The secret management model that must not be named

It’s my annual appraisal tomorrow, the lowlight of my year.

I announce my opinion of appraisals out loud, and nobody disagrees, most agree, for the usual reasons.

  • “why once a year do you talk about work and how it’s going? we have 121s every month!”
  • “why score someone with “satisfactory”? How’s THAT going to make them aspire to be better!”
  • “what’s with these VALUES?! I’ve got my own that I much prefer!”
  • “Most of the things on my appraisal were cancelled in the following months”

Everyone says they should be done “better”, but nobody says don’t do them at all.

Keen readers of this blog will have noticed that I’m fan of Deming. Despite him being old and boring, he is totally right as well. He said just don’t do them. That’s really the only answer to them.

I’m not going to list all their faults, or why they’re silly, cos I’m not that conscientious, you can google for that. Trust me, or Google, it’s up to you, either way, they’re worthless and damaging but for some reason staff can’t entertain the idea of doing away with them completely. Why’s that?

I think it’s cos they’re an essential part of an invisible and unnamed management model that nobody really grasps exists, or even has a name. The model runs everything. Like the illuminati. From the strategic plans to individual objectives in your annual appraisal. Runs ’em all. The performance monitoring, the use of binary comparisons of target against actual. Every damn thing is permeated by the secret model that nobody knows exists or has a name….

Unless they’ve read a book or two, or taken the slightest interest in how work works, then they’ll know.

It’s called ….




There. It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named has now been named. Like Lord Voldemort

Management By Objective is the name, and by their name so shall ye know them.

Plans, seem natural. Cascaded objectives from above, seem natural. Individual targets derived from plans, seem natural and inevitable.

They are not natural.

They SEEM natural because they’re all that most staff have ever seen in the workplace. They’re as natural as cars or mobile phones. Ie, ubiquitous but man-made. A choice.

They are integral parts of Management By Objectives, or MBO.

MBO is the unknown and un-named model that runs the vast majority of organisations.

You’ll have seen triangles in your work. In interminable service plans or strategic policy documents. Things that assert with a straight face what the organisation and therefore you will be doing.

This is a visual model of MBO. Your annual appraisal, no matter where you sit in the triangle, will be a monitoring of your delivery of a tiny chunk of it.

And MBO is roundly, almost comedically, discredited.

The first time i heard of it it was being debunked. I didn’t even hear of it when it was being mooted, or in its prime! It is THAT much of a secret to most staff. And that old-fashioned.

And it doesn’t work! Not as a model of how work actually works, or an aspiration of how it could work. Drucker first popularised it in the 1950s, so it’s had time enough to see if it COULD work. Look around you, does it?

Which brings me back to appraisals. Do they work? Not in theory, not if you tried really hard and THIS time made it work, but actually in your experience and of those around you, do they?

So, for a laugh, ask your manager in your next appraisal, “what is the name of the management model that we use here? that this is a part of?” Just for a laugh, cos it’ll be the only one you’ll be going to get.

Same time next year folks!

***LATE EDIT! Seems as if four years ago I typed virtually the same blog post, just much prettier cos I was all arty then. So here it is a bonus extra, to celebrate National Democracy Day*****


Posted in command and control, plans, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Why WIFFY’s are bad and to be squashed at birth

YEARS ago some clever lady told me…

Avoid What If’s, these are called WIFFYs. Never allow them. If you see somebody asking “But…what if?” stop them there and then and ask “has it? do we have data that it is? what do we KNOW about it?”

This is not some kind of motivational “hey! don’t concern yourselves with What Ifs, just go for it, it’s your negativity and worry!

This is isn’t about THOSE What Ifs.

The What Ifs i mean, the WIFFYs, are when somebody asks something hypothetical…

“yeah, I see what you’re saying about numerical targets causing people to act odd, but WHAT IF we took the targets away and the lazier and less motivated staff don’t do the work, we’ve got nothing to make ’em do it then, its the customers who need that work done, and quick too.”

