I turned down a 40% pay rise…here’s why!

Years ago I turned down opportunity of a 40% pay rise.
Here’s what happened….


wibbly lines, wibbly lines, wibbly lines… oooh…back in time…

When I came into work there were 4 emails from colleagues, all saying the same thing… APPLY FOR THIS JOB.
A job was advertised paid more, with more hours too.
It was in another part of the Organisation, in a part full of lean and BPR types, who seemed to be the CRACK HENCHMEN of the organisation, sent in to SORT THINGS OUT. Releasing efficiencies through workshops and process map wrangling. The sort SENT IN to modernise, out source and lean up.
So why would my lovely colleagues send me a vacancy for here? I’m not well known for my Apprentice-level delivery, I’m quite the lazy sod, well known for idleness and tea-drinking.

It’s because the magical words “systems thinking” were in the person spec.

So i thought it worth a try. I went along and found out about the post.
In the few hours afterwards I realised that transformation efforts in normal ordinary command and control organisations are in fact the very worst places to be for somebody interested in actual transformation.
Here’s why…

On the way out I met some of the other people who were also interested in the job, and as people do with something in common, similar interests, we started chatting in the lobby

Apparently through the combination of whip-smart LEAN (NB always capitalised), similar tools, and the application of MADD SOFT SKILLZ services will become cheaper and better.
If only managers listened to, and did, what the clever-bods told them to.
Which was the key theme coming out of the conversation in the lobby. There was the story of a brill database which eliminates the need for paper records, but the clever-bod who designed it went back several months later to find… Nobody uses it. They went back to using paper a short while after he left! God, the dummies eh?

Someone else started talking about the job we were all interested in, saying that persuading managers to go digital would be the hardest thing.
I was perplexed. We’d hadn’t started the job, so how would we know the best, or cheapest, thing to do? We didn’t even know the services we’d be working with. We’re TOTALLY ignorant!

The key strength you needed in the job apparently was feeling OK with people looking at you and thinking to themselves “who’s this come to tell me how to do my job?“.
This is because you WOULD have to come to an area you knew nothing about and tell someone how to do their job!

And that’s when it hit me..

This is EXACTLY the same as command and control managing!


A smart modern knob, yesterday.

Top leaders are STRATEGIC and therefore possess a magic imp that sits on their shoulder telling them what to do.
Middle managers know what to do purely by virtue of being charge of more people than you.
They all know what someone else should do, and tell them so.
This post was just command and control with knobs on.
Smart modern knobs that look like Apps, but still knobs.
The process mapping and workshops are window dressing for pre-decided solutions. Things borrowed from LEAN stuck over a service setting, or TO-BE maps with all the bells and whistles of a value stream map, but at heart as old and fusty as something spelled out on a Prince2 PID.

So i thought…let’s draw it!
Drawing is a great way to make express what people think.
In this case, what I think it’s the theory lying behind all this.
It’s big and cartoony, and obviously real life is more NUANCED but you need rough and ready big caricatures to show the underlying truth behind the detail.

Step 1: Enter Clever Clogs.

Step 2: Get data!
She gets data from the work. It could be downloaded from a database, or in workshops, with loads of flipchart paper on the wall. Highly unlikely that it will involve gathering new data at source using paper and pencil, five bar gates and that.  That’s not smart or modern.

Step 3: CLEVER analysis!

This is the step that first bamboozles managers who work in the area under analysis, cos to be fair, nobody had ever done this properly. Data is mainly used for silly performance reporting or daily management, so if someone comes along and does something different with it, it’s indistinguishable from magic. And impossible to argue with conclusions from this previously unused data, hence step 4…


Not necessarily arrived at all of a sudden. Digital toolheads will arrive at a workplace with the pre-solved solution of turning social workers into Apps or putting the bin collections online somehow. The analysis in Step 3 would have been to decide HOW to digitise a service. Not whether, or if, at all. It’s Curry By Default {WARNING contains SWEARING!].

Step 5: Report & Recommendations!


There might be a report, there might be just a set of things needed to do to put the Great Idea in place, either way it’ll be written down and made clear to other people what they’ll have to do.

Step 6: Cajole, persuade, convince.

This is where the MADD SOFT SKILLZ come in handy. Having to persuade the people doing the work that your idea is great. They’ll probably be half convinced anyway, being carried along for the ride, but it’s a big step you have to make from Great Idea to Great Practice.

Step 7: Implement the changes!

That’s all they have to do! What they said they would do….

Here’s the full cycle.

Except there is further hidden steps…

Step 8: Changes aren’t implemented.

This is often a hidden step. Only found out when the Cleverclogs inadvertently finds out their brilliant idea wasn’t for some unfathomable reason taken up with eager hands and immediately implemented with glowing results. And if it wasn’t then we’re onto Step 9…

Step 9: Blame the managers.

This is clearly their fault. There was some new innovative step-change improvement given to them, they said they’d do it, and it’s lying discarded at the back of the cupboard! They’re using bits of paper and bluetack again, instead of the App! WHY must we throw pearls before swine!

So here is the full blame cycle….

This is inevitable. The problem was built into the approach from the very start with the Cleverclogs splitting up  3 interconnected tasks. Here they are, with the assumption of WHAT the tasks are.

1: Finding the solution-a technical, logical task
2: Selling the solution-a persuading and negotiating task
3: Implementing the solution-a linear project task

This is why the whole thing is doomed. If you split up a situation into separate parts and treat them as seperate, you’re ignoring the interconnections. The way that they all inevitably link. How about a systems approach?
The below pic contains 3 parts of the whole, the Cleverclogs from outside, the managers of the work and the actual work itself.


This is vastly simplified. There are no outside influences on the above pic, which there would be. A transformation effort is often doomed way before this with senior leaders deciding on objectives, targets for saving money etc
BUT if the Cleverclogs is aware that they are a part of the system and not outside being all scientific and analytic, then it might help.
The Find/Sell/Implement model relies on a simple cause-effect view of the people and work.
It assumes that people will do things if persuaded it is clearly the best. Using numbers and rationally explaining something doesn’t work.
If it worked, Doctors would tell smokers to give up cigarettes and they would. People would eat fruit and veg and ditch the Big macs, cos they’ve been shown why it is important.

They don’t and that is because this is an attempt at changing people and the way they think rationally. As if the problem is that there is a gap in their knowledge, or an assumption wrongly held that can simply be explained with hard data lubricated with some madd soft skillz.

Instead of treating the whole actual change as being a secondary afterthought, instead build it straight into the very core of the activity.

Change doesn’t happen AFTER finding the solution, it IS finding the solution!

Managers changing the way they think leading to changing the system they manage, this is the actual solution, not bulletpoints in a powerpoint setting out some future TO-BE state.

It cannot be planned for because change is emergent, as Zombie Deming says….

” The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous.”

It isn’t a smooth trajectory from AS-IS to TO-BE.
It is wherever it CAN go.
But that is always better and further than some ideal future state that only exists in bullet points in a forgotten powerpoint.

Instead of coming into the situation knowing the solution “is” XYZ, the putative Cleverclogs should come into the situation instead with a helping mindset. Not an instructive mind-set loaded with solutions or a set of answers.
The problems in the work are not YOUR problems, so they are not YOUR solutions either.

Instead of a linear path of  Find/Sell/Implement, without an answer to implement the path is circular and exploratory.
Without the Cleverclogs needing the data to find an answer, instead it is the Managers and staff who need it in order to learn about their own service.


They get this data themselves directly from being in the work.
Not through second hand bulletpointed powerpoints.


Now these people are not being done to, they are doing themselves.
If they are not bothered enough to do this, they are certainly not going to be bothered enough to adopt a Cleverclogs solution.


Getting information on their own service, on WHAT is happening and WHY it is happening.

This leads to ideas to try in the workplace, as experiments to generate knowledge and make more accurate people’s mental models of their work.


Stepping back, you see the full cycle. Not a cycle to generate blame, but learning and improvement.

The role of the Cleverclogs in this model isn’t to come up with solutions or challenge or persuade, it is to facilitate learning by helping with thinking.
By providing good questions, not good answers.
Laying out steps, one a time, from where people are to where they could be.

Many years later I remain a junior admin clerk but I think I made the right decision and look forward to moaning from the sidelines instead of actually putting my money where my mouth is, for many years to come.


*************Later Edit *****************

Obviously I wouldn’t have got the job anyway as far more capable and motivated individuals applied, and someone wanted something actually done. Hence the word “opportunity” in the first sentence. If somebody wants some pontificating done though, I’M THE GUY

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

25 Responses to I turned down a 40% pay rise…here’s why!

  1. posiwid4me says:

    “Change doesn’t happen AFTER finding the solution, it IS finding the solution!” so true

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Charles Beauregard says:

    Excellent! One of your very best posts – absolutely nails much of what I struggle to articulate about how change shouldn’t and should be done. I will no doubt re-read this and steal much of it (hope you take my shameless theft as a compliment).

    On the point of a job you turned down, here’s the opening part of an advert I saw the other day:

    “A global IT services organisation is on the hunt for a Service Improvement Manager to set targets for improvement in service quality, resource utilization while creating and managing Service Implementation Plans”.

    Targets? Plans? How’s that going to lead to any service improvement?

    On another point, why do people capitalise LEAN? I’ve seen it many times myself. Do they think it is an acronym (I suppose you could have fun coming up with things that LEAN could stand for)? Or is it just how they speak, shouting the word LEAN whenever it comes up in a conversation?


  3. Rich Torr says:

    The real reason why TRANSFORMATION fails, hiding in plain sight. But Clever Clogs has big marketing budgets with which to SHOUT at those craving answers.


  4. bazhsw says:

    I agree with Charles, this is a fantastic post and exceptionally thought provoking. If I am being honest your post pretty much exactly describes what happens in my workplace. I’m an aforementioned ‘clever clogs’ and can relate somewhat uncomfortably to the ‘improvement process’ because it is accurate. Some things which are very relevant are predetermined solutions even before the work has been studied and the solution being ‘how are we going to digitise this’ rather than considering whether it should be done at all. I also think organisations which have ‘clever clogs’ expect said ‘clogs’ to magic up a solution and ‘hey presto, everything is better’. What organisations are frightened of is learning and experimenting. ‘Clever Clogs’ should be a facilitator, helping people in the work gather data and information to understand what is going on and encouraging people to try and do things differently. If the people who understand the work tried five things and finally got something really good that would be a success rather than just forging ahead with a plan that ultimately is usually the product of a clever clogs individual, directed from up high by conventional management thinking.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      i aspire to be a cleverclogs! well done.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      good thing that, “try five things”.


    • bazhsw says:

      Just want to add that I appreciated the link to your ‘curry by default’ – it’s the first time I’ve read it and I’ve been banging on about the absurdity of ‘Digital by Default’ to everyone at work who will listen (that’s no-one!) for a while. It’s very simple – ‘customers’ / ‘service users’ / ‘the public’ want to contact us in a format that SUITS THEM – not us!!!! Sure, for those whizzkid millennials they want to report a pothole via a What’sApp message or somethings (full disclosure – I’m not really sure what What’sApp is other than it’s something to do with a phone), but for most of us we want to contact service organisations the way we want and that could even be dropping in somewhere to have a chat (and heaven forbid get to the root cause of the customer query rather than present them with a drop down menu that leaves people baffled!).

      Digital by Default designs services for the benefit of the provider, under the guise of for the customer. Web services are an option for the customer not a mandate (and why is it so much failure demand is generated because people can’t use the techy solutions bought at great expense and imposed on an unwilling and unreceptive populace?). When an organisation designs customer services for THEIR OWN benefit why are they so surprised they don’t work!!!!

      Whilst I am in rant mode, why is it that ‘clever clogs’ departments usually have grandiose names and vision statements (typically drawing words out of a hat that promise radical change)? Yet, what matters in any large organisation, how is success measured? Targets expressed as ‘savings’ (cash / FTE) etc. Of course, as every budding systems thinker knows (let’s all sing it together), ‘WHEN YOU FOCUS ON COST, COSTS GO UP!’.

      I have quite a radical idea to cut down the FTE base at work and save those at money. Invest a couple of quid in a padlock and lock the doors on Friday night and just pack it in. Job done. Target met. Now can I have a bonus?

      Or… we can try and improve systems and work processes holistically, learning as we go. And you know what, when people are not shit scared of losing their job they may fully embrace ‘continuous improvement’ and when we actually behave like a learning organisation, rather than just say it then perhaps people will try things differently without waiting for old clever clogs to tell them how to do their job (a perfect organisation doesn’t have any need for clever clogs because cleverness is embedded with the people who do the work)

      As for continuously improving, is this code for ‘do it tomorrow’ and of course continuously improving the wrong thing is just making a wrong thing wronger….

      Sorry for ranting on, but I find this blog and ‘Squires to the Giants’ to be a ray of light that keeps me going during the week!


  5. Simply brilliant. Thanks again TP.


  6. Reblogged this on YourThinkingCoach.com and commented:
    An excellent read. Describes why many LEAN initiatives fail to get the expected results.


  7. bulldozer00 says:

    I agree. Brilliant! Very well done.


  8. giantknave says:

    Nicely written. Enjoyed reading. The pictures speak volumes 🙂


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  11. John Eaton-Griffin says:

    Fantastic view, initial thoughts are youre little harsh on humanity in general however your outcomes are fantastic. Great thoughts! Great idea’s for change, really compelling reading. Thank you.


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