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Psychology key element in managerial role

In the last column, we talked about Dr. W. Edwards Deming's theory of profound knowledge, which managers must possess to be successful in today's very competitive world.

If not, Deming was fond of saying, "Success is not mandatory. Nowhere is it written that you must survive."

Profound knowledge consists of the following interrelated parts:

n Appreciation for a system;

n Theory of variation;

n Theory of knowledge and

nUnderstanding of psychology.

We reviewed the first two elements in the last article so today we will address the other two.

Learning cannot be based only on experience. Learning requires comparison of results to prediction. Experience by itself teaches nothing. There must be some hypothesis or theory to support or disprove by our experience. It should be noted that we cannot prove a theory, only support it or disprove it; some new knowledge might appear that disproves it.

An example that Deming used was the speed of light. Our value of the speed of light has changed several times over the years as we found new ways of measuring it.

The theory of knowledge helps us to understand that management involves planning and a plan is a prediction or theory of the future, i.e., if we do A, then B will result. The plan is based upon measurements, observations and experience but experience and examples teach nothing unless studied with the aid of theory.

No number of examples establishes a theory. Learning requires comparison of results with original prediction or theory.

It is extension of application that discloses inadequacy of a theory, and need for revision, or even new theory. Without theory, there is nothing to revise. Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, there is no learning.

Rational prediction requires theory and builds knowledge through systematic revision and extension of theory based on comparison of prediction with observations.

Psychology helps us to understand people, interaction between people, and how people react to circumstances.

We stated previously that there is variation in every process and certainly there is variation among people.

Management too often operates under the supposition that people are all alike. In fact, they are quite different from each other, having different ways of learning and different values.

Consequently, a manager must have some knowledge of psychology to better understand people and how they react. The leader needs to understand the differences between people and use them to optimize each employee's abilities, including the different ways that people learn, whether by reading, watching, listening or by observing others.

Deming believed in the value of a person's intrinsic motivation, that is, the person's innate desire to perform well at tasks and to learn new skills and concepts. Psychology helps us to nurture and preserve these positive innate attributes of people. Greater understanding fosters greater cooperation and mutual trust and respect.

I recently read a book, "Faith in the Game: Lessons on Football, Work, and Life," by Dr. Tom Osborne, retired football coach of the University of Nebraska.

He left a tremendous legacy, the highest winning percentage (83.6) at a major college at the time of his retirement, highest number of Academic All-Americans, highest graduation rate and the national championship three of the last five years he coached.

His philosophy is very, very similar to that of Dr. Deming. Could it be an accident that he has a PhD. in psychology?

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently assists area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@processman