Dr. Deming's Point One is "Create constancy of purpose for the improvement of product and service." Firms generally face two sets of problems: those of today, and those of tomorrow. American management has a tendency (some might say "obsession") with the problems of the present. Since the life span of a typical senior manager is very short (2 to 3 years in any particular assignment), it is in the individual's best interest to focus upon the issues of the day, at the expense of planning for the future, I have witnessed many an individual who has been promoted to ever-increasing levels of responsibility on account of their aptitude for fire-fighting. The skill for creating a Big Noise and Commotion is highly valued, and unfortunately many of those who try to do their best are drawn into the vortex of confusion created by the fire-fighters.
At the corporate level, the firm tends to set its sights on tomorrow's share value, meeting the financial analysts' predictions for the this month's sales target. or profitability outlook for the next Quarter. "The future is ninety days at most," said Dr. Deming, "or non-existent. There might not be any future. That is what occupies people's minds. That is not the way to stay in business. Not the way to get ahead."
The practice of "mortgaging the future" through such techniques as motivating forward-buying (a.k.a. "buyouts") is still common: firms will irrationally incent their customers through discounts to buy a few days earlier than they otherwise might such that the seller can achieve some arbitrary sales budget this month. Insanity! This is throwing money down a pit! The five year plan might have been written, but it gathers dust on the shelves of each manager, never to be consulted.
Dr. Deming commented, "It is easy to stay bound up in the tangled knots of the problems of today, becoming ever more efficient in them."
Dr. Deming concluded that creating constancy of purpose requires 1) innovation, 2)research and education, 3)continuous improvement of product and service, and 4) investment in the maintenance of equipment, furiture, an fixtures, and in new aids to production in the office and in the plant.
While each of these four elements ought to be self-evident (but rarely are) the one that interests me most is #2. Companies ought to put resources into research and education. And it is to my never-ending frustration, as has been evidenced during the latest economic downturn, that companies' budgets for employee training and education are cut mercilessly. Would good employees not want to stay with a company that is seen to be investing in the future, thereby introducing some measure of security to individuals and to the Team alike?
Constancy of purpose also implies "sticking to the plan". This is where a good Strategic Plan, which articulates the Vision, Mission and Values of the firm, comes into play. It is important to carefully create the Strategic Plan, then live it. The Plan ought to leave enough room for tactical flexibility, to deal with short-term economic and marketplace anomalies, but it ought to be strong enough, and visible enough, to endure for the medium term (3 to 5 years.). Revisit the Strategic Plan each year and tweak it as necessary, but in the end, each employee should be able to point to it and say "This is where we are going. This is who we are. This is what we represent." Without the Plan, we are like a tattered flag, flapping in the wind.
Next: "Point Two: Adopt the New Philosophy"