The Systemsy Policy Officer takes a bow

There’s loads of models of work hanging around. Everybody has one.
There’s the dopey triangles with important people at the pointy end…

There’s the more credible, though no less hopeful, model of a sensible organisation designing their system around purpose and pulling support when needed…

But I live in neither of these worlds.
I’m a policy officer cursed with being a systems thinker.
This has resulted in me having TWO jobs.
Here’s my model of work as lived by me.

So here’s the job of a policy officer…

Broadly I document wrangle. I move words from one place to another, I implore busy people to fill in my forms and I spell check what comes back again.
A policy officer is BASICALLY a junior admin clerk, which is fine.

Whilst I’m doing this job of curating paper, I observe what’s going on around me, specifically…


But not just to hear what they say, that is what the beliebers do, and I ain’t no belieber.Capture
Believing the corporate line on anything is for the rubes.
Or rather for those lacklustre people who haven’t read about organisational development titans like Chris Argyris who pointed out that there is very often a split between what people say they do and what they actually do. What leaders say they are going to do, their espoused theory, very often is different to what then actually happens, the theory in use.
SO I compare what is the corporate line on things, and what actually happens…


Now this provides a lot of interest, a grand announcement of transformation is often followed by the same old grubby series of expensive IT projects, corporate visioneering schemes and restructures.
But the real value lies in completing the line of causal action between what leaders say, what they do and what happens as a result of this action….


See it all laid out like this, the gaps between espoused theory and the theory in use, and the gap between what is actually done and the actual result of it all.

Some would say that this is all above board and is monitored at corporate level, some kind of strategic performance reporting would feed back the results of executive decision making so that the learning cycle can be complete and decisions adjusted accordingly.

Some would say that, but as a person who actually does these reports I can say that in a command and control organisation this does not provide learning and the consequent  adjustments of decision making and action.
The main purpose of a performance report is to be complete and neat with no internal inconsistencies. This means that all the boxes are complete and that if an arrow is pointing upwards, this should be the correct colour (red if upwards is a bad thing, green if a good thing). Even if this weren’t the case, command and control organisations measure the wrong things in the wrong way, there never is any learning anyway.
So there is my hobby, observing and thinking in a systemsy way about normal ordinary command and control organisations…


But if that’s all there was, it’d be a bit sad. I’d be all, “Woe is me! How Awful!” Like in that pic below I’ve helpfully drawn for you…


Thankfully, I started typing it all up, with added swearing and nob jokes


And bizarrely there was a niche for it, in some weird way…


People in other organisations can read the learning points from mine, and cos all ordinary command and control organisations fail in the same silly ways, they can see it in theres and it is useful in some way. Either cos the people in these other organisations can do something with it cos their all proactive and talented or because where they work is amenable to systemsy approaches and something good can happen as a result.

Either way, there we have it. My two jobs. The one on the left is the one I come to work to do and am paid for.
The one on the right is the one that comes out of doing job one, it is me learning what doesn’t work, adding a splash of pizzazz and sticking it somewhere where others could make use of it.


Now here’s the thing with Job 1…I’m rubbish at it.wp-1465839042635.jpg

I don’t care one bit about copy/pasting some meaningless words from one document to another.
I couldn’t give a fig whether boxes are complete or not.

I don’t care because I know it doesn’t matter as it is pure waste. None of it helps the customer or helps anybody.

Because there is no need for it, in systems terms, and it adds no value, I give it the barest amount of thought and effort I can..

Because of this, I don’t get any better at doing a pointless and wasteful task, in fact I get worse.
I am turning very lazy and thick at the task of being a policy officer!




The funny thing about Job 1 is that I’m rubbish at it, don’t keep it a secret that I’m rubbish, and so people are quite likely to accurately conclude that I’m rubbish at performance.

This is true, if performance is defined as being what Job 1 is. ie copy/pasting etc

I’m rubbish at doing rubbish work.


However I have Job 2.


Job 2 is watching the ordinary command and control organisation through the lens of systemsy thinking, adding nob jokes and pics and sharing where others can make what use of it they wish.
I’m getting better at this.
Now here’s the ironic conclusion….

The ironic conclusion
Job 2 actually IS the job of a policy officer!
Looking, learning, concluding and communicating.
That’s what people who do this stuff are supposed to be good at.
So being a systemsy policy officer is actually what I do when I’m typing the guff up on this place.
It’s just not the job of the policy officer in the organisation I’m currently in.
So there we have it. MY TWO JOBS.
One what it is, the other what it should be and isn’t. Bizarrely, this blog turns out to be the work of The Systemsy Policy Officer. How queer.


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

5 Responses to The Systemsy Policy Officer takes a bow

  1. “In most organizations nearly everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for—namely, covering their weaknesses, trying to look their best, and managing other people’s impressions of them. There may be no greater waste of a company’s resources. The ultimate cost: neither the organization nor its people are able to realize their full potential. ”

    An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey

    A great read for Systemsy people.


  2. Great that you do this stuff. I teach systems thinking to school leadership teams (though most dislike it intensely) ….staff love it. Changing a culure is never easy and nigh impossible if there is no systems thinking background

    Liked by 2 people

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