I’ve been reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. While reading the introduction I came across a quote that really resonated with me…it’s by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, one of the pioneers of Total Quality Management (TQM):

“Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy of learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers–a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars–and on up through university. On the job, people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay,business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.” (Page xii)

This quote strikes me in a couple of ways. First, it makes me want to be very careful how I treat my children. Do I make life a competition for them? Do I incentivize the wrong things and stifle their God given creativity, self-respect and joy in learning? As a father of two very young children, this stirs a lot in me.

Secondly, as a leader, businessman and learning professional, there is a lot to talk about here…

I worked for a bank and oversaw a team of tellers. During our annual review cycle, I had an employee who did not want to grow into another role and I was completely taken back by this. She was a rockstar employee and a model in the work that she did, I just could not understand why she did not want to become a team lead and grow in her role.

I brought this up to my boss and he said something to me that was very profound. He said, “If everyone wanted to be a leader, where would the work get done?”

It made so much sense. If I had all of my top performers get into leadership roles, I would lose some of the best employees that I had. Allowing her to be the best employee that she could be actually made us a better team, rather than having her as a leader on the team.

What I needed to learn was with my team, how can I reward so that people know that they are valued and appreciated for what they bring to the team that will help them have internal motivation and a drive to do their best without the role upgrade or some kind of incentives beyond the desire to just do great work. We for sure need to incentivize for production in the appropriate environment, but this should not be the only kind of incentives our employees get from us or our organization.

I believe that when we can unearth the years of destruction, and uncover the “toddler” in our employees, we will have a much more productive, focused, and fun business.