Do American theories apply abroad?

This was the sub-title of an article published by Geert Hofstede, a Dutchman, in 1980 (in Organisation Dynamics). I have been reminded of it because I have just been doing some work in the Middle East. Hofstede was concerned to explore whether country culture had any impact on organisation behaviour. I first read Hofstede’s work in 1982, when I was involved with management development work in Africa. What I learned intrigued me. What I was teaching African managers was infected with western assumptions about behaviour in organisations. When they got to know me, the African managers told me that the stuff I was teaching just wasn’t relevant. Africans did not give feedback the way we did; they did not have an egalitarian attitude to ‘teamwork’. But this is not to say they could not work as teams. The reflection this caused in my thinking, however, did not stop there. I began to question whether the things we teach managers work here (the UK). If I had not questioned these ideas I would probably have never found the work of Deming and Taiichi Ohno. As a matter of record, I gave up doing teamwork and other self-development stuff as a consequence of what I learned. These days it never ceases to amaze me that despite there being no evidence of the value of management development ‘western style’ – teambuilding, personal development and the like – we continue to invest in it. I guess the reason is we find it plausible. Over 90% of performance problems are in the system. Most companies spend over 90% of their management development budget on ‘people programmes’. It is, quite simply, the wrong thing to do.


It’s NOT the people stupid!

In the last few months the Harvard Business Review has featured a discussion on the business of people management. Those who think the emphasis on people has gone too far say that too much emphasis on people leads to people feeling sorry for themselves, makes it easier for people to slough off responsibility, find it easier to excuse failure and act like children.

The argument goes on to assert that a dose of friction will lead to useful sparks.

The whole debate misses the point. Peoples’ behaviour is governed by their system. If the people who do the work, work in a system that allows them to control and improve it, they are more likely to behave in a co-operative way with each other and their managers.

It is as wrong to treat people badly as it is to treat them well. To focus on the people is to focus on the wrong thing. Changing the system leads to better behaviour (and less people problems). A paradox.


Your doctor is too busy

A Vanguard Network member sent me the following e-mail last month:

An interesting article came on the radio whilst driving to my office today. I gave a wry smile, although it is not really a smiling matter.

The item concerned the proposed shutdown of a number of GP surgeries on May Day, broadcast by the media as a ‘strike’. One of the Doctors involved came on the radio and tried to explain why he felt it necessary to limit his surgery to emergencies only.

The reason apparently is that ‘there is a massive amount of administration outstanding and it was critical that this work was done.’ When questioned why this work was outstanding and what it was for, the Doctor explained that the new NHS ‘Plan’ contained a series of ‘targets’ which involved considerable administration. Of course my ears pricked up and I listened to more.

Everyone agreed that the targets were trying to achieve the right thing. BUT… it was estimated that approx. 10,000 new recruits were required to be able to meet the new targets and the government was confident that this would be met.

The actual number recruited over the last year is apparently in the low hundreds!

Have you visited the Doctors lately? Even worse, do you live in one of the areas involved in the ‘shut down’? If you do, try not to be ill on May Day.


Japan suffers as we did from ISO 9000

This month, Nikkei construction journal, one of famous Japanese business monthly magazines for Japanese construction sector, issued a special number for ISO9000 in construction sector. This is how it was reported to me:

The journal made a questionnaire survey for personnel in construction companies by Internet. It got 194 answers. The summary of the results is as follows.
1.Reasons of registration of ISO9000s 77% are market coercion.
2.Reliability of documents and records 65% say documents and records are not true and just made for assessment.
3.Contribution to companies’ performance

In future the registration will help get business chance: 41% No contribution; 38%

So nothing new there..

ICL ‘Help Desk’ event

On June 11th, ICL will be presenting their work on running help desks from a systems perspective. They have been using the Vanguard methods for about the last two years with extraordinary benefits in terms of customer satisfaction and reduction in costs. There is no doubt in my mind that ICL leads the world in the application of systems thinking to the design and management of help desk / solutions center work. The event will be hosted by Steve Parry, you can e-mail him for details: