The new book

I am delighted to say that the new case studies book is now available from Triarchy Press. The publisher has done a superb job of promotion, inviting David Walker of the Audit Commission to take the book as evidence that my ‘nostrums’ (as he described them) work. Will he read it? Will he even be interested?

You can get the book from: http://www.triarchypress.com/pages/Systems_Thinking_Case_Studies.htm

Evidence? Just deny it!

I am confident Walker will simply deny the evidence. The Audit Commission is part of the regime, not an independent voice. In the last month we have seen ministers react to evidence of public services failing, simply by denying.

One was Anthony Seldon’s address to the College of Teachers, where he said the emphasis on testing in schools is destroying learning. The minister denied, claiming the test results as proof of improvement. A separate study showed that parents did not rely on league tables when choosing schools, casting doubt on government claims that league table position is the top priority when making a choice. The minister denied, claiming parents do rely on the results. Another was the report on Staffordshire’s hospital, which cited targets and cost management to be the prime reasons for the hospital killing hundreds of people. Again, the minister simply denied, blaming the managers.

How can we have any respect for these people? Add to these: the results I showed the then minister for social care (in 2005!), which showed how compliance with the regime’s prescriptions created high-cost poor-quality care services and, moreover, how costs could be radically cut while services are improved. Ignored. The many studies showing how children’s care services are made worse by the computer system mandated for use by the minister. Ignored. The evidence I have published on how all local authority services are made worse by compliance with dumb ideas and bullying inspections. Ignored. And don’t get me started on housing or health… I could go on, I often do.

David Cameron promises that the public sector will no longer be subjected to the terror of targets and central direction if his party wins the election. In truth any new government has to take this opportunity. We need to get ministers out of management.

You can follow the Seldon story at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/mar/09/anthony-seldon-examinations

The league table story: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article7029813.ece

The Staffordshire story: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article7039285.ece

Oneplace… a waste of space

Further to my piece in the last newsletter on the Audit Commission’s crowing about the number of visitors to oneplace (the site where inspectors post their inspection reports for all local authorities), we sent a Freedom of Information request to the Audit Commission to find out whether what I was saying was true, that the people accessing oneplace are the poor devils from local authorities who want to know what has been published about them.

The Audit Commission has replied: “The usage of the site is anonymous, therefore I am unable to provide the information you have requested as this information it is not held by the Commission”. A fascinating admission.

Consider the Audit Commission’s stated purpose for oneplace: “oneplace will help answer the simple question ‘how well I am being served by local public services?’.” And Audit Commission Chief Executive Steve Bundred said: “Our aim is for oneplace to become the first-choice site for anyone seeking independent information on what is, and isn’t, being achieved by local public services in their part of England.”

As any fool knows, finding out where visitors to your web site come from is easy; you won’t know who they are but you will know where they are from. Given the Audit Commission’s purpose, shouldn’t they want to know? Shouldn’t top management be obsessive about understanding whether they are achieving their purpose? Unless of course they don’t care for evidence.

Total Place: total con

Meanwhile, the truth is coming out about Total Place. As I warned, this cost-counting exercise will be used as the basis for Treasury decisions about funding public services. As all systems thinkers know, a focus on costs teaches you nothing and knowing how to focus on value drives out costs you never would have ‘seen’ doing Total Place. Total Place has been a con-trick. Follow the story at:


Ofsted doesn’t help

A systems thinker writes to tell me she is working on a systems thinking intervention to integrate health and local authority services for children and families. She wanted to find out which other authorities were doing the same. Someone suggested to her that Ofsted (the regulator) might know.

She learned nothing from the Oftsed web site so phoned. A “friendly young man” said he would like to help her, but asked her to email her enquiry so that it could be properly responded to, which she did. Friendly, but not helpful – a management problem.

She waited. She phoned again. She was told that there was a problem with their online queries, which was losing enquiries. She was urged to email it again. She did. A reply arrived the next day which totally missed the mark, so she rephrased her question. This time the response was that she should try looking at their website, where she had started! She then sent an email complaint and received a speedy response, confirming receipt of the complaint…

Not only does Ofsted’s ‘help line’ have all the features of government help lines (they don’t help), it is indicative of the fact that regulators are not concerned with improvement, merely compliance. Again, little concern for evidence.

