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Beyond Command and Control is available now

My new book is out. It builds on Freedom from Command and Control, which represents everything we knew 16 years ago, and still sells. The new book focuses more on the how of change as well as tackling the need to change the management factory – in particular budget management, IT and HR. It represents what we’re doing and know today.

In the chapters on IT the book tackles Agile, undoubtedly the most egregious fad ever (see later) and with HR the question is how can HR develop policies for working on the system – the 95% – rather than the people – the 5%? The end argument brings together the evidence and philosophy to provide a solution to the productivity conundrum. If all service organisations worked this way we’d have an outstanding impact on economic performance.

You can get it here.

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It’s a first!

Many years ago an academic described my work as interesting but not real; “real” to him meant “in the literature”; really? So I started getting academic papers written; by myself, Brendan, my diligent researcher, academics for whom I arranged access to Vanguard clients applying the Vanguard Method, and leaders who have made the change. We’ve published plenty.

But I learned it cuts no ice. Most academics are interested in their own furrow. New knowledge doesn’t trump their interest. Some even told me they’d excluded me from publications on the philosophy and practice of systems thinkers because, in their view, I wasn’t a proper systems thinker.

So it makes me super-happy to tell you that Michael Jackson, Emeritus Professor, Hull University, the most eminent systems-thinking academic, devoted a whole chapter to my work in his new book. Throughout my development Mike has been interested, supportive, challenging and always accessible for discussions of ideas; an academic who valued knowledge above all else. Thanks Mike!

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Not all systems thinking is the same

At a recent academic conference (yes, I still hang out with them sometimes) I learned there is a new “apprenticeship” programme, i.e. government-subsidised training, on “systems thinking” focussed on public services. The method on offer is “soft systems methodology”. It is to take a systems model and use it as a diagnostic tool, asking what connections, as described by the model, could be useful foci for the client organisation(s). Following extensive discussions experts facilitate decisions about changes from there.

Oh dear. A rational process that will never surface counterintuitive truths; will never generate knowledge of the ‘what and why’ of performance as a system and what’s more it could reinforce positions (mental models) and thus lead to more politics. (I explain the difference between rational and normative change processes in the book.)

It is a consequence of the impact we have had; systems thinking works, we created a market. Anyone who does “systems thinking” can play. But our kind of systems thinking is to take the leaders out to study their organisations as a system and, together, they change their thinking. Profoundly different, and a major theme of my new book (did I mention that?). While our consulting practice is to aid leaders as they study you can get all the basics from our e-learning system. At least then you’d be doing the right thing and, as Ackoff taught us, if you go wrong doing the right thing you will learn, whereas if you go wrong doing the wrong thing you won’t learn and you risk doing the wrong thing wronger!

My advice: if anyone offers you systems thinking insist on seeing evidence of the efficacy of their work.

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Digital public services

Despite the distraction of politicians on the ‘B’ farce, ministers continue to spend billions on digitising services. No doubt believing the pundits and money-grabbing sharks who tell them services will be cheaper ministers proudly announce more new digital services.

Currently there is money thrown into an IT system to enable public-sector leaders to connect with each other. Call me cynical but what value might that bring, particularly when everything the leaders need to know is in their own systems if they know how to look. Will it be more than an electronic talking-shop and consumer of leaders’ time? When leaders of public services jointly study what’s actually going on in the front-line of services they see enormous opportunity. Perhaps they could use the App to arrange to meet there.

There’s also money being thrown at digital healthcare, when the main problem with healthcare is the fragmentation and specialisation of services coupled with a lack of continuity. Digital healthcare won’t rid the system of its failure demand and is more likely to create more.

The investments continue despite the usual tsunami of evidence of failure, recent acknowledgements of failure include the digital identity programme and Select Committee report on the wider digital government agenda, which describes the governments digital by default plans as being in tatters, while the original “flagship” digital programme for Universal Credit is reported as being taken over by “shadowy tech consultants”. No surprise, digital mania is a bonanza for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against digital services (but I don’t have much time for IT companies, more on why in the book). In the book I describe how we have helped private-sector organisations undo the damage caused by blindly digitising services. They have the rudder of profit, when they see how the digital initiatives have driven up failure demand (and therefore cost and customer dissatisfaction) they act. Public-sector leaders are rudderless. You could argue their rudder is fashion as dictated by ministers and policy, whatever happened to evidence-based policy? The last time I talked to a leader of the UC debacle he rationalised the position as due to over-optimistic plans. He won’t suffer for parroting the narrative.

I also describe in the book how we have helped private-sector clients develop digital services that work for customers, by making digital (IT) the last, not the first step. The first step, as always, is get knowledge, the second is redesign to make the service more effective (where you get the largest economic benefit) and then, and only then, using IT to digitise the things that can be provided by digital means.

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What’s missing from Agile?

Every example of digitising services we have worked with in the private sector has employed Agile; I give it a thorough spanking in the book. Would you invite a bunch of people off the street, ask them to recreate your organisation with the only requirements being that they behave according to unfamiliar roles and employ defined rituals in how they go about it?

The one thing that’s missing from Agile, and the thing that would dispense with the dystopic paraphernalia, is knowledge.

I did a podcast on – amongst other things – Agile, you can find it here:
https://www.bosslevelpodcast.com/john-seddon-on-agile-the-most-dysfunctional-management-fad-there-is/

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What causes failure demand?

Regular readers will know I often bang on about how failure demand is easily understood and easily misunderstood. Command-and-control thinkers ‘get it’, in that it represents a huge cost, and then move wrongly to the view that it’s the people and processes that need fixing. Failure demand is systemic; you can only get rid of it by changing the system. If you tinker about with people and processes you don’t get very far, when you change the system you eradicate it.

A number of readers sent me a link, this is how one of them put it: “You might find this nonsense from McKinsey an interesting read”: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/why-are-your-customers-calling-you-again

Well I never…

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Transferring know-how

In response to demand we have created a knowledge-transfer programme. Whatever your starting-place we will help you learn how to study service organisations as systems, how to re-design them and much more besides (a lot has to happen for a change of this order to be sustainable). You’ll be on the journey of many before you. When you arrive you won’t go back. More information here.

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Beyond budgeting

We’ll be presenting our work on the Vanguard Method and beyond budgeting at BBRT 64.

Budget management is a primary control, from which other controls are derived. But it is dysfunctional. The consensus on dysfunction does not extend to knowing what else to do or what not to do. We will be demonstrating how a change in primary controls leads to relegating cost to the status of a lagging measure, dissolving the need for conventional budget management.

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Other events and education:

Webinar series on Beyond Command and Control, information here.

Care services Commissioning Masterclass, information here.

People-centred services course, in conjunction with Kingston University, information here.

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Can I come to your place?

I’d like to do a small number of “book-launch” events. If that is appealing and you have a place that can accommodate an audience please contact Charlotte: charlotte.pell@vanguardconsult.co.uk

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Join the network

Join our Beyond Command and Control Network – it is free to join and has a number of benefits.

Thanks for reading!
John

john@vanguardconsult.co.uk