Management want things to happen.

So, they send out mission statements, exhortations to treat customers well; they put up posters that say things like: ‘Everybody is responsible for quality’. They rain down targets and incentives; they send out new methods and procedures; they buy new IT systems.

Then, in a variety of ways, they demand reports – ‘explain what you are doing’.

People report (mostly) what management want to hear. So it looks like things are improving. Activity compliant with edicts is taken as evidence of success (‘getting them to do it’).

This has been the story of change in public services. But little do ministers know that reports of compliance are no more than that; and compliance with bad ideas to boot. The ‘evidence of success’ is policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy.

It is the same in the private sector. Reports of compliance with edicts mislead and foster complacency.

How can we know that the edict is the right thing to do? Only by having knowledge of the system.

Is exhortation right when leaders have that knowledge? It depends on whether the people have the wherewithal to take the action required.

Both knowledge of the system and providing the wherewithal are responsibilities of leaders. It beats writing slogans.