It’s not the people, stupid!

Recently in the Sunday Times, Virginia Ironside described how she ‘escaped from the clutches of the therapy cult’ (News Review, August 13th). She concluded that therapy, as a means of treatment, was a myth – it didn’t work. Being a psychologist this was not news to me. But what troubles me is the extent to which therapy is invading our organisations.

The argument is plausible: People make up organisations, so how they work together matters. If we can intervene in ways that improve the way people work together, performance will improve. Believing these things, managers buy therapeutic interventions. Some are quite mild; others are definitely strong medicine.

Many organisations have followed the teachings of the therapy gurus. Typically the interventions get people to re-think two ‘paradigms’, the way they see themselves and the way they work with others. This is to ignore the most important paradigm – the way work works. It is axiomatic that in organisations the greatest influence on behaviour will be the way work is designed and managed. If this were not true there would be no organisation theory and people like yours truly would not exist (!) Regular readers of this newsletter will recall how this truth is easily illustrated in call centres, where the evident people problems are caused by the way the work is designed and managed.

It gets worse. Just as therapists blame their patients when they start to reject therapy (‘you are in denial, this is counter-dependence’), those who are making vast fortunes from therapy in our organisations often ensure that anyone ‘bad-mouthing’ the programme is labelled an outsider.

If you are a manager and, in the light of evidence that your people are not working together, are considering buying some therapy, I appeal to you to consider that the greatest influence on your peoples’ behaviour is the way the work works and that is your responsibility. Don’t buy the plausible offering; take a look in the mirror.

Toyota Japan rejects ISO 9000

My thanks to Takaji Nishizawa, a leading industrial consultant in Japan, for this item:

The following was reported in Nikkei Business. Nikkei Business is published weekly and one of the most popular business journals in Japan.

In October of 1999 it featured a three-week series about ISO 9000 problems in Japan. In the articles it said that Toyota decided not to get ISO9000 because it saw no value in terms of quality and thus saw no need to register.

The decision had been made after the Shimoyama factory, which is an engine plant, had registered to ISO9001. When introducing new things, Toyota’s philosophy is to test actually before installation rather than discuss on the desk. The Shimoyama factory had been selected as a test plant.

And after the test, Toyota concluded there was no value in ISO9000 registration.

No surprise there! Our advice remains the same: do not register to ISO 9000. If, however you have no choice, the Vanguard Standards will help you interpret ISO 9000 from a systems perspective. The Vanguard Standards will be published FREE on our web site on October 26th, to coincide with the publication of the second edition of ‘The Case Against ISO 9000’.

Takaji Nishizawa also tells me that the ISO 9000 assessors are charging high fees in Japan – reflecting the seller’s market. Why do Japanese companies register? Same as for all other countries: market-place coercion.

Letter from a fireman

Following my article about targets in the Observer I have had a number of letters from people in public services commenting on the quality of management. This letter from a fireman is just one example.

A friend and I were taking a management course. We found the management elements of this course to be the highlight of our week. However, a memorable comment was made by a senior officer who also attended the course. In a lecture about organising teams the lecturer told the class that in Sweden a lot of studies had been done with autonomous work-groups. The Swedes were reputed to have found that teams worked well without a senior figure or ‘boss’ and that team efficiency had often improved. The senior officer jumped in to protest. ‘That will never work, it can’t possibly work!’ ‘Why not?’ replied the lecturer. Knowing the Fire Brigade mind my friend and I only just manage to hold back our laughter to hear the officer utter the anticipated remark; ‘Well who do you bollock when things go wrong?’