Firefighter or Manager – Which are You?


Audrey Kidd, my Marketing VP, and I were having a discussion yesterday about Leadership and why companies seemingly run in place, continually changing systems or processes instead of staying the course and completing the race. As a result of the conversation Audrey introduced me to something Dr. W. Edwards Deming wrote about called Special and Common Causes.

Deming felt that as we create systems or processes there will always be variances. It's the effective leader; however, who can discern if the variance has a Special or Common Cause and decide to make adjustments to the process or simply manage the special cause.

For example, a customer walks into a store and has a complaint. The effective leader will certainly take care of the customer's need and they will take an additional step to make certain the root of the cause is either Special or Common before they dismantle processes or systems that are already in place. If it's Special, the customer is well taken care of but the whole operation or process isn't changed. In Deming's work he found that 94% of these system or process variances are Common and don't need to a cause for system modification.

So, are you a firefighter? Are you forever changing your systems or processes because of a multitude of Special Causes? OR Do you take the time to evaluate the Cause and then act only if the variation is Common?

In Deming's mind, well-run and quality-based organizations focused on building effective processes and then made small changes based upon Common Causes. The opposite is organizations that are forever changing processes based on Special Causes and find themselves literally running in place in an effort to keep up with their competitors.

I know this idea will be a part of my thinking going forward. I'd enjoy hearing from you – how have you managed to stay away from constant change due to Special Causes?


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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