Freedom from Command and Control… the show

I have been spending time filming clients talking about their applications of the Vanguard method. I want people who have already done it in housing, financial services, police, telecommunications and local authority services to tell their own story.

At “Freedom from Command and Control” you won’t experience a boring conference, you will be arrayed with images of people and organisations that have already employed the Vanguard method. You will see for yourself how they learned to give up command and control, you will hear them talk about what they learned when they understood their organisation as a system, how this exposed the waste and the causes of waste. You will listen to them talk about how they responded to the truth that the problem was their own thinking and you will hear them describe what its like talking to someone who hasn’t ‘got it’.

And when you reflect on the amazing improvements they have made – all way beyond what might have been considered as ‘stretch targets’, you will wonder why everyone is not doing it.

It starts with being prepared to change the way you think.

The only way you will get to see this compelling story is by being at “Freedom from Command and Control”: October 6th, Edinburgh; October 11th, London.

Don’t miss it!

Early bird discounts are available until the end of June, and we are encouraging group bookings from the public sector (call 01280-822255 for super deals) as we need to build greater influence with the ministers (and save taxpayers’ money).

Vanguard is “the most exciting thing…”

Writing in Call Centre Focus magazine, Sandra Davison of Friends Provident said: “Working with Vanguard has been the most exciting thing I have ever done” in her call centre career.

Sandra is one of many who have discovered that all the usual call centre stuff, like average handling times, call volumes etc are exactly the wrong things to use to manage agents in call centre operations.

I wrote to thank Sandra for mentioning Vanguard and she wrote back: “Thanks to you, Toby and Andrew for bringing this into Friends Provident. We still have a long way to go but we will (and must) get there.

Good luck in your crusade – we love it.”

And we love it too.

Why the CCA ‘best practice’ standard should be called the ‘sweat shop’ standard.

I mentioned in the April newsletter that I was resurrecting my criticisms of the Call Centre Association’s ‘best practice’ standard. When I first went public with my criticisms (three years ago) I was asked to attend a meeting with the CCA’s top people in Glasgow. I went, and took a client with me – someone to say ‘John’s criticisms are important and, by the way, we are using his methods and these actually do what you seek to do but better’.

It won’t surprise you to know they were not happy. I agreed to take my publication off the web site as they had promised greater flexibility (‘if people want to do things your way, that’s OK and could fit into our general framework’). Of course their general framework cannot accommodate a systems solution but hey, I was in a good mood and thought it might lead to a dialogue. Silly me. The CCA Standard remains essentially unchanged and it is still promulgated as worthy. Worthy it isn’t. So I wrote a new paper criticising the Standard and you can get it for free from:

More than a criticism of the Standard, this paper also explains Vanguard’s better alternative.

IiP takes a dive

A reader sent me the data for Investors in People (IiP) registrations (another stupid UK standard in case my overseas readers were wondering). The UK market for IiP peaked in 2000 at around 6,000 organisations and then the chart shows a steep decline, to about 2,000 last year and the data year-to-date show the same inexorable decline.

I hate to say I told you so; I was being rude about IiP long ago. If you go into an organisation and ask people: do you have enough training, communications and feedback? You get the answer you should expect. And when you then run activities to correct this apparent deficit, nothing improves. Well that is because performance is governed by the system and all IiP did was make you act on symptoms.

It might not surprise you to know IiP was invented by a minister, he thought the best way to improve UK plc would be to get organisations to do more training (‘investing in people’). How wrong he was, but then what would he know?

It is time ministers got out of management.

Audit Commission forces spend on doing the wrong thing righter

I have been astonished to discover the Audit Commission has been obliging housing organisations to hire external consultants to validate the means by which they gather measures. Every organisation has to pay between £5k and £10k to provide the Audit Commission with what they want. The idea is consistency in measurement of performance indicators. But they are measuring the wrong things, so the best we can say is they are doing the wrong thing righter.

