This is my desk.
I have sat in this, and others like it, for exactly 10 years in this organisation. My decade anniversary is today.
In 2004 in the interview for this job I had to give a presentation answering “What would you do to help managers improve their service?“.
Here are the slides from the powerpoint I gave, ignore the appaling presentation, I said I would help them with two things…
1: I’d help them understand their data.
I KNOW. It’s horrible. The dark blue background with some sort of globe theme?
And then there’s the spouting at people about “variation” and even a bleedin Deming quote. All the hallmarks of the proto-systems tinker.
2: I would help them see their work as a system.
This went down a bit better than the first, no mention of algorithms, and this was interpreted as “joined up working” which fitted in with the thinking without upsetting it.
However, it is all wrong. I answered the wrong question.
The number one lesson I have learned over ten years is….
It’s not about me
What I could do to help managers is not important.
What is important is what managers want help with.
I should have answered the question with a question of my own.
I should have asked…
“What is it that managers want help with?”
Or to put it another way, what is the problem they are trying to solve and want help with?
They would never have asked “Help us manage as a system” or “Help us understand our data properly“. This is not the problem as presented so should not be the solution provided or talked about out loud. The theory is important, and without it there is no learning, but nobody lives in theory, only in practice.
If I had known this ten years ago I could have stopped talking gibberish and started talking work instead. The language of work in a command and control organisation is gibberish enough. Deliverables, themes, going forward, baskets of KPIs. These don’t help people, so adding some more words of my own on top of those, that didn’t help anybody.
If it isn’t about me, and is about them, this means TWO BIG THINGS.
FIRST BIG THING
You wait. A long time. As long as it takes, because it won’t take any shorter but it could take longer. This means if you’re not in charge you’d better be patient. You wait until someone asks you for help with a problem.
SECOND BIG THING
This might never happen.
Though the Second Big Thing seems scary or depressing, it’s not your problem. I presume you’ve got a job doing something else in the meantime, your organisation is not likely to be employing you to do absolutely nothing in the meantime, though that could well be the case. That nobody is interested in Vanguard, Deming, control charts or flow is not your problem. If they’ve got a tatty service falling apart at the seams with miserable staff and customers? Not your problem. That’s theirs.
Nobody ever frames their problem as “we’re not systems thinking“.
Although, whisper it… it actually is….