Deming, Finally! — Part 4

Pharma Industry Has Misunderstood Deming for 30 Years but Can Catch Up

This is the fourth of an eight-post series, by Anders Vinther, Sanofi Pasteur Chief Quality Officer and Celine Schillinger, Sanofi Pasteur Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement.

Part 1 introduced why we believe Edwards Deming’s thinking has been only partially implemented by the pharmaceutical industry. By focusing on processes, control and exhortations, manufacturers have missed the essence of Deming’s message. Deming advised us to actually put the Human at the center of quality and to focus on how the system works. Out of Deming’s “14 points of management”, the first five (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) have been broadly misunderstood. Yet it is possible to operate along Deming’s original management philosophy, as exemplified by Sanofi Pasteur. Let’s keep exploring, through Deming’s points #6 and #7, what the pharma industry could do better.

6. “Institute training on the job”

How it’s been misunderstood: The “school” model, where students sit in class and absorb knowledge delivered by a teacher, prevails. Slide decks or their modern version (e-learning) are unidirectional and disconnected from the actual work environment

What it really means: Peer-to-peer learning with subject matter experts, peer coaching, lessons learnt, “manager on the shop floor” programs, adult education methods… “allow people to succeed when given the opportunity to use their brains to continual improve

The better educated the workforce, the less errors made, and the better overall performance will be achieved. Companies know this well, but rarely is enough time allocated to the on-the-job training activities. This is where employees increase their knowledge about processes, equipment and where competencies are built. With a focus on cost containment and sometimes little knowledge of modern, adult education methods, companies default to the easiest — and less effective — ways of educating their employees: classroom courses, one-size-fits-all e-learning, etc.

But, the best way to learn job functions is not to have new employees sit and read Standard Operating Processes (SOPs), or to receive one way PowerPoint slide presentations, but to be involved and learn on the job itself. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” as Benjamin Franklin said. Coaching, peer-to-peer training, learning on the job from actual mistakes done in the past is way more effective.

So how good are we at that? The answer will differ from company to company and likely from department to department. Asking people who have started recently directly how they feel they have been trained and master the job functions will give you a very good indication of the quality of the training.

In our case we started a massive education and on-the-job training program to boost competencies broadly and in-depth on technical and quality topics. We use modern learning methods and include effectiveness checks. We have become better at correlating training activities to actual performance improvement. In our experience we have seen very good results of increased shop floor coaching with a focus on the ‘why’ rather than just the what. We realized that the shop floor managers did not spend enough time on the shop floor, and instead spent their time in meetings. That has changed now, and performance has improved.

7. “Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people (…) do a better job.”

How it’s been misunderstood: Leadership has been reduced to management (‘business administration’), with a focus on controlling employees instead of trusting them

What it really means: Trust people more, help them do their job better, connect them with the network. Remove unnecessary control and bureaucracy

This point resonates with our experience of balancing control with trust. Pharmaceutical manufacturing and testing of products is fundamentally and historically based on control because we must document complying with the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). The GMPs were developed in response to events that caused drug products to be unsafe, ineffective or of inadequate quality. Hence, controls are needed. Controls are part of the GMPs, but how they are applied can be done in a way of inclusion and co-creation. [Standard operating] procedures should be written by the people who actually do the work through co-creation, rather them having them being written solely by supervisors in their offices.

Traditional leadership is also to a large extent based on control. How many of you still have to ask for permission to do your work, permission to suggest and implement improvements, permission to travel within your budget, etc. Hierarchy-based control is such an integral part of traditional leadership, that even if you do want to move from control to trust it may be hard at first.

The interesting thing however is that overall performance is so much better when you show trust in people. Full control is an illusion in a complex system. Granted, control can be helpful and fix a problem short term, but longer term it becomes a roadblock preventing its own objectives. “The opposite of control is not chaos; it is trust” (Holger Rathgeber). Trust and freedom bring out the best in people. A good way to look at the two metaphorically is that control can be seen as a closed box, where you will never get more than you plan for, and people will deliver to a predetermined objective at best. Trust opens the lid of the box: you get more and better performance of each person individually and collectively and most likely objectives will be surpassed.

So why is it that we run our companies, and to a large extent our society, with controls? It stems from historic reasons that are so ingrained in how we behave and organize ourselves. Leaders in many cases feel that because they are leaders they must be able to come up with the best or right solutions. Controls also are in place because individuals/companies misused the trust to be ‘non-compliant’, and by controlling everyone ‘non-compliance’ should be less likely. However in a culture of trust, everyone knows that trust grows like a coconut tree (slowly), and it drops like a coconut when misused (fast and… it hurts!). So few or no one will misuse the trust. An interesting recent example happened at a performance discussion when the person said: “I love my work. I work really hard as I don’t want to disappoint you because of the trust you have in me.” We asked her how that had been before and she said that she always felt controlled, and therefore she didn’t feel the interest to achieve outside pre-determined goals.

The change from control to trust based leadership is not easy for many leaders, and it is important to help them in practicing trust. This can be with little things first, then gradually expanded until it simply becomes the way of working.

Control-based leadership often leads to win-lose situations rather than win-win, and it often results in competition in the workplace instead of collaboration. The Management vs Leadership topic is a discussion of its own, and we will limit that to simply stating that true leadership can never be achieved in a control culture but only in a culture of trust.

(Stay with us! To be continued in next post)