Some very good news

I had a meeting with the new minister for adult social care. He listened with interest and asked good questions. Having just arrived on seat, he had not read my paper (which if you have not, you can get at: but he has promised to do so and we are to meet again.

It is heartening to find that when you finally get to speak to the man at the top you experience a good listening to.

Some disappointing news

My letter to Mr Miliband, which immediately became a letter to Mrs Kelly following the ministerial re-shuffle, led to the following reply from the minister’s department:

“Thank you for your letter … about performance assessment for local government. Your comments on the existing performance framework for local government have been noted. This Department will be publishing a Local Government White Paper later in the year which will be of interest to you as it is likely to deal with issues such as a new performance framework for local government.”

Disappointed that hours of labour writing the letter did not get the response I felt it deserved, I wrote back to ask: Did the minister read my letter? If not, who did? A civil servant replied:

“Ministers receive a vast amount of correspondence and it is not possible for them to read and respond to all the letters they receive. It was decided that your letter should be handled by officials rather than by the Minister, so the Minister would not have read your letter. Colleagues within the Department were consulted about your letter and it was decided that your comments were interesting and timely in the context of the forthcoming White Paper which is likely to deal with many of the issues you raise. I will ensure you are sent a copy of the White paper once it has been published.”

What worries me is that these people, who are likely to know nothing about how the work actually works and who are likely to be concerned about how policy fits with what they like to call the ‘narrative’ (the story politicians tell), will not actually understand what my paper is saying and won’t ask me questions in order to gain that understanding.

These people are trapped in the government’s management factory. What confidence can we have that the next policy won’t repeat the mistakes of the past?

The management factory is the problem

The Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing think-tank, has published a report blaming top civil servants for policy failures. The report says that the root of the Government’s latest problems is an unreformed Civil Service rather than badly performing ministers.

Last weekend the top union official for the civil servants was in the media defending his members. None of this will go anywhere useful. The problem is the factory itself; it is, by definition, a place where decisions are not based on knowledge. The blame game is a feature of life in the management factory.

People who care don’t bother any more

A reader writes:

“I suspect that the minister will carry on regardless. Regulation and control by officialdom is what socialists do for heavens sake-without it they have no power or purpose!!

Personally, I am so brassed off with the whole regime that I propose to take early retirement and let them get on with it. Banging your head against a brick wall eventually gives you a bad head. Time to go.”

It is sad to see people becoming so demoralised that they vote with their feet.

A disturbing encounter

I was invited to a minister’s ‘roundtable’ discussion on efficiency in the public sector. One of the questions my group put to the panel concerned the evidence for efficiency gains achieved through shared services (yes, my question). The chief executive of the Audit Commission answered, citing the Audit Commission’s (November 2005) report on housing benefits processing by local authorities. The design of the roundtable’s process prevented me from objecting – it might be called a discussion but in fact it was a controlled conversation.

I have been corresponding with the Audit Commission about this report since its publication (if you have not read it see my letter to Frances Done at: I have been pressing for evidence to support the report’s conclusions. These enquiries have established that the evidence is not there. Worse, the example cited by the Audit Commission’s researchers as the ‘best’ is a site that Vanguard has visited. And what did we find? Cheating to make targets. And that means worse service and higher costs.

Because the people in the Audit Commission operate from the management factory they seek evidence to support policy (these councils followed the advice to set up shared services and their achievement of targets is better); it is not the same as seeking evidence from which to gain knowledge (what is the true cost of providing benefits through shared services?). I am going to write to the minister who chaired the day. The influence of the management factory has pushed the Audit Commission into being an instrument of coercion, forcing things onto local authorities that are, in fact, the wrong thing to do.

It’s not the way we do things

Management factory phenomena are by no means limited to the public sector. Two Vanguard practitioners re-designed a vehicle leasing business using systems principles and, as is usual, gained massive improvements in service, efficiency and employee morale. Their work got the attention of the management factory. The result is one has been demoted and the other has left. They were told ‘very interesting, but its not the way we do things here’.

It interests me that this was in one of our largest financial services organisations, for I have seen the same phenomenon many times before in that sector. The creation of service ‘factories’ has meant, in parallel, the creation of incredibly large management factories where all decisions about work design are made. The systems solution designs out this kind of interference; for it puts design into process. To go along with it has major implications for these peoples’ jobs. They are right, its not the way things are done here. But it ought to be.

Lean in the cupboard

I notice how many organisations are setting up ‘lean’ departments. These are people who have some training (usually in ‘lean tools’) whose job it is to go out into the organisation and ‘make it lean’. What people fail to realise is that ‘lean’ is a way of working; it should not be ‘in the cupboard’ but out on the floor. Pushing ‘tools’ onto the floor won’t achieve that because the way the floor works is governed by the current system and that’s what has to change.

Putting ‘lean’ in the cupboard is what management factories do. It doesn’t work.

The Toyota System for service organisations

On October 17 and 18 I shall be presenting “The Toyota System for service organisations”. It is an event that will feature client practitioners. I am delighted to say Paul Elliott (Eon, aka Powergen) will be speaking, a man who has worked with systems principles in previous roles with First Direct and BT and who is leading a change to move his organisation from worst to best in a year – he appeared on TV earlier this year and committed to turn it around. I know he will succeed because he is an extraordinarily competent systems thinker and leader. Others of the same ilk include Lynne Jiggins (BT), who was the first pioneer of systems thinking in BT, David Barr (Standard Life) who has transformed HR services and has views on the consequences for HR policy in a systems world, Keith Mansfield (Friends Provident), now well ahead with the systems approach, Dr Carlton Brand (of St Edmundsbury Council), Tim Blanch (chief executive Swansea Housing) John van de Laarschot (chief executive Torridge Council) all of whom are achieving extraordinary results in short time-scales. Not to mention Ron Skea (Dundee Council) who has led a number of changes, Jo Byrne (West Midlands Police), where the re-design of policing is leading to better service and power costs, Laurence Barrett (Velux) who has led the transformation of Velux’s UK operations and Sharon Jones, Head of Customer Services Zurich Insurance who will show how the systems approach releases capacity providing for growth.

There will also be whole sections of the programme devoted to getting down to the detail, where you will see what was learned from ‘check’, how systems were re-designed and what results have been achieved. There will be examples from utilities, financial services, police, housing, local authority services and many more. While people will naturally want to go to examples that are from their sector, I shall encourage them to go to others, for it is easier to ‘get it’ when you see how the thinking applies to organisations that you are not familiar with.

On top of all that, I am delighted that Professor Maurice Holt will be talking about ‘slow education’, the antidote to the disastrous targets and inspection regime, and we are planning some interesting surprises. We will be taking bookings in a couple of weeks. In the meantime if you want to register your interest get in touch with Polly:, 01280-822255.

Vanguard on the new curricula

Cardiff University’s new MSc in Lean Service will include Vanguard’s work. The first programme starts in October. To find out more e-mail:

Hull University’s new MSc in systems thinking will also include a module on Vanguard’s work. To find out more e-mail:

In case it matters, ignore the fact that these institutions are where they are. The Cardiff programme will travel around students’ work sites and both programmes are modular, so it only requires being away for short periods when you are ‘in class’.