How would Deming view the Mentor of the Year Award?

The team surprised me with a call from Dallas telling me I was named mentor of the year at the Vex 2009 World Championships .  At first I just laughed since I didn’t know I was entered for this.  But they said it was true and the trophy was huge.  The kids made a big deal of it at the team banquet and I really felt embarrassed.   They gave me the hardware , a certificate and the best of all a nice binder with a note from each kid re why my mentorship was important.   The thank you notes were the only thing really meaningful and hopefully the same was given to all the mentors.  Along with the thank you’s should have been a list of ways I could do better.  I have no delusions that if we had to layoff mentors, I should be the first to go:) 
Although awards are a nice gesture, I’m not in favor of giving out  teacher of the year, mentor of the year , employee of the month etc.   It does make the recipient feel good, but it usually does nothing for the morale of other team members who worked just as hard to make it possible for the recipient and the team to thrive.  
  A team should always be rewarded as a whole rather than single out someone.  

This is very true in the workplace where often times events allow one employee to succeed over another.  This employee did nothing better than the others but the events were favorable to him and allowed his success.    

You always want your teams to be like family… everyone celebrates together and no child should get special treatment.   This is the key to joy in families and in the team task based activities.   This was recognized and taught by the late W. Edwards Deming.

Deming was the father of Total Quality Management philosophies that allowed Japan to succeed and beat the pants off the US because they make quality products.   He stated that for management to transform a company to a quality company, they must use a system of “profound knowledge” : appreciation for the company being a  system,  understanding variation, theory of knowledge and  understanding psychology.  

The variation and psychology parts have to do with recognizing that in general everyone tries his best and when things extraordinary happen either good or bad, it is usually due to variations inherent to the system itself which is created by management.  So when management rewards or punishes  one employee over another it can be demoralizing.

If an employee’s performance stands out,  management should figure out why that employee did better and change the system so that all employees can do that and when they do, all are rewarded.  If the employee did worse, also fix the system , not the employee since system variation is more likely the cause of failure.

So, Deming probably would not approve but I think Vex will continue to make these awards.   I know I did not become a mentor to get awards and the awards will not inspire me to do any better since I was already rewarded by seeing students succeed.  So why then?  The only thing I can think of is teams like to celebrate stuff…birthdays, etc so any award given to anyone is good cause for celebration.  As long as it is understood by all this way and everyone knows the reality of the system variation’s role in a winners selection then perhaps it is can be tolerated. 


One Response to How would Deming view the Mentor of the Year Award?

  1. AndrewLynch says:

    Very well said !

    These individual awards from VEX should be given the side stage to the team awards.

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