Yes, WHAT IF. Are they though? Has that happened? Where can we go to see these demotivated staff? When?

“but WHAT IF we speak to customers to find out more about what matters to them, and the problem they need solving, WHAT IF they want the moon on a stick? An executive gold plated service? What then eh?”

So, have you? And do they? What data do you have on what matters to customers?

“WHAT IF we get rid of service plans, and nobody knows what they should be doing?”

What data do you have on what they know they should be doing now? How did they get that? What data do you have on staff using service plans to find out what they’re supposed to do?

That’s the first part of a WIFFY, bring up what we know, and don’t know. The second part is to say….

“Whatever we find out is actually happening, and have data on, we will deal with, when we find it and when we have data on it.”

IE, we deal with we know, we find out about what we don’t know.

That’s it. 

Why are WIFFYs so dangerous? Because in normal ordinary command and control organisations the imaginary realm of the mind is what people deal in. Things that aren’t real are the currency of corporate thinkings. Once created, ie said out loud, it’s real.

Plans aren’t real, but they’re what people talk about, approve, monitor, cascade. There’s a big difference between a good days backed theory to be experimented with, and a series of quarterly guesses.

Risk management, that’s not real. WIFFYs by another name, they are the worst imaginings of what could go wrong, ignoring what is already predictabley going wrong.

Data-free imaginings are the how command and control organisations run. A WIFFY is the unit of currency in the market of guessology.

Posted in command and control, data, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First they came for the desks, and nobody said NUFFINK

What’s the DEFINING FEATURE of a bureaucrat?They have a bureau!

Or rather, a desk, cos we’re not French and thanks to Brexit no longer have to follow EU regulations on what we call our desks.

The bureaucrat has a desk. I’ve got one, cos I’m a bureaucrat. Take it away and what am i? Just some dude with a clipboard. Yes, i own a clipboard too, I went FULL bureaucrat for comic effect a few years ago, now I inhabit the role. Where does the bureaucrat end and the joke begin, nobody can tell. It’s a seamless piece of situationist art. 


In common with loads of other public sector bodies that have had vast budget cuts to pay for bankers bonuses, we’ve had to shed office space and very soon will have a load more people working in our office. More people than actual desks. This situation will be met by the adoption of HOT-DESKING and AGILE WORKING

I’ve capitalised both these phrases on purpose, because like with LEAN, when this word hit our horizon very unfashionably late we also capitalised them, if not when written down then at least when saying them out loud. These are strange new words that are foreign on our lips. Probably Japan cos that’s futuristic. We don’t know what it all means but it’s all for the best.

I’ve heard conflicting definitions given as to what HOT-DESKING and AGILE working actually mean.

(I’m instinctively AGAINST the word AGILE. When I first started blogging eons ago and people started leaving comments on here i go to their Twitter account or their own blog, and see mentions of it. I still don’t really know what it is, but it sounds HOKEY. This is NOT an invite for people to leave helpful explanation​s.)
What’s really queer about this whole thing is how everybody knows the phrase “agile working” to be total nonsense, and yet we still keep using it, in very different ways.

 In personal 1-2-1 chats we put on a silly voice and do some kind of arm shake like a gibbon. “Oh, I’m agile [arm shakes like gibbon] working today, so I don’t have a desk”.

But in official channels, it’s used totally straight. 

In the end it means you don’t have a particular desk, but most days you have one, and if you’re unlucky on a few days you’ll have to scrabble round to find a spare one.

It works alright, cos people are off on leave or out for day, or working from home etc so it turns out not to be a disaster in the slightest. I’d call it more desk-sharing than AGILE WORKING though.

In the run up to AGILE WORKING we all had a massive clean out of desks and cupboards, keeping only what was “necessary”. I think you’re either a hoarder or a chucker. I’m a chucker so I LOVED this. Sod YOU retention guidelines, I’m off the leash.
One thing that’s odd is it DOESN’T MATTER. The incredibly important things from a long time ago that I certainly wasn’t allowed to chuck then, I’m encouraged to chuck now. Chucking stuff is fine cos we have to right now, and the bureaucrat’s innate tendency to caution and storing all things for future back-covering had been temporarily paused. It’s a lot cleaner too.

