A load of old cobblers

Who’s got the mankiest shoes?


They spend so much time mending other people’s shoes that they have no time to mend their own.

There is a “humorous” saying in large organisations that HR have the worst sickness, Finance are the worst at sticking to a budget and performance units never have a performance plan. Cobbler’s shoes, see?

I think it is less funny than that. If you take a POSIWID approach, what is the purpose of corporate departments based on what they actually do?

  • ICT don’t want people to use ICT. All that risk, and the costly and time intensive support. This is why you are not allowed nice things. Think of all that IT kit you have at home or in your trouser pocket, the internet connection you use and the software you can choose, these are all vastly superior to the ancient slow bug-ridden crud you have to use on paid time. Unless you happen to work at Cray, perhaps. What are you allowed? What you’re given, i.e. what someone further from your work than you thinks you want. Often it is what ICT want instead.
  • Performance management units make performance worse. They encourage poor thinking through their very existence. It is managers who indirectly manage performance as it is a consequence of the system they manage. Performance management staff manage purely at a spreadsheet level.
    They are isolated from the results of their actions, and therefore can never learn. Forgive them for they know not what they do, said someone much more forgiving than me. It’s the system, apparently.
  • HR don’t like people. Surely that’s obvious.

Why so? The answers probably very complicated, but as this is a mono-obsessed blog, I’m looking at one thing only and that’s you, command and control thinking!


No, not you.

Command and control loves a good triangle. Thin and pointy at the top, everything trickling downwards, plans, targets, key strategic priorities.

Remember this, below? You’d better, it’s beautiful and I did it.

In a triangular organisation at the very top sharp point is the purpose of the organisation. Generally it’s encoded as a document, glossy with lovely smelling pages. This is what the people at the top have to [God, these words I have to use…] deliver against.
Therefore the purpose of everything on the triangle below that is to make sure the promises in the glossy document are [shudder…] delivered against.

This includes the customers.

This may sound cruel, but that’s because it’s true. If a contact centre has KPIs of answering the maximum amount of calls presented, and within a specific time, then customers are merely the vehicle by which these targets can be met.
The purpose of a customer is to meet someone else’s target.

What’s this got to do with cobblers shoes then? The same holds true for support services.

Just like a hologram, if an organisation is command and control, and you break a piece of a support service off to have a look at it, it is likely to be command and control too, in a perfect miniature form of the Daddy piece. With the same thinking, I mean.

So, as the main organisation turns a customer into a vehicle for achieving its internal targets, the support services turn the core services (the ones that the organisation is actually for) into a vehicle for achieving it’s aims. There is always an HR strategy, an ICT strategy, a financial strategy and they need the core services to do what’s in them.

It’s that disease of being strategic again. Know your enemy I say, so here is a spotters guide to find out which sort of support service you are saddled with.

Command & control support service
Thinks they know better as they are strategic and make decisions that affect others that isn’t based on knowledge of how the work works. They decide what’s best for the core functions that they are supposed to serve. They don’t see themselves as a support service but as a much grander thing, a strategic driver of improvement.  They push.

Systems design support service
When there is different thinking, a service is designed from the customer backwards with everything designed against purpose. Decisions are made based on knowledge of what works, using data not opinion. The centre of the organisation is not the driver, it can’t be as it knows less. It can help, support, get out the way or have it’s expertise pulled when needed. But the key thing is the purpose of support services is to support, not direct. They are pulled when needed.

A good dose of humility is needed by support services, and they could do with some time spent hanging around a damp carpark, hoping someone, anyone, might need them. And as I am one, I feel qualified enough to say I think  we’d be waiting a long time.

As with any service, you can be corporate facing or you can be customer facing, but you can’t be both.


NB I’ve never actually seen a support service working on pull, helping core services work or work better. But here’s 2 examples I’ve come across.

HR in Camden Council.

Finance in Stafford Council.

This entry was posted in command and control, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A load of old cobblers

  1. Pingback: What colour is my work? | thinkpurpose

  2. Pingback: My Red Beads Experiment (part1) | thinkpurpose

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