It starts by saying “individual performance management is rubbish” and goes on to argue that if an individual is failing to perform to expectations, it’s more likely to be the “system” that’s at fault, than the individual. The article (and many others) attributes Deming with saying that 95% of performance problems are due to “the system” and not due to people directly. When I was first introduced to the concepts of TQM and Deming, we were told 95% of problems were caused by “management”. The underpinning thinking is that “the system” is designed by “management” and therefore if the “workers” screw up, it’s almost certainly not their fault.
A variation on this is the view that if you put a competent, motivated person in a lousy system, the lousy system will win every time.
John’s article is well worth reading and if you’re carrying out performance appraisals (a generally flawed system), he suggests the only question you need to ask your appraisee is “what stops you from doing a good job?“. That should open up a whole range of things associated with the system that you may be able to address and which will result in improved performance.
Another interesting perspective on the Deming 95% Rule is here, where Paul Herbert questions whether, in today’s world of Knowledge Workers, the rule is still valid. He says “today, it seems to me we are driven more by innovation and new ideas brought to market quicker and incrementally better or through big disruptions. To me that is the antithesis of the Deming formula for managing variability in a system. To me creating variability has more value than limiting it.”
Paul doesn’t have an answer, but I’m still inclined towards the Deming view. So, for example, if you want people to behave in a way that generates creative and innovative solutions, you have to create the environment (read “system”) in which that type of behaviour can flourish.