7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong


Inexplicably popular

Read this first. It was very popular and there’s marbles in it.

If you’re too lazy here’s a summary: I went to the executive leadership team, I talked to them about something that started with studying demand and eventually led to huge improvements, though I deliberately didn’t say how as people lose interest when you explain it.
3 people put their hand up and said “I’m interested!“.

There is NO history of Vanguard at my organisation. We’ve never hired them in, the only use of the method was done with Housing Benefits 2 years ago, who are now ran by a private company who very much don’t have anything to do with Vanguard. I’ve never had any training from them. All errors here are mine, remember The Idiot Clause. This is the whole point of this post.

Here is what happened next in the form of…

7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong!

1: Let senior managers do it by remote control
What’s the purpose of the Vanguard Method? Change management thinking.

What isn’t the purpose? Change somebody else’s thinking.

After the handing-putting-up-ceremony we arranged meetings with the hand-putter-uppers. We met with them, and this was the last time we met with them. Instead there were another different bunch of people who were met with from then on. This is pants and does not work.
The current paradigm is that senior leaders spend their time in meetings being strategic.
This leaves no time for being an actual leader, so they delegated the work.
The old lie is that the art of management is delegation, when actually the point of management is acting on the system, but they don’t know this yet. Hence the delegation.

This is such a predictable feature of my organisation, the intense busyness with meetings, that it is very much a system condition not a personal characteristic. It is a feature that hinders leadership.  If they delegate, they won’t learn. Just as if you want to learn the violin you can’t send someone else to violin classes for you.

Instead of doing that…Show them this is all about them. If they don’t have time to do it due to meetings, tell them to cancel them. If they can’t, they’re not in enough pain yet to choose something different from what they are currently doing. Walk away, there’s no leverage here.

2: Don’t mention it.

CaptureThe people putting their hands up didn’t know what they were putting their hands up for except to find out more.

Nothing wrong with that, however the next bit really should be “finding out more“, and it wasn’t

The most important thing is to know what this thing is, but you can’t tell them, the first law of systems thinking being the first law.  “The way people change is normative learning!” so no lecturing, no preaching. I didn’t preach or lecture. Sadly I didn’t do much else either, I just avoided the subject calling it “the method” like Daniel Day-Lewis explaining his craft.

“I need to FEEL the pain for my craft”

This has to be pulled because it has to be wanted, otherwise it won’t work. To pull it, you have to know what it is. I didn’t give them the opportunity to find out what it was, other than “listen to demand then we’ll see what that tells us“. This isn’t going to help anyone, it ends up just sounding like some snazzy bit of customer research.

As a result, people didn’t know where it was heading.

Instead of doing that…Do a “light check”, spend a day in the work doing Check with the senior leader. Listen to a few demands, see how capable the system is at dealing with demand. Follow some old work that has already gone through the system, see where it goes and how long it takes getting there. Find out from the people who touch it “what is stopping you from doing what this customer wants?“. Ask the leader why they put those things in place, what did they expect to happen, how they decided to do it.

 3: Have meetings


It is SO easy to get sucked into meetings, they are what most organisations think work is.

It is not.

I found myself  sitting in a room around a table with the most important person in the room being the chair. All wrong. If you start like that, you will continue like that, and it did. Meetings, agenda, chairs.  No excitement, no curiosity, no introducing what the actual thing is. Imagine sitting in a room, being 3rd on the agenda and wondering how on earth the Washing Machine Exercise can be levered into it now.

It can’t. If you start normal and boring, normal and boring is what you are going to get.

Instead of doing that….WORKSHOP IT! Send an invite to people with the title “workshop” then when they arrive in the room you are standing at the front holding the big marker pen in front of a flipchart. You’ve wrested control, and it can be something different from now, and you can spend as short a time in the room as needed to introduce concepts to go out and learn with in the work.

4: Say it is systems thinking
It’s not, but it is easy to say that it is, as it used to be called that.

But ANYTHING these days is systems thinking. Or any day really, if it deals with understanding how things work as a whole. It doesn’t help calling Vanguard Method “systems thinking“, as people start arguing that it isn’t, or worse agreeing that it is.

The worse in this case was someone saying this…

Instead of doing that...Don’t call it systems thinking. The first rule is a rule for a reason. Call it Vanguard Method, at least then people can Google it afterwards.

5: Become part of the noise.

There is so much going on in the Council, most of it utter rot. The noisiest thing at the moment is this years transformation programme. It is everywhere and it is noisy with meetings, documents and project boards.


Or rather, the noise drowns out any signal, in this case MY signal.

Me hoving up with something else, in addition to all the other stuff happening, is just adding more noise to the noise.  In one of the introductory meetings I had, it was clear that I was starting my thing half way through someone else’s thing.
Signal+Noise<>Signal. Oh no, quite the opposite….


Becoming part of the noise is no help to anyone, I made a discrete exit.
Or rather I didn’t. This part of the blog post is me doing things wrong remember? Instead of my discrete exit there was a series of pointless meetings, agonising for all concerned, where nobody really knew why I was there.

Instead of doing that…As all points above, start it right. No meetings, senior leaders doing it, in the work, a choice informed by doing it at least for a day. Don’t be noise, stand above that and be signal.

I’m quite pleased with all these failures, as if you remember, I am on a quest to become The Man That Fails The Most


Why so keen on failing often and early….?

 NB Keen-eyed readers might have noticed that despite what the post title implies, I have only written 5 ways to do Vanguard Method all wrong. This is because I am planning on failing at least 2 more ways, and 7 is a much more marketable number than 5.
You’re welcome.

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2 Responses to 7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong

  1. Pingback: 7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong | BY...

  2. Pingback: How to break the first rule of systems thinking | thinkpurpose

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