The forthcoming ODPM report into Vanguard’s work will say more about this, providing the ‘offending’ paragraphs aren’t written out. We shall see.

Local politician likes Vanguard

A local authority councillor writes: “…we are very impressed, [with Vanguard ’s work in benefits processing] and taking the benefits experience on to other areas. As the lead local politician involved I think your approach is a winner.”

I hope he tells his political masters. And I hope they listen.

Minster gets benefits wrong

This month I wrote to Mr Miliband, the new minister for local authorities:

“You inherit a challenging and problematic brief. Over recent years a series of interventions (Charter Mark, Best Value, CPA) have been tried and have failed to produce improvement. More recently your predecessor had been urging local authorities to create shared services, on the assumption that this would reduce costs and improve service – as directed by the Gershon review.

There is much that I can tell you about the failures of the successive initiatives, but I want to limit this letter to one pressing concern: the directive to District Councils to create shared ‘back offices’ for the processing of housing benefits. In short it is driving up costs and worsening service provision.

Perhaps the best way to explain what is going on is to ask you to consider how many people turn up to make a claim with all of the information required to establish eligibility and entitlement? Of course no one does. Because district councils have been obliged to implement the DWP’s directives for housing benefit processing, which means they already have a ‘front-office, back office’ design and the front office is targeted to process incoming work speedily, much of the work of the back office becomes, in simple terms, putting things together. The backlogs thus created have led to many district councils employing the ‘backlog busting’ services of private contractors. But note that such backlog busting is no more than re-work and, moreover, it often leads to duplication of effort and, worse, often claimants are asked to represent things they have already presented as things, inevitably, get lost.

Mr Raynsford’s directive to District Councils to create shared back office services merely exacerbates these problems. His intention was to secure economies of scale whereas the consequence has been a further rise in costs and worsened service.

The solution to housing benefits processing is very simple: When a claimant arrives at a local office, the staff determine exactly what information this particular claimant should bring in to establish eligibility and entitlement and when the required information is to hand the service is provided. Local managers only need to know the predictability (volumes) of demand and resource the local office with trained staff to serve it. Those Councils that have implemented this solution process all claims in a matter of days, they exceed government targets by such a large amount that to have set such a target would have seemed insensible. One, Swale Borough Council, has published the results of this design in the public sector press. There are others who have achieved the same levels of improvement: exactly what you want to see but, paradoxically, achieved only by ignoring the advice of your department.

The shared back office services that have been created have significant costs in terms of Information Technology and infrastructure. The managers responsible for them are, with the encouragement of your department, looking for more work to be brought in. I have no doubt that no one responsible for this initiative has sought to evaluate its cost-effectiveness. If anyone did the drive to push more work this way would be halted.

At the heart of this problem, and it is only one of many I could describe that have the same fundamental flaw, is the idea that costs of service are associated with transactions, whereas the true costs of service are associated with end-to-end service provision. Moreover, because the design promulgated by your predecessor works so badly from the claimants’ point of view, it also attracts a lot of what I call ‘failure demand’ (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer); people progress-chase, have to visit repeatedly and so on. In councils like Swale (which incidentally was the country’s worst at benefits processing last year and is now the best) claimants heap praise on those who deliver the service.

This matter demands your urgent attention. Continuance of the policy will only further exacerbate costs and service and I am sure that is not your intention.”

I’m not holding my breath on the reply.

How does the Prime Minister ‘get them to do it’?

Blair is appointing a McKinsey consultant to ensure that his public sector reform programme is implemented. That’ll do it!

It is a classic command and control belief, that the way to make change is to decide what you want them to do and tell them. Is what is decided based on knowledge? Can we predict the performance improvement that will ensue?

For some time Mr Blair has had what he calls a ‘Delivery Unit’ in No. 10. It is a misnomer. It should be called the ‘beat up others to do things’ unit, for that is what it does’. What gets delivered as a consequence is another matter.