The Business Doctor

'eradicating the Mad Management Virus'

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

So How - Part 1

A lot are asking ‘why’ and how it all starts! 

It all starts with YOU, and changing how we(you) think about how we work and how we view management. We need to move beyond focussing on targets and measures of effectiveness, move away from performance management and instead focus on values and boundaries that really matter for organisational sustainability which is people focused, more so individually maintained. Values and boundaries that inspire innovativeness, creativity and support natural human-system. We need to change our thinking and then our behaviour will change.

The starting point of all this is ‘managers’, ‘CEO’s’ and anyone who will block the removal of power from the top and disperse throughout the organisation.

The change is taking managers to this place called leadership (but not in the conventional sense). Leadership for me revolves around ‘individual values’, ideas, direction, and has more to do with inspiring and influencing people as to direction and values than with day-to-day implementation, which is best left to the experts – the frontline staff. The ‘democratic leaders’ in my theory, are capable of influencing other people to do things without actually sitting on top of them with a checklist. But all this requires trust, openness, risk and creativity, which are founded on the leaders being from within the social network of the organisation. Leaders in my companies are within and throughout the organisation and resultant democratic processes as inspiring confidence in others and ourselves and as a result, we become more relaxed, communicative and successful.

My dislike for ‘management’ is nothing personal bytheway. It is about how we think about what management and managers are, and about how we act and behave in our role as manager. Managers cause so much unhappiness in organisations through a focus on targets and measurement, control, organising others with an absence of critical thinking skills, and not people. This is in part due to the growing standardisation in MBA programs and the trend toward measurement, regulation and command in vain attempts to avoid uncertainty. There are exceptions, but these managers(leaders) are rare and usually eventually ‘conform’ to the world of mechanics, cogs, targets and measurement. This destroys the natural fabric of human creativity, innovativeness, trust, openness, ownership, inspiration and leadership. We are simply different, each one of us are individuals with our own ways of thinking and doing. I attempt to realise this in my work and the development of an organisational architecture that accepts direction is needed in the organisation without causing harm to the people within.

We start with CEO’s and senior management. To change the organisation we need to start at the very top and inspire the view that there is a better way to ‘manage’ for all of us. To inspire democratic leadership and to empower a workforce, you need management to be 100% involved and champions of change as the biggest impact will be on them, otherwise it could result in sabotage of change, resulting in further worker frustration. So management first for sure. 

Then it’s about changing the mindset of the workforce. From one of subservience to ownership; from a blaming culture to one of responsibility; from the individual to the networked. For employees to take increased ownership and personal responsibility for moving the organisation forward, employees require support, respect, trust, open communication, and opportunities. They have to network and communicate far more than is currently realised. However with change, comes risk and uncertainty and the biggest challenge is the acceptance that uncertainty is a natural part of the process.

WARNING - If the architecture of Complexity is introduced without full understanding and support, it will result in confusion, frustration and chaos. It is about starting with small changes. For example, inspiring frontline staff to choose their staff uniforms, or arrange shift-patterns, or order equipment, gradually increasing responsibility. Naturally, self-organisation and self-management will start to unfold as other questions will begin to be raised. Questions such as, ‘why can’t they see the income and expenditure sheets’? However, this will also lead to questions about the value of management,  ‘what do you add to their role as managers’! 

Once set upon this path, it cannot be undone. To do so will cause increased frustration (normally seen in organisations as absenteeism or rule breaking). So it requires long-term commitment and trust of those within the organisation.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


After an incredible week of hundreds of emails asking for more and saying well done, I just wanted to update everyone and answer some of the points missed in the programme. I hope this helps.....

This idea started 10 years ago for me, when at the LSE I met a guy called Ricardo Semlar. He owned a company of 4000 staff, made everything from ship pumps to Social Services, all without a single manager in sight. It was remarkable. No plans, strategies, KPI's or anything like that, other than "15% profit, number one in the market, and best quality"..... oh and letting the employee free rein to do it their way! 

He offered an alternative from the ‘machine’ idea of an organisation with people as cogs and not humans. He did it intuitively, not as a result of theory or as a management consultant. Soon after this I discovered Complexity Theory or Human Systems thinking, which in simple terms explains how we ‘operate’ as people, in our systems, life and how this particular organisation stayed together and worked.

So why Public Sector? I started BGCBC over two years ago when the CEO Robbie Morrison invited me in to talk to the Senior Management. They were looking to change the way Public Services operated, whilst improving performance with ever decreasing finances. My theory, tried and tested in business, we thought could do the trick and it did, with amazing results. 

I started with all the Senior Managers, then as an experiment to prove it can be done, Alan Reed volunteered his department, Environmental Services, for the change and this started last October with BBC One in pursuit.

This was NEVER about getting 'rid' of managers (people), only management (the thing they get paid to do). If you get frontline staff to realise that they know the job best, that they can change it to do things better, then the results are amazing. Despite the impression from the programme it took two months to gain trust from the staff, to get them to understand they can change the ‘system’ and deliver a better service to the people of Blaenau Gwent. After all, most if not all of the staff were from the Borough, and customers themselves. 

There are now no 'managers' left in Environmental Services, only a few leaders, and they change according to experience, responsibility, project and needs of customers and councillors.  The money saved by this experiment was/is being invested for the most part back into frontline services. This, is after all, is the main purpose of the whole programme.

You also have to remember that the Binmen and the Garage bosses, were the product of the BGCBC system. They have behaved and acted this way, I suppose, simply as that was what the system expected. They are the product of the way the organisation was structured. They were/are not naturally managers, they became managers because the organisation expected them to and indeed the staff wanted it. They saw only one way of organisation. I showed them that there is an alternative. 

The Binmen have now come on-board and after five months they are now ‘self-managing’, looking to improve services their way and helping to achieve a huge recycling target.

I also have to add that as the ‘Expert’ in all this, I never got paid a penny. I did this to prove to everyone, Councillors, Unions, Academics, more than anyone that if you ask the staff, trust them and let them do it their way to please the public, it is more effective, less expensive and much more efficient. 

Organisations are about people. Leadership is about people. Good leaders sell passion and trust others.  

Thank you everyone who has responded. Its great to have others thinking the same way...

Its Not Just me!

Here are some of the comments I've received over the past few days following my 'Ban the Boss' programme on BBC One.

“My wife and I watched the programme on iplayer tonight and were so impressed with what you're doing. It was so inspiring to watch.”

“Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed "Ban the Boss" on Wednesday evening.  I've thought for a longtime that some Managers are not needed.  I work at a Hospital and was wondering if you've ever reorganised an NHS Trust?”

“Brilliant program, at one stage it looked as if the public sector was a 
step too far, however you had the tenacity (and the BBC camera crew) to stay with it.”

“Congratulations on a great effort.”

“Having just seen your programme this evening I wanted to congratulate you on
an excellent piece of work. Having an interest in business myself … it raised some important points. I especially enjoyed the format of the programme in which you provided commentary to the work which you were undertaking.”

“Well done again and definitely an hours TV worth spent viewing!”

"Having just watched your programme on BBC1 Wales I can only say how impressed I was….I wish you lots of luck with your campaign to rid the world of managers"

If managers and traditional academics think this liberation is going away.......

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Wednesday, March 17, BBC One Wales, 9pm

Like local authorities across the UK, Blaenau Gwent Council is under pressure to save money but improve services. As with other institutions, some practices have been set in stone with things done the same way over many years, just because it's the way it's always been.

Doctor Paul Thomas, from the University of Glamorgan, thinks it’s time for a revolution in management thinking - in short, he wants to remove managers and allow workers to take that responsibility for themselves.

And in Ban The Boss (Wednesday, March 17, BBC One Wales) he gets the chance to put his theories into practice in the public sector as Council bosses sign up for what could be a sobering period of change for both workers and managers.

Paul’s mission is to get the refuse workers, and the recycling and transport teams, to buy in to his vision - to see them making decisions themselves. In a bid to prove to them they can do it he removes the managers for a period of time, handing responsibility for the day job over to those on the front line.

The transport workers are the keenest to change, and embrace the idea with enthusiasm, while the recyclers, although lagging a little behind, start to see the benefits when they realise they can spread their recycling message into schools and among the public.

But the binmen are adamant they are not there to sort out management’s problems, and look set not to budge.

Will Paul’s methods convince the workers at large that taking on the task of running themselves can reap rewards in the long run?

And what becomes of the managers, who have been out of the office and fearful that chaos will ensue, when the workers are allowed to vote on whether or not they want to see their former bosses back in charge?