Motivational Slogans in the workplace – Deming v Zuckerberg

One of Deming’s pet hates was motivational slogans in the workplace – things like “Do it right first time”, and “Zero defects”. Two from the IT world that come to mind are “Real Engineers Ship” (Steve Jobs), and “Stay focused and keep shipping” (Mark Zuckerberg, see article here, which has an interesting photo of his desk).

Jobs and Zuckerberg make pretty powerful examples of sloganeering. I find it interesting that Deming was so against slogans, they’re everywhere. So let’s dive a little deeper.

Deming stated that slogans should eliminated because they do nothing but “generate frustration and resentment” in the workforce.

“Implicit in such sloganeering is the supposition that employees could, if they tried do better. They are offended, not inspired by this suggestion”   – Deming

He believed that because employee’s ability to do and be better is constantly being thwarted by their environment and the complexity of the workplace system, a well meaning slogan eventually only creates anger at workplace and management.

If you clicked clicked on the Zuckerberg desk link above (you know, you really should! It’s a powerful insight into slogan use).

So how can one slogan that feels so inspiring, be bad? Looking at the photo you get a real sense of Zuckerberg’s personal focus on the task at hand. It’s like a physical manifestation of his drive and determination (intrinsic motivation).

So how to reconcile Deming’s position, with something like that?

Perhaps, where slogans go wrong is when they are pushed down on the employees; when it’s not their slogan, but rather somebody else’s. Just another attempt at behaviour modification of the masses.

If a slogan is to be real, the employees must own it, live it, be inspired by it. Which I think also means, they must have helped bring it into being….

For more on Deming see a summary here, and in more detail, his 14 point method here.

Thoughts? Comments? Hit me up below!

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