It also allowed me to chuck with gay abandon what is just not needed on voyage.

 I found a whole box of CDs with these labels on…

Archived reports!
Miscellaneous documents!
Be still my beating heart. BIN!

And these beauties….

Is been 7 years since I did systems thinking last with Housing Benefits, and 3 since the marble madness, there’s zero call for systemsy stuff here so… BIN!

Found a tube full of a collection of Vangrad posters that I used in an introduction to systems thinking. BIN!

In my drawer were…

I took these home, they’ve got a reprieve despite the misery they’ve caused. Not their fault, poor things.

I keep passing this abandoned chair everyday on the way to work. This has been brutally chucked out too.

It reminds me that once somebody bought it cos it was liked and wanted, and now it isn’t. It was of its time, and now it isn’t. Time’s moved on, as time by definition does.
I was saying to a colleague recently that I can’t recognise the person who typed such things as…

101 tactics for revolutionaries.

Aaaaaaand others like that. They were of a time, and that time has moved on. Now the contents of this blog are less about what to do to change things, and more to do with what is silly and wrong in an organisation, rather than any optimistic guff on what to do to change these silly things.

This is a recognition that the things required to change in organisations belong to top management, cos it’s the inside of their own heads, and that’s THEIR responsibility.

A weird thing about Demingy/Vangrad systems thinking is it’s about changing management thinking, but it’s very relevant to and approachable by anybody who works. It’s not like most management theories, it’s ABOUT work. So you can see it, in your daily existence, it isn’t only relevant to the executive on their strategic retreat. That’s obviously a good thing, KEEPING IT REAL, but also a bit dangerous cos it sucks in people with an interest in how work works, but without the power to do anything about it.  Essentially, the subject of this whole blog from end to end.

Now I can see how huge organisations are, and how much noise there is in them from transformation programmes and all the usual management gubbins. God knows how a manager COULD be dissatisfied and curious AND do all the usual stuff that’s expected, it’s too much. So I’m totally fine that during the time when I did that 101 tactics thing (above) that I was known as systemsy, and now I’m quiet about it and known for being a policy officer instead.
I like the anonymity of being a clipboard wielding copy/paster. I have nothing to do with performance, other than relaying numbers and text without it touching the sides. I see it around, but because the use of measures is formed by the mental model of work used in managing, it’s all very silly indeed, so best avoided.

I think this post is me fully embracing my loser-dom. Like in this piece here!

It says organisations are comprised of three layers…

The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.

I didn’t realise that was my allotted role, but now that I do, and have chucked the struggle against it, it’s a lot easier. I’m not saying that you should, cos there’s all sorts who read this blog, people right at the apex of the triangle even. I’m just acknowledging what’s been personally chucked along with the contents of my desk.

Posted in command and control, me doing it, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity OR Why webstats don’t exist

I’ve been learning how to get data on our website usage from Google Analytics.

It’s very hard, both cos Google Analytics front end  is so badly designed and cos you need to learn how websites work. There’s lots of different things you can measure, do you want:

  • pageviews
  • unique pageviews
  • bounce rate
  • session duration
  • entrance
  • exit
  • source
  • and so on and so on and so on

There’s so many, so how do you choose? What webstats are important and should be collected and analysed, and what are not? Which staff should receive which webstats?

Then it hit me…

There’s no such thing as webstats!

They don’t exist.
Thinking of a website and THEN starting to think what you can measure is the wrong place to start.
If you start at the website and think “what can I measure?” or even “what should I measure?” then you will end up measuring activity and what people (i.e managers) think is important.

The typical webstats collected will be…

  • number of hits
  • number of page views
  • number of unique visitors
  • number of followers/friends
  • number of email sign ups
  • time on site

These have a name, they are…

Vanity metrics make you feel good.

The higher they are, the better. That is there only benefit, the ability to make you feel good.

“Ten thousand views! Better than 5,000! In fact TWICE as good!”

Vanity metrics cannot be USED. They don’t tell you the “now what?” answer. They just make you feel popular.

This is like call-centre stats. If you start off measuring the call-centre you get rubbish like the % calls answered in 20 seconds or the average handling time. These are measuring the call-centre but they AREN’T measuring anything the customer cares about or tells you how well they are being helped. In fact they can drive bad performance and create failure demand if they are targetted (as they are).

Webstats and call-centre stats do not exist. They are not things.

Just like any old measure in fact. There’s no such thing as housing measures, there’s no such thing as social care measures. There’s no such thing as planning measures, there’s no such thing as Housing Benefit measures. These all do not exist. They are not things.

What are things are your customers, their problems, and your organisation’s attempts at helping solve them. Measure these instead. Start there.

Start with a customer, find out their problem and what matters, then measure how well your system helps them with this. If this cuts across a website, then find out what you need to measure from that website in order to see how well you are helping your customer. This is totally different from measuring the website as a starting point, because you now have a proper question to answer, how capable are we at helping our customers. Not how many people click through our website. They could be clicking around angrily not finding what they need.

This is like starting with a customer need in a callcentre, find out how well you help them, not if they were answered in less than 20s and the call ended within 6 minutes. These are not things.

Actionable metrics are things that connect customers and your organisation. They create learning by showing what happens when you make a change to your system and whether that is good or bad for the customer and therefore your organisation.

Ultimately feeling good cos of hits/likes/visits/mentions are not important. If it is, you should be in the cute cat gif business. A very unprofitable business.


Posted in command and control, customer, data, learning, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

One more time… Why values are a pile of cobbler’s

This month I’m going to be handed a piece of paper with the Organisation’s​ new “Values and behaviours”, in my annual performance review.

So this means what I value and how I behave will change once I read what they’re to be this financial year.

This is of course total bollocks.

But this is how command and control organisations think. The theory seems to be that Things and People change because they’re in an official document, approved by senior leaders and cascaded through management hierarchy. 

Let’s say that the last time I was told what my new values were to be, that magically they actually changed to be these values. Let’s say that happened.

Let’s say there was internal commitment to these values, and let’s say that this changed my behaviour, and consequently my “performance” changed. Let’s say that happened.

So here I am, thinking and acting differently because the theory held true, that approved values issued through the annual objective setting process, took root and authentically changed me.

Then this financial year a new piece of paper tells me to drop the old ones and take up new values. If I dropped my authentic values like that, then they weren’t really real were they?

Any knowledge of humans you’ve gleaned over your life must tell you this is not how people think or behave. If they change authentically, this takes time, or some big life changing event. Not reading a document, or worse the side of a pen.

If Things and People changed like this, then command and control management works.

Because Things and People don’t change like this, command and control management doesn’t work.

The most important thing to remember about organisational values is….

If you change your values because a piece of paper tells you, then the old values and the new values were not really values.

Posted in change, command and control, psychology, thinking | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

How i learned to skip with Toyota

I do skipping at the gym. It looks like this.

I however do not look like this

But i want do be epic at skipping and make the rope go round twice.

Like this…

These are called “Double Unders”. So called because although you jump up once, the rope travels around TWICE. Hence Double Under.

These are very hard to do indeed. They are much more tiring than “singles”, and as you get tired in skipping, your rhythm goes off and eventually you stumble with the rope and the skipping stops.

At the gym I go to there are classes with a prescribed workout that everybody does. If skipping comes up it is always prescribed as double-unders, and there is always practice at doing double unders. If you can’t do them, you do normal “singles”. If it is NOT in the workout, then you don’t do them. So they are there or not there, intermittently. And if they are there, you’re trying to do them, but not in a consistent learning curve. In my case, not doing them at all.

