Don’t tell my staff targets don’t work!

A practising systems thinker writes:

‘Our process improvement team have been working with our new centralised customer contact centre. As part of the work we’ve been explaining Systems Thinking ideas, helping staff, team leaders and managers unlearn the wrong ways to work, especially the prevalent target culture. The staff have been very receptive to the ideas and new ways of looking at the work and we have achieved some real successes. Unfortunately we appear to have been too successful in getting across the message that targets not only don’t work but actually make things worse….our manager has been instructed by the senior contact centre manager to stop us telling his staff that targets don’t work because it’s made it hard for him to manage his staff, as they no longer accept targets! Strangely enough this has motivated us even more…’

It highlights an important intervention issue: How did we get to a place where the staff ‘get it’ and the manager doesn’t? And the answer is the work is seen by managers as ‘process improvement’ not a change to the system. This is the difficulty with working on the inside. It is career-limiting to say ‘we can’t help until the boss is prepared to change his thinking’.

IBM = I’ve Been Managed (by the numbers)

In the September issue of Business Week, there was a summary of a new book, ‘Numerati’ by Stephen Baker headlined as ‘Management by the Numbers’. It described how IBM is building mathematical models of its employees measuring every keystroke, click and e-mail.

It is to assume activity is productivity. How little they know.

Top cop denounces inspection

In the Guardian this month the chief constable of Kent complained about inspection. Thirteen bodies have the right to inspect his force. He said: ‘There’s always somebody inspecting us, or we’re under the threat of inspection. It is a constant inspection process. Probably at least a third of my time is spent dealing with inspection, inspection processes, preparing for inspection, accounting to inspection bodies.’ He said some inspection bodies made contradictory recommendations.

Of course. They inspect against specifications; it is a bun-fight of opinions, they have no idea about what works.

From the horse’s mouth: NI 14

People from Essex local authorities invited me to join a debate about NI 14 (the national target originally labelled as failure demand, now re-named ‘avoidable contact’). Sarah Fogden, the Cabinet Office person responsible for NI 14 implementation withdrew and sent a substitute who made his presentation, then left. So now only the people in Essex know what’s wrong with Sarah’s guidance.

We recorded what I had to say. In the near future I will make this widely available. We have to do all we can to help people work constructively with failure demand and avoid creating more waste (as will happen if anyone follows the guidance).

In the meantime you can get my written guidance from the web site at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=674

What shall we call NI 14?

As all systems thinkers know you cannot remove waste without removing the causes. So what are the primary causes of failure demand? Government targets!! A slam-dunk as they say across the pond.

For example the target to complete planning applications in 8 weeks drives in massive failure demand. When you design planning on systems principles, you get all decisions made in much less than 8 weeks and thus failure demand disappears. In adult care the targets are the cause of shocking care… and so on.

Should we call NI 14 the ‘boomerang target’? Or maybe the ‘time-bomb target’? For when people go about studying failure demand and its causes in the right way, they will be obliged to report that the major causes are in what they have been told to do!

Suggestions for NI 14’s new name welcome.

Something David Varney urgently should read

We helped Advice UK study the advice industry as a system. It is where we learned how much failure demand is being driven by the disastrous factory designs in HMRC and DWP. The report is out now. Go to: http://www.adviceuk.org.uk/DisplayPage.asp?pageid=12831

David Varney ought to read it. If you have contact with him please encourage him to do so.

Minister set to create more failure demand

John Healy has decided councils ought to show citizens what savings they are making and how these savings compare with other councils, all of this information being sent out with your council tax bill. He thinks it will act as a ‘stick’ but my bet is it will cause people to ask about what on earth a ‘non-cashable’ saving is. Some of the more numerate might ask about comparability (are these reliable comparisons?) and so on.

But none of the effort in creating the reports is of value in improving performance; its only impact will be to create more waste: lots of failure demand and a wasteful bureaucracy to get the numbers crunched and formatted.

Well done that minister!

Regulation task force does the wrong thing righter

The ‘Lifting Burdens’ task force has produced a report on the ‘health and social care burdens’ (in straightforward terms this means the bureaucracy of target-setting and monitoring). Their conclusions amount to doing the wrong thing righter: ‘one-in one out’ for the introduction of new requirements, removing returns that don’t get used, standardisation of data-gathering, cutting out duplication of reporting and inspectors working together so they don’t upset people by coming to differing views.

Nothing on the ways in which current targets and specifications create waste, nothing on what good measurement might look like. In short nothing useful. The regulation task force should spend some time exploring their theory of control; that’s where the problem lies.

Taking justice from our children

A new pamphlet is being published by Triarchy Press this month. ‘The Forward March of Children’s Justice Halted’, written by Edward Lloyd-Jones The pamphlet describes how the reform regime is in the process of subverting the children’s justice system, in effect withdrawing ‘justice’ from our most vulnerable children and their families. This is being achieved ‘through a deadly combination of legal aid cuts, court fee hikes, market dogmatism, and reductionist protocols. The openness, empathy, intellectual curiosity and rigour required of, and willingly given by, all professionals who work in this field, has been brushed aside in favour of a scientific formula which makes a mockery of common sense.’

The author is a solicitor with first-hand experience in London. A compelling read.

Systems talk for the i-pod generation

I was honoured to speak to the combined universities of Sheffield at their annual management lecture recently. I have been told the speech was taped and has been made available as a podcast. Not a fishing term apparently. As the event coincided with the new book we agreed I would focus on the failure of the public sector reform regime (with lessons for all managers of service organisations). For those of you in the i-pod generation, you can download the speech at:


Seddon speaks

I shall be giving a half-day seminar which is an overview of Systems Thinking and its counter-intuitive challenges in England, Ireland and Wales:

Tuesday 4th November 2008 – 9.30am – 12.30 pm The Conference Centre Buckingham
Tuesday 11th November 2008 – 9.30am – 12.30 pm IMI Conference Centre & Residence, Dublin
Wednesday 26th November 2008 – 2.00pm – 5.00pm Waterton Technology Centre, Bridgend

The cost is £95+VAT / €125 per delegate. To book: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

For those of you thinking ‘what about Scotland?’, I am speaking for the CQI in Glasgow. Go to: http://www.thecqiscotland.org/east/e_events.html or e-mail sec.west@thecqiscotland.org

October 8th and 9th I am speaking and leading a workshop at the ‘Lean Forum’ in Sweden (the Swedes are waking up to the debacle caused by lean tool heads).

October 15th I am speaking at the Service Excellence Conference in Blackpool: http://www.northern-consortium.org.uk/Page/Events/CustomerExcellence2008.aspx

October 29th I am speaking for the Scottish Government Public Procurement Conference: http://www.bipsolutions.com/events/sg08/index.html

October 31st I am speaking for the IoD in Scotland: http://www.iodscotland.com/Default.aspx?tabid=1568

November 6th I am speaking for SOLACE SW. Members only (get your local authority chief executive to go!).

November 13th I am speaking at the World Quality day: http://www.worldqualityday.org/conference.html

Vanguard events this autumn

Buckingham events:
Process Mapping and Analysis
Tuesday 11th November
Tuesday 2nd December

Systems Thinking in Local Authorities
Tuesday 18th November

Process Mapping and Analysis
Thursday 9th October, Dublin

Process Mapping and Analysis
Thursday 13th November, Bridgend

To book any event: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk