One of Deming’s main criticisms of western management was management’s failure to understand that workers’ performance was, in fact, governed by the system:

The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.

Deming quoted in Scholtes, PR 1998 ‘The leader’s handbook: making things happen, getting things done’ McGraw-Hill, London p 296

To put it another way, if management focuses on managing people, for example, doing appraisals, it is working on the 5%, an incredible waste of human talent.

By learning how to work on the system, management’s efforts move to the 95%, which is why this change produces such startling results.