You are not a dog

I am not a dog.


Blog notwithstanding

You are probably not a dog.


I did say probably.

So if you aren’t a dog why do you need…training?

I was doing some work with a service and before we had even started gathering data, the number one problem and solution had been pre-identified…training! Obviously more of, never less.
This is the number one go-to-solution for a service problem. Training is the default cure-all solution.

In most cases training as a solution to a perceived problem is useless because the design and management of the work system is responsible for WAY more performance than the individual. Get the system right, then use data to see if individuals need help to increase their capability at meeting customer purpose. Train the system! Not the individual.

Training is done in rooms away from the actual work, divorced from the context of the real problems which have prompted the training in the first place. Then the person goes back to the work where nothing has changed and is the same system with the same performance problems and the same causes…the design and management of the work. Training won’t solve that. Changing managment thinking will solve that.

Yes, yes, yes, but why is training so useless? Well, there is the thing…..


 It fits.

It fits right into the current way of thinking, the actual root cause of performance problems.
It fits with the assumed problems of command and control:
-problems of command (telling people the command bit)
-problems of control (the ability of people to do those commands).

Look at the things that people are allowed to say are problems in your organisation. If it is fine and dandy to talk about the “communication problems” or “people with the right skills” then BE ALERT. Those aren’t the real problems. They are just the default words that people are allowed to talk about. It’s never controversial to say there should be more and better communication or more skills would be a good thing.

Training as a default solution doe not challenge these assumptions, it buttresses them.

The most important things learned are never trained out, they are learned in the work by doing. [like this post says]. Training just adds new stuff, which may or may not be useful but learning changes you for the better by testing and then chucking out old stuff that isn’t relevant any more. Just ask Homer!

A test.
Imagine a person approaches you for some advice on something. The sort of big thing, where someone less experienced comes and needs your opinion. Imagine you thinking…you know what to say… you clear your throat and start your answer…

Do you say

“I have been trained that…”


“I have learned that…”

Anything important will have been learned. Learning trumps training every day. When people learn they are changed, permanently.
You are a homo sapiens, literally “wise man“, or woman, and you got that way through learning not training because you are not a dog.
Training fades, learning stays.

Posted in command and control, learning, systems thinking | Tagged ,

3 reasons why National Customer Service Week is rubbish

It’s National Customer Service Week! Celebrate!




Here at ThinkPurpose we love customers so we’d like to tell you about a fantastic event dedicated to improving service for the customer.

Set up by the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service to….

raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays in successful business practice and the growth of the UK economy.

And who could argue with that ?

Here are 3 reasons why it’s rubbish

1: It’s a gimmick

wpid-img_20141006_192504.jpgWhat happens before it? In the week afterwards? Why not all the time?

Why a week at all? It’s a jamboree of gimmicks. There are characters like Captain Keyple, on the left…


I’ve seen fun as a replacement for doing good work, as it’s easier.

Easier to dig into the dressing up box and have Pirate Day.

Easier to get an unemployed drama student to wear Captain Keyple’s foam costume.

There are people wearing sashes


Did they wear the sash home on the bus?

Standing round a bit uncomfortably but there ARE balloons as well to jolly along the customer service excellence.

2: It’s not about customer service


Some arcane part of the convoluted USA healthcare system is joining in too.

HANG ON here is a chance to see it demonstrating excellent customer service in action….







Time for some excellent customer service methinks…


Exemplary listening and knowledgeable. And utterly irrelevant to the customers needs. What matters is her family keep their family doctors. The system should be designed to deliver what matters to the customer. The WHOLE organisations purpose should be customer service. But here Customer service is reduced to mean the thin layer of call centres that surrounds and protects organisations from their customer, mopping up and being polite.

What other purpose would the other parts of an organisation have if not customer service? Who ARE they serving? It is a perfect example of not taking a systems approach. If there is one part of the organisation whose job it is to “service” the customer, then presumably this is NOT the purpose of the other parts. In the example above of the healthcare provider, one part of the organisation is failing the customers by changing their family doctors, it doesn’t matter HOW good customer services are, they cannot help.

There is a dead giveaway on the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service’s website






These two questions are the wrong way round.

Ask instead…

  • How do you measure the impact of your business performance on customer service?
  • To what extent do leaders in your organisation understand the impact of business performance on customer service?

The purpose of an organisation with customers is customer service, not “business performance”. That’s just a way of keeping score and continuing to have and serve customers.

3: It’s sloppy and muddled thinking



All the customer service consultants are crawling out the woodwork with their shiny smiles and sloppy thinking.

How about this from the guy with the teeth above…

Start making a plan for daily – yes, daily – reinforcement of your customer service standards.”
“Commit to empowering your employees. Employee empowerment, or autonomy, is important stuff.”
Important stuff! And here is from the lady pictured above rolling a bogey between her fingers…

Customer experience superstars celebrate what they contribute to the customer’s success. They take extra care and pride in doing it.
Be customer experience superstars. Shine through the customers’ achievements. Be instruments to their success. Get set and be ready for mission possible!”

