “The System”

Via Management/Leadership Development

If your focus is currently on Individual Contributors – perhaps you should shift to Management/Leadership and how to manage “The System.”


The Red Bead Experiment

The 6% Special Cause.

From: http://maaw.info/DemingsRedbeads.htm

What is the point of the red bead experiment?

1. The experiment provides a typical illustration of bad management. There are too many employees involved (e.g., inspectors), and the rigid procedures do not allow workers to offer suggestions for improvement. In addition, during the experiment, Deming (who serves as the manager) continually blames the workers for defective products that are caused by the system.

2. System variation (frequently referred to as random variation) is inevitably present in any process, operation or activity.

3. Knowledge of one source of system variation, such as the proportion of defects (red beads) in the incoming supply, cannot be used to determine the total effect of system variation, such as the proportion of defects in the output. This is because unobservable factors will always affect performance and there is no basis for assuming that the effects of these factors will be equally distributed across workers.

4. All workers perform within a system that is beyond their control.

5. There will always be some workers that are above the average and some workers that are below the average.

6. A worker’s position in the ranking may vary from one period to the next.

7. Workers should not be ranked because doing so merely represents a ranking of the effect of the system on the workers. In the red bead experiment, 100 percent of the variation in the workers’ performances is determined by the system. Even in this controlled experiment where the workers use the same inputs and tools, they are all victims of the system and cannot be compared in any meaningful way.

8. Only management can change the system.

9. Empirical evidence (i.e., observations of facts, as opposed to secondhand information, or information further removed from fact such as opinion) is never complete. There are always a large number of variables that affect any set of performance results, many of which are unknown and unknowable.

20 or 6 or What?

elearn Magazine:

Chasing Down the Elusive Credits for Facts and Fictions in Learning and Improvement


Not everyone in the performance improvement field is a formal researcher and able to cite the research off the top of their head. But all should know the major “takeaways” of the research. All should know which of the well-established “myths” of our profession are most prevalent so that they and their clients can avoid them.

But it is very tricky to keep up with the facts versus fiction. And sometimes we are hoisted on our own petards—for “our crowds” sometimes provide us with both wisdom and folklore that gets repeated and repeated and repeated until we all believe it—except those hard-headed skeptics who seem to believe nothing and demand to see the proof.

Such is the case with variations of: Only 20 percent of performance issues are rooted in the individual versus the system (or environment).

For more – go here: https://elearnmag.acm.org/archive.cfm?aid=2134288

My Adaptation of the Ishikawa Diagram

My EPPI Fishbone Diagram

Back in the 1990s I took “the Process and the 4 Ms” (Men, Materials, Machines, Methods) of the original Ishikawa Diagram – from Japan in the 1950s – and reframed it into 3 major segments:

  • The Process
  • The Human Assets
  • The Environmental Assets


L&D/T&D addresses so little of that 6% that Deming would attribute to the Individual Workers – if one accepts that the Human Variable includes:

  • Awareness/ Knowledge/ Skills
  • Physical Attributes
  • Psychological Attributes
  • Intellectual Attributes
  • Personal values


Perhaps L&D/T&D needs to focus more on Management/Leadership when addressing Performance Problems or Opportunities. Not on the Workforce.

Yes – the Workforce needs to be trained to do their jobs – oriented to the expectations of Outputs and Tasks – and then trained on how to Perform their roles in that.

But for problems – and opportunities – in that Performance – one needs to look at the people in control of The System – and not get caught up in targeting the causes for those pesky Red Beads.

Brett Christensen

Catch up with my friend and colleague, Brett Christensen, of Workplace Performance Consulting Inc. – at his website: http://www.workplaceperformance.ca/

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