I had a meeting at work that reminded me of a memory from college days. The thought was on the “red bead experiment.” One of my favorite management consultants, Dr. W. Edwards Deming used this game in his lectures to describe a problem with manufacturing process management in U.S. companies. He made a pretty compelling case as to why Japan was kicking our tail at the time.
If you have not seen him do the experiment and talk about it, I recommend a good listen. It will be really confusing at first. He talks in a way of thinking that is really hard to understand, but the light bulb will happen and once it does you will realize how brilliant this man was.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckBfbvOXDvU – The experiment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmCjr6cwDpI – His explanation
At any rate, he had a common saying – “We should work on our process, not the outcome of our processes.” He argued that when we spend our time staring at point in time data, we tend to only focus on outcomes. That leads to a focus on controlling the behaviors of people and not fixing the process – which is the chief and primary job of management (his opinion).
We can try to help people, replace people, train people. We can increase the size of the process or create new ones. We can do all these things but the problem will always be the process. It is what we as leaders should be working on to improve and fix or decide to not do it all together. In my experience, the sales teams, the operations people, the buyers, and everyone else in between all have really good intent. They all want to do a great job but they are all really frustrated by the futility of the process that will inevitably produce a bad outcome now and then.
I started to think this through in my personal life. How often am I trying to tweak the wrong things and not changing the outcome at all. By focusing on the outcome, I am not fixing the correct thing – which is the process.
Take weight loss as a good example. If I only focused on the outcome, the scale says XXX, then I could do all sorts of things in vain. Rather if I focus on the process that got me to that weight, I will find the answers. You could apply this to all of our life’s problems. A low bank account balance to a messy house. Look at the process, stop over analyzing the outcome.