Caulkin will be back

Simon Caulkin, erstwhile management editor for the Observer, was awarded the accolade “Columnist of the year” by the Work Foundation. The citation praised his “gripping well-written and insightful writing” … combining “depth of knowledge with an ability to bring alive whatever subjects he covers”. Of course the Observer didn’t run this story as they sacked him last autumn in a cost-cutting exercise. We need Simon’s voice more than ever. I am pleased to be able to tell you he’ll be back!

Watch this space.

The front-line speaks out

Following my inaugural lecture at Derby University I received the following mail:

“I just wanted to say thank you! I am a lowly frontline supervisor (I still like it there, despite everything) in [the public sector]. After years of being vilified, almost criminalised, by high management, the media and totally incompetent central government, it is so wonderful to hear from someone who’s on our side at long last. It is fantastic that there is an academic who can examine the big picture, marshal all the evidence, facts and figures and speak to these people in language they (almost) understand. Anyone on the frontline could tell them what goes on: any man, woman or halfway intelligent child or even dog on the street could tell them, but they will not listen to working people.

Thank you. You are a drink of cold water in the desert!”

It’s the kind of reaction that gives me a fillip. If you want to listen to the lecture, you can find the pod-cast at: http://www.derby.ac.uk/corporate-relations/podcasts

Freedom in Swedish

“Freedom from Command and Control” has been translated into Swedish and will be published soon. The Swedes, like the Danes, went for ‘lean’ big-time and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Big investments, poor returns, demoralised people. Vanguard people have been regular visitors to Sweden and Swedish pioneers are learning about the results that can be achieved with systems thinking. It is an important lesson for everyone who has been seduced by the ‘lean’ propaganda. I shall be speaking at the book launch in Stockholm on Tuesday April 27th and Gothenburg Wednesday April 28th. The arrangements are being prepared, if you want to register your interest in the meantime, please email office@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Housing events coming up

The achievements derived from systems thinking in housing are immense; more housing organisations are applying the principles and, best of all, the new regulator has developed a framework for regulation that permits managers the freedom to choose methods and measures, the first regulator to do so.

Vanguard’s leader on housing services, John Little, is organising events featuring some of the leading exponents of systems thinking in housing. As John says: “Taking the systems approach, housing organisations see their old housing management problems dissolve. They unlock unimagined quality improvements at the same time as achieving jaw-dropping cost savings.”

You will see housing managers describing how they have developed conflict-free relationships with repairs and maintenance contractors, delivering repairs to specific appointment times to the amazement of tenants. You will learn about Real Choice Lettings (RCL), delivering actual choice to customers that in turn lead to more sustainable tenancies; you will see how the systems approach to rent removes conflict with tenants, increases collection rates and lowers costs. You will be shown a different way of approaching planned maintenance, saving millions across the life of the programme; and, naturally, you will see why government targets are rendered irrelevant.

The events are in Leeds (Tuesday 13th April), Cardiff (Thursday 13th May) and Brighton (Tuesday 22nd June). To register: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Systems Fundamentals in Derby

The next Systems Fundamentals programme offered by Derby University is scheduled for May 6, June 8 and July 6. It is a three-day action-learning programme (you have to do work between the teaching days). For details: s.smith@derby.ac.uk

Looking for an interim systems thinker?

I know of a couple of Vanguard-trained competent systems thinkers looking for interim work. If you are looking for an interim systems thinker to make a real difference, let me know.

Jobs for systems thinkers in housing and financial services


A systems-thinking housing organisation on the south coast is seeking to recruit an Area Housing Manager. If this interests you in the first instance contact Jeremy Cox: jeremy.cox@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Financial services:

Head of Technical & Compliance
You are an industry professional with at least five years experience at managerial / board level in a high end IFA / wealth management practice. You are technically excellent and have a thirst for continual improvement, qualified to at least Diploma level and preferably CFP standard. With a very keen eye for detail and a can do attitude, you are seeking an environment where you can let your talent truly shine. You will work for one of the country’s most progressive, boutique wealth management firms and possess a passion, like we do, for service excellence and systems thinking.

You will benefit from a career path and an opportunity to grow. We offer excellent working conditions and a very competitive package.
Email your CV to: tracey@fiscalengineers.com