So when they come up, it is very much…

I have been trying to do them for 2 years, without success.
Until I realised that I had merely been trying to do them, but I hadn’t been learning how to do them. There’s a difference.

Then one day the coach said this….

“If you want to learn double unders, it won’t work just hoping they’ll come, instead practice for 10 minutes a day. Then they will come”

So I did, I stayed behind for exactly 10 minutes a day after class. And then i saw this thing called “the five questions”, and then I had an idea, and I carried out the idea and here is a blog post all about it….

This is something called “the coaching Kata” from Toyota, allegedly apparently.
It comes from this man here, and this is what it is all about…

“Kata are small, structured practice routines or protocols. Through physical practice their pattern becomes second nature, done with little conscious attention.  Kata are typically for learning fundamentals to build on.  The goal is not the Kata themselves, which get used less as you grow more proficient, but the habits of thinking and acting that practicing them leaves behind.

An example is practicing to drive a car.  Once you can drive you don’t think much anymore about the routines of how to use the car’s controls.  You can now focus your attention on navigating the road and handle the controls automatically.” [link]

So those questions up top, they are a structured step by step practice routine to be followed explicitly and literally, until the practice of them is internalised. .

“They are stepping stones for anyone who wants to acquire new ways of thinking and acting. Kata make skill and mindset transferrable, which is particularly useful for developing an organizational culture. Practicing the routines of the Improvement Kata gives us a way to develop scientific thinking and acting.

Once you and your team develop the fundamental, scientific skill that practicing the Improvement Kata teaches, you’ll be able to develop your own style and apply it in the pursuit of many goals and challenges.”

Now I’m not a one for using foreign words in the workplace, it alienates and makes simple daily management tasks into something weird and esoteric, but “kata” has no obvious English equivalent. So kata it is.

I did the coaching kata to learn myself how to skip double-unders, and this is how it went. Yoda stands in for the imaginary coach that I dont have who is asking the questions, and I’m me….



And this is what happened, over time…

I’ve added the median in (3) and if we apply correct rules for checking for trends, then has there been a sign of an increase?

There’s only 7 data points, so this is possibly too few if this were a normal process being monitored. If it were, and i wanted to test my theory that i had improved due to doing the penguin jump then i would need to see a run of a certain number of data points.

However this is NOT a normal process being monitored. This is a record of skill acquisition that I know accumulates gradually, rather than jumps suddenly from one state to another. So i would expect to see a gradual linear increase like in the graph. So given i would expect it, and there it is, this is a match between my prediction and the outcome. Result!

Not only that, but on the last data point 25th April I did a whole workout unscaled doing double unders! Which was the actual purpose behind the target condition of repeated sets of 10.

This is a VERY DUMBED DOWN VERSION INDEED of this “coaching kata”. There is so much left unexplained, cos i couldn’t be bothered to type it, or cos i don’t understand it yet.
Despite the name don’t think of this as “coaching”. All soft skillz and middle management away days. Instead think of it as how to THINK systemsy wise. The keen eyed reader will have spotted PDSA in here. Check Plan Do. Any version you want, the Kolb learning cycle. What it is, regardless of how you name it, is a method of training yourself to think methodically. About making explicit your assumptions, about recognising and dealing usefully with where your knowledge of a situation ends and where ignorance, in its true sense, begins.

Posted in change, experiment, questions, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The man who mistook his wife for an actual change in performance

There was once a man who mistook his wife for a hat.

This is his wife.

From the TV programme “The Good Wife” actually

This is a hat.

Any old hat

He thought

Why did he think that?

He had a brain injury. The injury affected the way his brain processed visual signals. Looking at his wife, he saw a hat. It wasn’t something he could do anything about, his understanding of what he saw was damaged, physically.

Oliver Sacks wrote a book about him and patients like him, with bizarre neurological impairments due to brain injuries.  There was a patient who after an accident saw totally in black and white. A man who couldn’t form any memories after the late 1960s.

