Generation Y and Deming's Constancy of Purpose

Much of what has been written about Generation Y is either meaningless or wrong, says Poorani Jeyasekar, who has been researching the topic for over 3-years. In this week’s The Deming Files, Jeyasekar, a Gen Y herself, personally deconstructs the characteristics of the demographic and looks at how Deming’s body of knowledge can be applied to make work a better place for all generations.

I am a Gen-Y, born in India and living in the United States for the last eight years. And I am not optimistic about what the future will bring for me and future generations – unless we change a few things about the logic we use to manage our world and the organizations in which we work.

My generation is having a tough time finding jobs in this economy. It comes at a bad time as many of us are starting to have families. Additionally, those of us who live in the USA worry that we will not have any meaningful Social Security, Medicare or other financial safety nets thirty years from now – even though we pay into them every year. And as for retirement: it is not even a dream we dare to dream.

This is not about entitlement to material possessions or to a job or security; this is about facing reality. This is about not kicking the can of responsibility down the road any further for the next generation to deal with.

Generation Ys understand that lifelong learning is the main part of our life and not just a part. We were raised to believe every individual has special capabilities and should apply them – not only to get ahead, but also to be socially responsible. We are the "Learn & Do-It-Now" generation. Now is what we have. Tomorrow, well, who knows? The economic crisis that begin in 2008 reinforced those aspects of how our brains and emotions are wired.

The economic crisis continues for many people in all generations, of course, and in many places in the world. The 2008 wakeup call brought into the spotlight the fact that there are many faulty assumptions and beliefs about how things work. It also made it clear that much of the logic that guides leaders’ decisions, logic that was believed to be true, is simply not reliable. Is what we think we know really so? In other words, the 2008 wakeup call brought a sharper focus: some things we thought we knew turned out not to be true.

Einstein pointed out that you can never solve a complex problem at the same level of thinking that created the problem, you must go up at least a level in sophistication. Dr. Brian Joiner once pointed out that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. So we to have to ask, "Will the same foundations of (so-called) logic –the foundations of our belief systems about how things work and how they should work-- get us to the next level?"

I would argue that the answer is no, but would propose that other levels of sophistication already exist and will benefit us if we apply them - specifically Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s insightful body of knowledge.

Much of what I’ve read is either meaningless or wrong as it relates to Gen Ys. The hundreds of suggestions to managers in popular business books can actually make managing different generations much more difficult than it needs to be.

Gen Ys are known for our multi-tasking and constant collaboration using technology. It is true; we want to get things done quickly and move forward. We do not want to learn lessons that are right today, but will be wrong tomorrow. We want what we learn today to be relevant tomorrow.

So one of the reasons we want "constancy of purpose" (to quote Dr. Deming) for our work is because we want course corrections from our managers before we get too far down the wrong path.

It is beyond me – indeed beyond most of us - to try to influence the world’s economic dynamics to prevent another economic meltdown.

Yet, we can influence change in our places of work.

Frankly, Gen Ys see that there is a great deal of waste caused by how people and resources are managed. I’m referring to wastes of all kinds: waste of the human spirit, destruction of intrinsic motivation, knowledge and insights that are not applied, as well as natural resources and energy that are squandered. Gen Ys do not have exclusive insight into such wastes; people in every generation see and lament those wastes, of course.

For example, how many people do you know who really love their jobs –even like their jobs? I’m talking about any and all generations. We know that every job has aspects which we do not love. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about working in organizations which suck one’s gumption day after day because of the management philosophies in those organizations. Philosophies that manipulate people, punish and reward individuals for things outside of their control, and that are barriers to productivity, learning and innovation.


Earlier I mentioned that the logic that has been used for generations needs to be re-examined, that we may not know what really is so. Let me make that more specific by asking, "What is the logic, the theory of management, which is missing in those organizations which waste people and resources?"

Here are two items on my list of logic that is missing from the prevailing theory of management:

1. Long-term thinking.

2. Faster ways of learning

For several years now I’ve been exposed to Dr. Deming’s management philosophy and as I’ve learned and applied it I have seen how it addresses –and fills - the logic gap.

Dr. Deming provides a new theory of knowledge about management that cuts through the fear, politics, and faulty assumptions while clarifying what is really going on in organizations – and how to address what is really going on to improve virtually every aspect of work.

Long-term thinking and faster ways of learning are at the core of Deming’s approach. (I live with my feet in two countries, two continents, and from that perspective I conclude Deming’s Management Method transcends managing an organization; I believe it will help manage the complexities of the world in which we live. But I’ll stay focused on work.)

Long-term thinking

Long-term thinking provides a foundation for doing meaningful work. Short-term thinking characteristically undermines meaningful work. Dr. Deming talks about having constancy of purpose within the organization and focusing on the long-term instead of short-term. This is so very relevant for managing Gen-Ys in the workforce and here are a few reasons why:

Most Gen-Y workers start at the bottom of the corporate ladder. We do most of the ‘grunt’ work. We know theoretically that it contributes to the greater good, but most of our managers do not take the time to explain the aim of our organization or how our work contributes towards the organization’s success.

Worse still, we are, in essence, told to park our brains at the door. Few managers have time to listen to suggestions, and when we ask questions such as ‘why is it done this way?’ we get criticized for being know-it-alls and are labeled as a generation that wants to manage from day one and not be managed.

My research indicates that is nonsense.

Managers should take the time to explain the purpose of the organization, key aspects and insights about the business and the industry, what the important organizational values are –why we should be learning them, and how can we demonstrate them in our daily work.

We want to know why the grunt work that we do helps us learn how to do essential things at work and to build our capabilities to do more complex work as we move along. Because Gen-Y workers want to do meaningful work, this helps tremendously.

Long-term thinking which fosters discussions of constancy of purpose is a win for the Gen Y’s manager also because the Gen Y employee will be more engaged, enthusiastic, and productive. It also leads to retention, higher productivity, and increases employee’s potential which contributes to the organization’s success.

Faster ways of learning

Gen Ys are the "Learn & Do-It-Now" generation. We want to learn things faster and move forward. Many of our managers are Baby Boomers who tend towards consensus building via face-to-face meetings. Though it is often important to have consensus and face-to-face meetings, days and weeks can slip by before projects move forward –while we try to schedule those meetings.

This is where Dr. Deming’s Theory of Knowledge comes into play. The PDSA cycle (PLAN-DO-STUDY-ACT) for example is about having a theory, testing it, studying it to understand what worked and what can be improved, and then taking action. PDSA is a gift to all generations and especially to those who manage Gen Ys! PDSAs provide us with exactly what we want: faster learning so we can move things forward. Smart managers want the same thing, of course.

Perhaps even more important to our managers: PDSAs help build consensus –without the need for so many meetings and delayed time lines.

Faster learning for us also comes in the form of a manager sharing her experiences with us. Tell us about your theories, your knowledge and the proof you have. Tell us the things that you do, how and why. These interactions build our capability over time and increase our efficiency and effectiveness which in turn lead to higher productivity and innovation.

Dr. Deming’s New Philosophy of Management has become important to this Gen Y for many reasons, it:

  1. Is simple and yet also has rich complexity that opens new doors to effectiveness
  2. Gets reliable results in changing environments, companies, and circumstances
  3. Works across cultures and countries
  4. Is rational and reliable
  5. Spans the differences of all generations and is timeless
  6. Has strong theory and practice
  7. Has stood the test of time

Dr. Deming wrote, "Preparation for the future includes lifelong learning for employees. It includes constant scanning of the environment (technical, social, economic) to perceive need for innovation, new product, new service, or innovation of method." (From THE NEW ECONOMICS, second edition, pg. 54.)

That is the logic that GEN Ys want. Actually, isn’t that the logic that we all want?

E-mail here if you wish to receive a free copy of a short version of "A Simple Model for Managing Four Generations at work." ©Copyright 2011 by Kelly Allan Associates, Ltd.

Editor’s Note: The columns published in THE DEMING FILES have been written under the Editorial Guidelines set by The W. Edwards Deming Institute®. The Institute views these columns as opportunities to enhance, extend, and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories. The authors have knowledge of Dr. Deming’s body of work, and the content of each column is the expression of each author’s interpretation of the subject matter.