Is the culture killing you?

In her book review at the New York Times of  Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging”,  which addressed the  assimilation of veterans back into society, Jennifer Senior highlights Junger’s observation that the American culture may have adverse impacts on health:

“But Mr. Junger’s most powerful — and surprising — argument is the one he makes about the military’s epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, which in many cases he suspects may not be PTSD at all.”

“Why, if you think about it, would roughly 50 percent of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans apply for permanent PTSD disability when only 10 percent of them saw combat?”

“The problem doesn’t seem to be trauma on the battlefield,” he concludes, “so much as re-entry into society.” And, he suggests, this problem might deserve its own diagnostic term.”

PTSD has been cited as a contributing factor in many suicides ( Reserve suicides up 23 percent — active-duty count remains steady).

The term “Tribe” in a military context, describes that soldiers work within a cultural hierarchy of shared values that optimizes their respective power  in pursuit of the common aim to protect and defend the United States.   In a  combat zone, when making and supporting the decisions that have life or death consequences, the focus shifts to supporting your fellow soldiers.  As Junger reinforces:

“After months of combat, during which “soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion and politics within their platoon,” they return to the United States to find  a society that is basically at war with itself.”

“It’s a formula for deep despair. “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country,” he writes, “they’re not sure how to live with it.”

Society, Culture, and The Prevailing Style of Management (TPSM)

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming in the application of a new philosophy and methods for improving leadership and management within an organization were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine hidden turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions in business history.

I suggest that Deming’s “diagnostic term” for the condition that links poor health to culture could be referred to as “The Prevailing Style of Management (TPSM).”

Deming’s analysis on TPSM in America supports the conclusion that organizations, as well as the society, were at war with itself.   He remarked:

“What is the world’s most underdeveloped nation? With the storehouse of skills and knowledge contained in its millions of unemployed, and with the even more appalling underuse, misuse, and abuse of skills and knowledge in the army of employed people in all ranks in all industries, the United States may be today the most underdeveloped nation in the world.”

As an Army reservist, I served two and a half years on active duty from 2001-2004 supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the 2009-2010 timeframe, I served a tour in South Korea where I supported the transformation of the 8th Army to an operational-level Field Army.

Although I did not serve in a designated combat zone and I do not suffer from PTSD, I can certainly relate to the stress of transitioning from a high performing culture dedicated to protecting and defending the country back to an organization and “a society that is basically at war with itself.”

In order to raise awareness within the civil service and society on the need for transformation from the prevailing style of management to the better methods for improving quality and productivity, I started writing articles at  I recently developed a blog – to help  raise awareness on the importance of applying a new standard for Quality Leadership.

Democratize the enterprise

Escaping the Prison of the Prevailing System of Management in the Western World: Observations from a Deming Four-Day Seminar in May 1991, by  Craig Anderson, Audit Resolution Specialist at FEMA

The LinkedIn post from a current federal employee reinforces the impact that the contributions of W. Edward Deming continues to have in helping to address the political and economic issues facing America.

As a federal employee, I attended Deming’s four-day in 1988. The question that Deming asked that had the most impact on my life was when he asked: “What percent of your performance is due to the system?” I was an auditor at the time for the Navy and wrote down 98%. (A correct answer can range from 85-100%).

This conclusion led to the realization that in America, “We the People” own the system and are what Deming would refer to as “top management.” This understanding leads to the question: “How do “we” transition from our “prevailing style of management” that supports action by our political representatives that lead to solutions where we all win or at least, are not any worse off?

For private sector organizations, one of the most positive trends for organizations that have embraced the Deming philosophy has been the transition to Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs).  Given Deming’s admonition that transformation is everyone’s job, creating more “owners” (top management) along with applying the better methods is a great way of optimizing the performance of the organization.

Federal employees as owners, work in and on the system but must have the support of their fellow owners to bring about the needed improvements. Within the federal government, perhaps a good first step for us is to support policy changes to adopt the better approach for managing and interpreting data along with eliminating individual rankings and performance bonuses for federal employees.

Additional information to support the needed transformation

Deming’s PDSA vs Lean PDCA

My LinkedIn reply to a post on Lean’s use of the Plan, Do Study, Act (PDCA) cycle.

Common Mistakes with the PDCA and also its History | .  Overview of the main causes of failures in a PDCA which will cause lean projects to fail. Also, the history…


For a history on the PDCA and comparison of the PDCA to the Deming-based PDSA, I recommend the following article:  Foundation and History of the PDSA Cycle

The PDCA was developed in 1950. Deming improved upon the concept in 1986 and replaced the PDCA with the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle. “Deming never embraced the PDCA.”

The “So what?”  For advocates of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), we need a better strategy for leveraging the various methodologies and tools.

Deming is the only expert that correctly identified that reducing variation from the ideal is THE key to CQI.

Broader description of the variation principle

Employee Suggestions: Deming versus Lean

LinkedIn reply to a “re-post” of a 2007 post at on the topic of employee suggestions:

A Different “Lock Box” No, this isn’t about Al Gore and his infamous Social Security ‘lock box.’ This is about suggestion boxes that we sometimes see hanging on[..]

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming provides context for suggestions.  For instance, if you ask employees “What’s not perfect ?” , the suggestion box would always be overflowing.

The follow-up question is asking if the “imperfection” are recurring (common cause variation), or represent a temporary effect (special cause).  The majority of the imperfection will be common cause variation that requires a permanent change in the system.

Deming also accurately estimated that failure to understand variation resulted in a situation where 95% of change results in no improvement.

I’ve seen too many “lean” projects waste resources overreacting to a special cause and too many claiming success from changes that could not be sustained.  Assess your knowledge of variation at the following:

The fact that the topic was re-posted from 2007 indicates the need for application of a better methodology. Without a change in strategy, this post  can be re-posted in another 9 years.