The essence of these stories is that people see with their brains. If what is inside their brain is telling the, “IT’S A HAT!” then they see a hat

They form the image and create the understanding of what they are seeing out there in the world using their brain not eyes.

I think this is like how people look at graphs and see totally different things.

Remember the performance reporting archetypes?

Not mine, Mr Davis Balistacci’s

These are the 6 patterns of any three numbers arranged in every order they can be, with the name used to describe it when people have to invent a fairy story around the shape these numbers make on a page.

For example, here is the fairy story around “the rebound”…

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

Of course it is all total nonsense, inventing patterns and stories out of pure noise. It’s just what people do when faced with numbers or events, we first of all spot hey HERE’S something, and then say it is ALL ABOUT THIS!

It’s all very complimicated, making sense of the world without falling prey to silly ideas. This is why we invented numbers and statistics to help us.
Note: not do it for us, but help us to do it.

And sadly this is where people use numbers and statistics to muck it all up with THIS goddam awful thing….

The bleedin’ Add Trendline….

Just like Powerpoint is a failed substitute for telling a compelling story, so Excel can be a substitute for doing actual analysis.

We’ve moaned about this before, how a trendline added to some data like so…


…can fool you into thinking that there is some kind of long range and continuing decline in Some Numbers.

When looked at using actual analysis, the data shows there are two different processes, both stable but with ONE step-change happening….



The “add trendline” is a dreadful thing. If the performance archetype graphs, or one’s like them, go through a performance team, they might leave the other side with one attached to them….

This line purports to show….a trend!  It shows the way the dots are moving! The dots are going down! In the future the next dot will be even lower!

Take the same three dots in a slightly different order, stick a trendline in ET VOILA…
The trend is reversed! The dots are going up! In the future the next dot will be even higher!

I’m exaggerating for hopefully comic effect, but i see these sorts of things all the time. Excel is designed to put “analysis” just two mouse clicks away, for the unwary to click on.

However, stick these dots between two different types of line……

The lines represent the predictable upper and lower limits of the measure. We can see that the arrangement of the three dots now shows just meandering between these lines with no change in the underlying system that produces these numbers, because no change in the upper and lower limits…ie there IS NO TREND.

(Obviously 3 dots is too few to calculate upper and lower control limits. But it is also too few to make predictions from and that doesn’t stop anybody using trendlines to do it.)

This is how the unwary mistake their wife (some line pointing upwards) for a hat (an actual change in performance)..

They are looking at noise in all the wrong places. People are not idiots they “know” that there is random noise and movements in data. That not everything is signal. But what they don’t necessarily know is where this noise is, how to distinguish it from signal and even perhaps the mental model to map signal and noise onto.

Below is the same three dots with a trendline added or between some imaginary control limits. Look at the one below with the trendline added. The red arrows show the gap between actual data points and the calculated trendline.

This is assumed to be the “noise” between actual datapoints and some assumed “trajectory” that is taken to be…god i can’t believe I am typing this….the UNDERLYING  PERFORMANCE. uRRGH.

A different way of looking at the noise in the data is seeing the 3 data points in the context of the predictable performance of the system. What is predictable is that there WILL be noise, between these two lines. Within certain criteria there will be movement of data between the lines. This is a built in feature of all of reality, there is noise. And these lines help you understand where it is and therefore how to distinguish it from signal, true change of an underlying system.

In the chart above the blue arrows show where the noise is, between these two lines essentially. The three dots are relegated from “HERE’S THE NEWS! QUICK! THE LATEST DATA! WHAT’S IT SAY!!” to instead, “here’s some extra data, when we add these to the data and knowledge of the system already calculated from that data that we already have, does this tell us that anything has changed?

Or, in short, “anything we need to know?“.

I think this is a lot more useful than the incessant jumping around being fooled by randomness, mistaking wives for hats, noise for signal, jumping at every heartbeat of data. Heartbeats are predictable, they’ll keep on coming.

Data come in patterns. Notice the patterns they make, and look for any changes to the patterns.

Posted in data, experiment, measures, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments