The Business Doctor

'eradicating the Mad Management Virus'

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Death by a Thousand Cuts...

Our government here in Wales is top-heavy and costly and our universities have been accused of being poorly led, with a huge waste of money going on administrative services and top salaries. The public sector wastes money and everyone it seems is about to pick on it. Anyone in the Public Sector will now be saying ‘nothing new there then’, but we in the Public Sector world have to realise that we have reached a watershed moment. For we have to accept that many public bodies here in Wales are simply "not fit for purpose". They are living in yesterday’s era, fighting yesterday’s battles, in terms of criminals and health issues and public needs, not today’s. Ask any police officer and they’ll tell you that what you see on The Bill is not what you get in real life. Nor is it Ashes to Ashes or Life on Mars, yet some police forces still manage as if they were still in the 1980s. I suppose there’s the rub. Most senior managers and politicians take their lead from the same era or worse still yesterdays when it comes to seeking out new ways to save money, deliver better resources and serve our communities and residents.
In 2009 we saw the sad management trait of making people redundant and this has continued into 2010. One company, Air New Zealand, announced it would “disestablish up to 100 long-haul cabin crew positions”. I am sure public servants will feel much better knowing they are going to be ‘disestablished’ rather than thrown on the scrap heap. This will ease the blow, even when they learn that some CEOs received great pay awards throughout 2009/10.

Recently our education minister Leighton Andrews, warning that he was about to be “blunt and candid”, brought home what I think most knew but were too frightened to say. Universities in Wales are, frankly, poorly led. Speaking at Cardiff University, he said he saw “too much institutional behaviour and not enough leadership”, and added that 52% of funding goes on support administration and managers’ salaries. In my world, I’ve seen that increase to 60% of costs, yet we now again see frontline jobs under threats of cuts, service closures and being indeed “disestablished” without any thought to the real costs and consequences. One vice chancellor shouted that her/his salary was not that large compared to industry. Indeed CEOs of large companies would think VCs’ salaries to be peanuts. Yet, when you think that universities are public sector, are small by comparison and carry less financial risk, their salaries seem rather large. Or am I alone in that thought? Whatever – that’s not really the point.
What’s actually needed is a real, radical overhaul of public services in Wales. They really could do more with less if they simply took a long, hard look at their set-up, their purpose and what they now do for us ‘the public’. For far too long we have known they are too big, over-burdened with administration and are a mess when it comes to structures, layers of hierarchy and 1950s styles of management thinking.
A little like in the NHS, we have seen the rise of a management and performance measurement ethos in most public services. We’re all familiar with tales of more and more targets, performance measures and indicators, which actually do very little to help the police officer, teacher, binman or woman, when they’re trying to battle the agile criminal, teach children or help reduce waste. We know, all of us, that what public services do now is spend too much of their time ticking boxes and completing forms and feeding the bureaucratic beast. None of it is to ensure the criminal is punished, bins collected or children taught with the correct resources, but rather to feed the ‘management’ animal in a bid to prove their worth.
But while we, the customers, might know what service we want our public services to provide, we can’t pretend we know how they should go about providing it or indeed continue to. We can’t be experts in all these areas. So who would be best placed to decide that? How about those on the frontline – the police officers, the refuse collectors, the teachers, the social workers, out there providing the service to the customers? How about those in power asking the frontline people how services should be providing the best possible service? But instead what we see – and it’s endemic in public services – is a lack of democracy and accountability for performance, and instead a culture of rules, procedures and control and top-down decision making. That disengages frontline staff to the point where they don’t even question their own methods and procedures. Surely what we need are enthusiastic, empowered staff, who are trusted to make decisions about what’s best for the customer, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that officers, staff, teachers and so on are meant merely to follow.

I have heard claims of political independence are a "myth", and senior managers are already "highly politicised". Those dealing with the public services need to act as if their every decision is open to scrutiny, that every penny must be justified not by targets, but simply by how is it adding value to the customer. They should be subjected to the scrutiny of the public, but, even more so, to that of frontline staff.
It’s time to have a major, open and harsh investigation into the system of organising the public sector in Wales, and the way it’s managed and before cuts are made, what do we want from our Services, and more importantly what can we, should we be doing for ourselves. We cannot keep tinkering with an engine which burns fuel inefficiently, breaks down frequently, needs an army of mechanics (HR, Consultants) to keep patching up the problems and fails to start quickly when needs must.

Radical change needed? No. Costly consultants needed to help this change process? No. But can a liberating change in the mindset of ‘the public’, which releases savings whilst improving frontline service actually happen? Yes. Just take a visit to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s Environmental Services Department, where the binmen, recycling crews and mechanics have all grouped together to make savings, increase quality and do things in a way that focuses on customers. How? They simply removed managers, replaced some of them with specially selected leaders and started to take ownership of the services they deliver. Who best to make the change? The people who deliver it. It’s simple and the consultants are already there….yes, the frontline staff.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Time is HERE!

I have for over 15 years, been telling organisations and Leaders, that Complexity will help understand the problems of today. 
I have written to most Political Leaders, Blair, Cameron, Brown....who have never replied, not sure why? Yet, even with 26 companies now operating using the fundamental principles or architecture of Complexity we still fail to make inroads to the major issues, of crime, health, education. 
Complex adaptive systems or CAS, is old in terms of theory and understanding. It explains nature, its unpredictability and or failure as humans to control it. When we think we understand one thing then something else comes along and upsets this certainty or fact. Indeed, many CAS thinkers state there is no such thing as fact, only truth. But we won't go down this philosophical argument, otherwise we'll be here for days.
I know research and talk about CES, nor CAS. Complex Evolving Systems or simply, humans! Human systems who unlike animals and plants, not only adapt (although a lot would say we've even stopped doing this) to the environment/circumstance we evolve. By this I mean we can alter, change the environment or circumstance. Air conditioning is one such simple example, allowing us to work in hot conditions. 
However, one thing is for sure. The problems we have created in the 21st century and in particular in our organisations cannot be solved by current thinking. There are a number of impacts which the CES approach may potentially have for organisational leadership/structure in terms of adaptive, innovative and sustainable operations. The first and most obvious is the major implications for strategy, its suggestion of control, visions and mission statements, most of which are consistently ignored by organisations in daily operation. For Critical Leadership which underpins the CES, the fact that fully accurate prediction is impossible but still commonplace is of growing worry for business in Wales as everyone understands that the only certainty is the need for constant adaptation to consumer demands. We are still unable to predict the path of a simple raindrop moving downwards on a pane of glass, let-alone a human organisation. So why do we get so stressed in trying to do so?
So much of the dominant management literature focuses on the role of the ‘leader’ as an enabler of change and that most leaders believe that they can ‘make things happen’ which according to CES this is at best mistaken and at worst highly damaging for the organisation and the employees within.
The mechanical engineering metaphors still dominate most management discourse and whilst ‘organic’ approaches may have a higher feel-good factor, cut little ice with those charged with satisfying shareholders. The traditional view of the linear supply chain and ‘controlled employee’, while useful for academic analysis for example, is well recognised as being unrepresentative of the true operating environment of many organisations, who’s reality requires them to function effectively within a structure better described as a dynamic, random network built on relationships. The environment organisations operate in is therefore inherently multifarious and the most effective approach to managing such an organisation is to accept this dynamic impact and allow the agents themselves to evolve the next product, service or innovations. Rules, procedures, regulations etc. normally used by managers to control staff limit the organisations ability to evolve and remain ‘fit’ for the present day customer expectation.
We are now at that point in time, where the next revolution of thinking is taking place....