The seven sisters?

In the last newsletter I reported that the ISO 9000 assessing organisations are known amongst the UN bureaucrats as the ‘seven sisters’, akin to the ‘seven angels’ (oil companies). Readers have suggested other names. Here are some:

The Malignant Seven
The Seven Leeches
The Seven Cardinals (sins)
The Seven Stepford Witches
A pride of parasites

Enough enough. And here here.

Please do what you can to stop this disease. It is the worst British export ever, and we should be ashamed that it is nobbling the competition. As UK registrations fall (we know it is junk) the parasites make hay in the new economies whose organisations are led to believe they have to comply to trade in world markets. The parasites do so through their control of the bureaucracy of promulgation, yes they sit on the committees that drive this terrible phenomenon. Shocking.

Vanguard better than ‘Best Value’

A client wrote about how a change to a Housing Service had gone:

“ was scarily quick but very effective. We seemed to have a new system within about three days. Redesign team were great and very committed. Obviously a bit of anxiety among staff not involved, but a lot of enthusiasm for the change. Brilliant in fact. Such a contrast with the slow pace and no outcome of best value reviews.”

Quite so. Many of our clients can’t get over how fast and effective this change is. In the public sector people are used to ‘best value’ reviews, for which there is no method. These reviews can take months, even years, and get nowhere. Whenever I look at the results of a best value review I find people think they need more resources. It shows how pathetic the review process is.

Just remember who should be held to account for the garbage that has been foisted on the public sector as we move towards an election. Best Value is a statutory requirement; ministers have legislated waste into the system.

Minister is in the dark

Speaking at a Local Government Conference last month, Nick Raynsford, the inister for local government, puzzled over the facts that customer satisfaction with local authorities is falling while performance indicators show improvement. He struggled to find reasons for the apparent contradiction but missed the most obvious: that the performance measures mandated by his department are actually unreliable. Moreover, they are making service worse.

It is the minister that has foisted £8bn worth of information and telephone technology on local authorities resulting in worse service at higher costs. While local authorities get a tick in the box, the user gets worse service. It is the minister that has mandated wasteful inspection bureaucracies (‘best value’, CPA) that add nothing to understanding and improving the work councils do. While the local authorities waste valuable resources meeting the irrelevant demands of officials, the user gets worse service.

Mr Raynsford is in the dark. It is no use him cajoling councils to be better at leadership and customer care for it is the minister himself who should be held responsible for the demise of public services and the tragedy of the associated damage to public sector morale.

(Just I case you weren’t sure where I stood)

The customer’s view

Serendipity. I received this e-mail just after writing the piece above:

“I’ve recently discovered your website after browsing around Amazon and accidentally finding your Freedom from Command and Control book. Your information and articles are really good and so desperately needed. They provide some hope that you’re helping this country and our government wake up from the slumber we seem to have fallen into work-wise since the Industrial Revolution.

Reading January 2004’s Vanguard newsletter about education – Education: Who Loses? – about a Beacon School reminded me of local government awards. My local council often receives awards for surpassing targets and I’m now wondering how much of this is down to natural variation. Another thought occurs to me though…..

I’ve noticed a pattern that the council often receives an award coinciding with a major decrease in services in the area of the award as evaluated by residents/citizens. In other words, just as we’re thinking refuse collection, for example, can’t get any worse, the council is awarded some kind of mark in recognition of its outstanding services in that area.”

Maybe someone should tell the minister.

Win awards! Push up costs and make service worse!

A Vanguard practitioner who works for a local authority noticed East Riding a small local authority in Yorkshire) had won an award for their e-enabled access work. She wrote:

“John, thought you would like this one. The East Riding award says: “The project provides citizens with access to the council’s CRM, enabling them to not only make service requests, but track progress on those requests.”

Excellent, in order to be recognised as pioneering in local government you have to implement IT systems that allow citizens to “self service” failure demand whilst simultaneously increasing failure demand and volumes of dirt in the system, what an excellent way to improve life for your customers!

If the money, effort and resource used to implement this project, let alone the original CRM implementation was put towards learning and acting on the system….how many people would be “tracking progress” on their requests for service….not many! and by acting on the system the East Riding of Yorkshire might actually be able to deliver “integrated services which reach out and bring the council closer to the community.”

Clearly a good student of the Vanguard method. Someone should tell the minister. They should tell him his ‘reward and recognition schemes’ are just promoting those who have done as they are told; it is not the same as improving services.

NHS IT system costs up

It has been announced that the expected spend on the new NHS IT systems has risen from £6bn to £30bn. Earlier this year I spoke on Radio 4 (In Business), they needed someone who would be prepared to express doubts. In a nutshell I said: This is a scheme involving many computer suppliers. They don’t have reputations for co-operating with each other and they can be relied on for behaving contractually, writing agreements that enable them to inflate the work; there is no evidence that hospital consultants will allow access to their schedules for all and sundry; there is no evidence that the lack of national access to patient records is damaging patient health care; there is no evidence the designers of this system know anything about how the work works, and any user will only use a new IT system if it helps them do the work better.

Costs up? Told you so. What would £30bn do if spent on health care?

And government drives the human costs up

A reader writes:

“Re: Daily Telegraph October 18th Page 5 ‘ ‘Politics’ delays ambulance as leukaemia boy lies dying’

This sad story tells of a two hour delay for an ambulance for a desperately ill boy (who went on to die later) with no ambulances available as the A&E department would not allow them to discharge their patients as they were ‘too busy’.

Something very similar happened to a colleague of mine whose wife collapsed one night. After a 20 minute delay she was picked up and taken to the hospital where my colleague was surprised to find 4 ambulances parked outside also with their patients (as per the Daily Telegraph story). Being an enquiring sort of chap, he asked why they were parked up outside and was told the reason was that each patient had to be seen within 4 hours of arriving to hit targets BUT the patient was not considered to have arrived until they were actually admitted into the hospital. Hence the hospital had a reason to hold the ambulances outside until they had sufficient time to treat them.

Unbelievable but true.”

If only our health service were designed against demand. And don’t assume that would mean an increase in costs. In every other sector costs fall as service improves. We have found the same in our first projects in health.

Someone should tell the minister.

De-regulation leads to worse service

We now know that one in every five calls to Directory Enquiries results in customers being given the wrong numbers. Some of the new service providers use cheap labour in other countries and, surprise surprise, language problems hamper the ability to provide service. Some service providers get it wrong as much as 40% of the time.

What’s more the customer is faced with a bewildering ‘choice’ and confusion over prices. Overall prices have risen by 3% since de-regulation but customers can pay much more.

Now the regulator proposes mystery shopping to investigate standards. Who do you suppose will carry the cost?

The service providers are happy. Even if they don’t give customers what they want, they get the money. Should we hurry the regulator into action or recognise that there has been a major systemic mistake?

But ministers don’t make mistakes do they? In any event they love to crow about inspection and controls (fines), to re-assure us they are doing their job properly.

I have been thinking about the perverse consequences of regulation. Over the last twenty years or so we have seen massive growth in regulation of all sectors. It seems to me the bottom line is things get worse not better. Do you have examples that spring to mind? I’d like to start a collection.

Bullying is on the up

The Andrea Adams Trust (an anti-bullying charity) carried out the survey with Personnel Today. They report high levels of bullying incidents with most coming from people working in target-driven organisations such as the NHS, education services and call centres.

I know I have mentioned this before, so bear with me, but I think it won’t be long before unions wake up to the opportunity to challenge these bad management practices under the Human Rights Act. In the Institute of Management’s Guidance for Managers on the Human Rights Act it says:

‘Managers should note that discrimination is unlawful only when there is no reasonable and objective justification for it. Managers should therefore consider the aim and effect of measures which may be judged by employees to be unlawful discrimination, and be able to justify that the measures taken were in proportion to the aims sought and that those aims were reasonable.’

So anyone who has felt the tyranny of arbitrary targets has a claim. I’d be delighted to be an expert witness.

Bonuses reward speed over service

Last month ‘People Management’ magazine reported that performance-related pay is having a negative impact on customer service. Service workers in call centres focus on making their time targets to the detriment of the customers ’ experience. Nothing new here I guess you are thinking. But for me the article made me reflect on the conversations that go on with managers when I point this sort of thing out to them. Managers are instantly drawn to the (wrong) conclusion that they should let people take as long as they need. Yes that’s the way they put it, and it exposes their fear and their attachment to activity data. Their focus needs to change to worrying about capacity. Obsession with agent activity data causes increased variation in their capacity; they will learn that their methods are pretty dumb.

Silly billies.