Much of my work over the past twenty years or so has been informed by the grace and wisdom of Dr. W Edwards Deming, often known as Bill Deming. This post is inspired by the following quote:
“The only reason an organization has dead wood is that management either hired dead wood or it hired live wood and killed it.”
~ Bill Deming
Note: Very similar quotes have been attributed to Peter Scholtes, and indeed the above quote may well be Dr. Deming paraphrasing Peter Scholtes.
“Dead Wood” here refers to people in a group or organisation who are no longer actively useful – people still drawing salary, etc., but adding little or no value.
Bill Deming observed that “95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and 5% are attributable to the individual”. If we accept this, then is there even such a thing as dead wood? Maybe there’s just folks trying to do a good job, but frustrated – defeated, even – by the system, the way the work works, and the situations in which they find themselves.
Dead – Or Just Dormant?
I have seen many folks, in various organisations, written-off as “dead wood”. I see this much like “flipping the bozo bit” – many managers seem to believe that “dead wood-edness” is an inherent attribute of individuals. And little or nothing to do with their circumstances or situation. Maybe they have not heard of the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Is dead wood really dead, or are those so labelled just in the wrong jobs, in the wrong teams, in circumstance where they’ve been all but forced to disengage, where they have learned to be helpless?
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
~ William Shakespeare
Maybe you know some “dead wood” in your team, group or organisation. What might it take to bring them back to life, to flourish, to see some green shoots of new growth? Is there anything you could do to help that along?