This is typical of the bilge I’m seeing flow through twitter at the moment.

It is almost as if these people have no knowledge of the root cause of performance, the system, which is shaped by the thinking of people in charge. In fact, it IS it.

This is the reason why I retch, the unadulterated idiocy of organisations who’d rather wear a sash and wave a balloon than work on improving the system. Y’know, for the customers.




Posted in customer, plausible but untrue, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Why targets are good

Targets are good. They work.

Comparing this quarters performance with last quarters, is good. It works

Benchmarking performance against a group of other organisations, is good. That works too.


Calm down! Let’s go back a bit….

Q: What’s the first question to ask of any system?

A: “What is the purpose of this system?”

You can’t know if an activity makes sense unless you know what it is supposed to do in the context of the system it is in. Until you know it’s purpose, you’ll never know if a part is doing the right thing.

So, what’s the purpose of a performance management system?
Not the usual rubbish answer either, the real answer. The POSIWID answer.

Look closely at how people act with performance information and you will see that the purpose of a performance management system is to provide one of two words….


When a performance report is in the executive boardroom, the question being asked ALWAYS requires a yes/no answer.

Questions such as…

  • Have you hit your target?
  • Are we better than this time last quarter?
  • Are we good compared with others?

To get these questions answered you simply compare…

  • an actual performance against a target GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • this quarters with last quarters GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • yourself against others in a ranked list GIVES you a yes or a no.

In a command and control organisation the method of management is management by objectives. People, especially senior managers, are held responsible for delivering certain numerical objectives. That’s the command bit. The control bit is measuring whether they have or not through corporate performance management. The yes/no is provided quarterly at a big table in an even bigger report stuffed full of yes/no’s.

Targets, benchmarking and other binary comparisons are characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose.

It is just not the purpose you might assume it to be.

This is why it NEVER works to try and improve poor performance measures without improving the thinking that created them.

A common error is to go in at the level of the tool, to show why targets dont work but control charts do. There is a reason why they were using targets in the first place. You cannot assume that people have what you consider “poor measures” because they aren’t good at maths or because they haven’t read the right books.

Instead go in at the level of the thinking. Ask them what questions specifically they are trying to answer. Ask what specific problems they are trying to solve. There is a reason why people do everything they do. It makes sense to them, it needn’t make sense to you.

The purpose of this whole blog is about changing management thinking. If you don’t change management thinking, you’re not doing much at all. In the case of performance measures if you don’t address the thinking…

  • show someone a control chart, they will ask where the target is.
  • come up with a measure of customer purpose, they will ask how they can benchmark it.
  • if you put measures in the hands of people doing the work, someone will want it reported to a boardroom far away.

These are 5  characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provide a yes/no answer…

The Wrong Measure

    1. Do they relate to targets, standards and other arbitrary benchmarks?

    2. Do they measure functional performance and activity not attainment of purpose

Shown The Wrong Way

   3. Are they expressed as static data points, averages , percentages, RAG etc??

Used in the wrong place by the wrong people

  4. Are they primarily used for reporting to the boardroom?

  5. Are they used as a carrot or a stick, not a tool for learning and improvement??


These are characteristics to aspire to in a command and control organisation. That is why to go in at the level of the performance measure trying to improve that, is a waste of time. The following are characteritics of good performance measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provoke a question, not provide an answer..

The Right Measure

    1. Does it measure purpose and what matters to the customer as defined by the customer?

Shown The Right Way

   2. Does it demonstrate predictable capability (to meet purpose & what matters) and variation over time?

   3. Is it used to connect actions with consequences so learning can take place

Used in the right place by the right people

  4. Is it used by people doing the work it measures, in the work being measured, to understand and improve the work?

  5. Does it lead people to learn and improve against purpose?


NB All this stuff is Vanguard content, all I do is copy and paste. But I do it beautifully.

Posted in vanguard method, systems thinking, data, targets, thinking | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Lesson learned


This is a fellow onion.
Look how sad she is.

We’d just finished, or rather abandoned, a project, so decided to do a lessons learned exercise.

These are specific lessons we learnt during the work and what we wrote on our flip charts….

1: A meeting room of people agreeing something is like a class room agreeing. Nobodies learnt, they’ve just nodded that they’ve agreed not to disagree.

2:  Policies don’t work. Nobody knows they exist, and if they do, they don’t know what’s in them, and if they do, they rightly don’t care.

3: Regular official meetings are worse than ineffective, they suck life from your bones, if you want to communicate with someone don’t “have a meeting”, just meet someone.

4: Use a hand drawn picture, it’s better than a description of something that could exist as it actually does. You can point at it and talk about something concrete rather than guess the contents of each others heads.

We actually learnt that. So why the glum face?
We thought that this, and other lessons would be useful for colleagues.
We tried to get others involved, told them what we’d learnt. Nobody was interested, or even agreed.
We soon realised it is pointless as it was us who had learned, so telling someone else is pointless. That is the actual lesson learned, only you can learn a lesson. Anyone else is just told it.

Lesson learned.

Posted in systems thinking, knowledge, learning, thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

I’m not at my desk right now









Posted in leadership, learning, systems thinking | Tagged , | 2 Comments

9 more ways to tell you have a Joke Job

As per previous post, there are many types of Joke Jobs in C&C land. Here are 9 ways to tell you might have one of them.

  1. You type a lot of words.
    If you’re typing, try speaking. If there’s too many people to speak to, there’s too many people full stop.
  2. You write strategies, plans or policies.
    All strategies, plans and policies exist in people’s heads. If they don’t, writing one won’t put it there. It just puts words on paper.
  3. You refresh things.
    Strategies, plans, policies. If youre refreshing anything other than the decor in your house, you’re not refreshing anything at all.
  4. You “theme” things.
    If you use the word “theme” in any context at work and you don’t work in musical composition, you have a Joke Job. Dead givaway.
  5. You draft emails.
    Emails are typed and sent. They are casual communication, they are not papal announcements. Drafting one, for others to read and check, is the sign of a Joke Job.
  6. You use the word “inform” whilst meaning the complete opposite
    For example, “the data will inform the development of this years Partnership Strategy“, means “the data will be completely ignored in the  development of this years Partnership Strategy
  7. The passive tense is used in all communications that are sent by you.
    Words that are sent by you will therefore have been born with the air of inevitibility, universal truth and fait accompli showered upon them.
  8. You form conclusions with no data.
    Outside of work this is called “having an opinion“. At work it is called “making a decision“.
  9. You take documents places.
    You take documents for a walk. You take policies into the Theme Board, strategies into the Executive Strategic Meeting or reports into Cabinet. Documents aren’t young children or dogs, they don’t need to be taken on small excursions.
Posted in command and control, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged | 4 Comments

Do you have a joke job?

kk (paint)


I think “manager” is a Joke Job.

I feel sorry for the people who are managers, they’ve been duped into believing that working hard and doing things right will be rewarded with a bigger and better job.
In fact they’ve been duped into a Joke Job. This is not another post where I have a go at managers, “managers” are just as much a feature of command and control thinking as other Joke Jobs like “policy officer” or “internal audit”. It’s not their fault. Here are…

4 reasons why “manager” is a joke job

  1.  You have little control over the work
    The phrase “command and control” is a lie.
    Most organisations are command and control, but in theory only. Changes are made that have no actual impact on reality outside of a report. You say things, other things get done. Managers cannot control work standing outside it, based on flawed second hand knowledge, but that’s their job.
  2. You perform meaningless tasks and have to pretend they’re real
    IPRs, performance reviews, appraisals, call them what you want, most of us have to deal with only one of them, our own. Managers have to deal with handfuls of the things. Typing up lie after lie, “If I’m doing all this work, either it’s worthwhile or I’M stupid.“, finding themselves in “a situation in which a person’s behavior is inconsistent with their beliefs, that person tends to justify the behavior and deny any negative feedback associated with the behavior.”[link] And so the stupid rolls on…
  3. People regularly lie to you
    The centre of purpose in a command and control organisation is “whoever tells me what to do“, and if youre a manager, thats you. Due to Point 1 [above], you are making all sorts of changes to the work that odds on won’t be making things better, but people will be telling that it is. Why so? Because you are purpose. Hard to achieve, but rather easier to lie to, especially when somebodies job depends upon it. Two people’s, theirs AND yours.
    Consensual lying flourishes, the best type too, the type that doesn’t know it is a lie after a short while. Whenever you say something people are expected to not only hear the words you say but also the thoughts you think. This helps with communication no end as people can only guess what’s in your head and then lie to you based on their assumptions of what you would like to hear. Everyone’s a winner.
  4. You are expected to know everything even when completely ignorant
    Poor you. Making decisions in ignorance, people lying to you about the results, AND STILL you’re supposed to know what’s going on. Here’s some help though…your staff will still act as if you know everything. “What should we do?”, “I dunno, let’s ask the boss”. Note the use of the word “should” , not what could we do, but should do. What are the chances that the person who knows what to do is a person who’s lied to, doesn’t know what’s going on and will assume you can read their mind?
    Slim at best?

Any job that could only make sense in a command and control organization is based on a flawed theory about how work works, and therefore is not a real job. “Manager” is a joke job.



Posted in command and control, leadership, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment