My new book: special offer to Newsletter readers

My new book – “Freedom from command and control: a better way to make the work work” will be published in October. It is priced at £20. A bargain, he says modestly. You – as a Newsletter reader – can avail yourself of a once-only pre-print offer price of only £10 a copy plus postage:

UK postage £2-50
Other EU countries: £4-50
Non EU (international): £10-00

To place your order, please e-mail: or call (44)-1280-822255 with your credit card. This offer closes October 1st.

A number of Vanguard clients have given me quotes for the cover; here are a few to give you a flavour of what they thought of the book:

“Seldom in our lifetimes does a person advocate a journey that only promises the opportunity to feel completely and utterly uncomfortable and wrong. Destroying the working paradigm takes a massive act of conviction from management, admitting that you have been wrong (for years) takes an equally massive act of bravery. Putting the two together feels fundamentally insane but to create real moments of change in today’s business world takes leaps of faith. In this book John Seddon provides a key to the wise and the brave that can unlock their people, their customers and their profits. Do you have the faith, bravery and conviction to use it?”

Bruce MacLellan, Director, Customer Contact, Capital One.

“Successive governments have sought improvements to public services through a mixture of Whitehall designed carrots and sticks. The approach isn’t working. There is a better way. John Seddon’s description is clear and practical. Essential reading for public service managers who are willing to change the way they think.”

Peter Stott, Managing Director, Home Housing Association

“As a public sector practitioner I found John Seddon’s book a beacon of sanity in the increasingly insane world of targets, Best Value Performance Indicators, league tables and inspection regimes. Not only is his approach intellectually stimulating – it works! Improved performance across my organisation is a testament to its effectiveness.”

David Weatherley, Chief Executive, Tamworth Borough Council

“Taiichi Ohno’s system (the Toyota Production System) was an innovation in manufacturing. He proved how better quality and lower cost can be attained at the same time. In plain language, John Seddon shows how to successfully translate these ideas to service organisations”. Takaji Nishizawa, consultant in world class manufacturing.

We KNOW targets don’t work

This month there has been a series of reports describing how targets just don’t work. The head of the UK’s probation service described “bloody government targets” as “crude and amateurish” and he lamented the “manuals, circulars, protocols, reports, returns, statistics and an enormous growth in central civil servants”. It is happening everywhere; this is what UK Gov plc does in the name of modernisation; it builds a massive bureaucratic machine that works against purpose. As a policeman said last month on a TV programme: “Wasting police time is an offence”, maybe ministers should be charged?

Leaving aside the bureaucracy of specification and inspection, the problem is people know of no alternative to targets. But the alternative is easy. Use capability measures. They tell you what actually happens, targets can’t tell you that; capability measures are derived from purpose, targets are not. Capability measures can be used by people who do the work to understand and improve the work, targets can’t be used that way. And best of all capability measures create a culture of improvement because decision-making gets tied to the work, the focus is on the work not the fulfilment of an arbitrary measurement bureaucracy.

Targets don’t pass my test of a good measure: Does this help in understanding and improving the work? Capability measures pass the test. Lots more on all this in the new book.

Stressed out

The Health and Safety Executive has made its first ‘enforcement order’. This means that a hospital must conduct a stress assessment and then make plans to deal with stress. It is a complete madness. The primary causes of stress in our organisations are the way work is designed and managed. In particular in the public sector, this means adherence to government-specified activities that have little or no bearing on the work. A stress assessment would, like a staff survey, only give you information about symptoms; as such it is an exercise that just creates bureaucratic waste. The actions that are bound to follow will not tackle the causes of stress but create more in as much as managers will be ‘under the gun’ to ‘do things’.

Managers are ‘under the gun’ to do all kinds of things in our public sector organisations. They spend their time fulfilling the needs of the hierarchy, not improving the work. The hierarchy in the public sector now includes a vast array of specifiers (ministers, officials, quangos) who create their specifications on the basis of opinion, not knowledge. It would be far better if their time was devoted to working on the work. You’ve guessed it – I talk a lot about this in my new book!

Tony’s employment strategy

Tony Blair proudly trumpets the UK’s employment record. But where are all the new jobs? Loads of them are in the specification and inspection regimes now burdening our public sector organisations. I am looking in to the numbers; they are very scary. One estimate is 600,0000 people employed to dictate to and then check up on others.

In the book (can you put up with the plugs?) I discuss how to dismantle the specification and inspection regime, for it has to be done if we want our public sector organisations to improve.

More six sigma feedback

A reader wrote:

“I have a friend who worked for a six-sigma company. She said the black belts all knew the one big change that would turn the company around but since they had to do a certain number of projects every year to keep their black belts they kept it under their hats and worked on a lot of smaller, less effective projects instead!”

I replied, asking what was the big change. She told me her friend wasn’t told because she was not a black belt. It alerts me to a criticism of six sigma that I didn’t include in the book: it creates elitism. So not everything got into the book (!).

More on Intelligent management

Last month I ran an item on Intelligent Finance’s announcement they have a detailed call monitoring and agent measurement system. It was scathing of course. It brought a reply from one of the subjects of the regime.

Apparently managers measure how many calls the agent has to transfer. They don’t want agents to transfer any but there are processes that only specialist groups are trained to do. When you get a load of calls you need to transfer (losing the lottery), you get black marks.

Unsurprisingly peoples’ energy does go into making excuses. Apparently managers initially asked for all reasons for transferring calls to be documented. Agents did so. Then managers said there is too much detail in the comments and information was being added that was not needed. Managers are clearly focused on controlling agent behaviour, they would be better off working on how well the system solved customers’ problems.

My correspondent tells me management’s primary focus is on average call handling time, which they want to be low. As the workers say: “Strange then that they also measure you on giving extra information and trying to turn your call into a sale. Why would anyone want to extend the length of their call by selling something when they are being measured on keeping the call time low?

And as for the new monitoring system being introduced with the ‘buy-in’ of all staff. I am told the response is Hah! Foisted upon them is what the people say. People’s bonuses and pay rises are directly linked to their activity stats so agents are stuck with it.

As Deming said (kind of) I guess these managers don’t care about profit?

If you care about profit, buy my book(!) Its on special offer!

Enough of the plugs.