Folk management

How do you think organisations work?
This is how Jeremy thinks his boiler works….

This is what a fair few people including me think a boiler works like. Not in as obviously ludicrous way, but  comments I’ve sourced from nearby people are similar…

  • I’d turn it high, so it gets really warm quicker, then turn it down to the temperature I want”
  • “If you whack it up high, it makes it hotter, which is what you want. Then turn it down”
  • “When it’s cold, turn it much hotter to reverse the cold then put it to the heat you want”

This isn’t how thermostats work, but it’s how people think they work.

Most people don’t give it much thought, instead they use the nearest metaphor they have to imagine how it works. Probably something like putting your foot down on an accelerator hard, so you speed up faster, until you reach the desired speed then you take your foot off the pedal. Or closer to the actual situation, turning on a gas fire full until it heats up a room, then turning it down again.

When people don’t know how something works, they imagine how it works. But crucially, they’ll not know that there’s a difference between imagining and knowing. There’s something called folk physics, which is the study of how people imagine the world works when they don’t know how it does.

For example people think that when water is piped through a coiled spiral of pipe, that when the water emerges from the end it will continue to spiral, in a coil of water. It doesn’t, it comes out in a straight line, but surprisingly large numbers of people think it comes out all wiggly.

What are trees made of? Where does all that wood come from? Lots of people think it comes from the soil, water and something to do with leaves and sunlight.

Trees come from fresh air. 95% of a tree come from carbon dioxide, the air around it turns into tons of wood. Sounds quite weird and unlikely, but only if you don’t know how photosynthesis works. 

This is why normal ordinary command and control management is so dumb. Because it actually is dumb. Or rather, it’s the equivalent level of dumbness as thinking that a cannonball falls faster than a marble. Just an incorrect model of how reality works, easily tested by empirical investigation. But startlingly dumb, if intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge, then the failure to test assumptions of normal models of work is dumb cos no new knowledge is acquired.

Do targets work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Do appraisals work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Folk management is the result of the ongoing inability to generate new knowledge by testing the underlying theory that it relies on. Most organisations don’t know the theory that they operate under, only the visible manifestations of it. They know they do annual plans, budget monitoring, have service standards, but not that this is a choice driven by an assumption about how the world works.

As the Deming quote goes, without theory there is no learning. Without knowing the theory of how boilers and thermostats work, you can’t use it properly to keep you at a pleasant temperature. Without knowing how work works, or at least what your own theory of work actually is, then you can’t learn how to get better at it.

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Double Trouble

Mr SquireToTheGiants did a nice thing on why organisations can be like the politics and game playing of Game Of Thrones, but without the deaths or dragons, explaining double loop learning in the process. Here it is and you should click to read more.

Squire to the Giants

Double troubleThere’s a lovely idea which I’ve known about for some time but which I haven’t yet written about.

The reason for my sluggishness is that the idea sounds so simple…but (as is often the case) there’s a lot more to it. It’s going to ‘mess with my head’ trying to explain – but here goes:

[‘Heads up’: This is one of my long posts]

Learning through feedback

We learn when we (properly) test out a theory, and (appropriately) reflect on what the application of the theory is telling us i.e. we need to test our beliefs against data.

“Theory by itself teaches nothing. Application by itself teaches nothing. Learning is the result of dynamic interplay between the two.” (Scholtes)

Great. So far, so good.

Single-loop learning vs. Double-loop learning

Chris Argyris (1923 – 2013) clarified that there are two levels to this learning, which he explained through the…

View original post 2,383 more words

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Toads

This gallery contains 3 photos.

“Okay, say you go into the break room, and a couple people you like are there, say someone’s telling a funny story, you laugh a little, you feel included, everyone’s so funny, you go back to your desk with a … Continue reading

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WANTED: systemsy stuff to cheer me up

I’ve been working in an ordinary command and control organisation TOO LONG.

I’m miserable and it makes me think that all work is like this and it can never change.

I know it isn’t. I’ve been a part of, and seen in other organisations PROPER WORK. by which I mean

  • Studying work to get knowledge 
  • Measures derived from and used in the work
  • Change happening by experiment
  • Purpose discovered outside-in rather than by asking your manager

You know, systemsy stuff. 

I want to go and see somewhere doing this, cos whenever I have done in the past, it’s brilliant and makes me excited and optimistic.

So if this is you, if you work in a place that’s going or even gone systemsy in a Deming-ish or Seddon-ey way then can I come visit you to have a gawk at your stuff? Just for a few hours. I’ll be no trouble, and I’ll not blog about it unless you want me to.  You’d get the chance to show off a bit and I guarantee I’ll be impressed.

If this is you, click on the contact me button and send me a message including your contact details and I’ll get back to you with glee.  If you’re somewhere north of Manchester and south of Edinburgh that would be ideal.

Posted in command and control, deming, systems thinking | 7 Comments

The secret management model that must not be named

It’s my annual appraisal tomorrow, the lowlight of my year.

I announce my opinion of appraisals out loud, and nobody disagrees, most agree, for the usual reasons.

  • “why once a year do you talk about work and how it’s going? we have 121s every month!”
  • “why score someone with “satisfactory”? How’s THAT going to make them aspire to be better!”
  • “what’s with these VALUES?! I’ve got my own that I much prefer!”
  • “Most of the things on my appraisal were cancelled in the following months”

Everyone says they should be done “better”, but nobody says don’t do them at all.

Keen readers of this blog will have noticed that I’m fan of Deming. Despite him being old and boring, he is totally right as well. He said just don’t do them. That’s really the only answer to them.

I’m not going to list all their faults, or why they’re silly, cos I’m not that conscientious, you can google for that. Trust me, or Google, it’s up to you, either way, they’re worthless and damaging but for some reason staff can’t entertain the idea of doing away with them completely. Why’s that?

I think it’s cos they’re an essential part of an invisible and unnamed management model that nobody really grasps exists, or even has a name. The model runs everything. Like the illuminati. From the strategic plans to individual objectives in your annual appraisal. Runs ’em all. The performance monitoring, the use of binary comparisons of target against actual. Every damn thing is permeated by the secret model that nobody knows exists or has a name….

Unless they’ve read a book or two, or taken the slightest interest in how work works, then they’ll know.

It’s called ….

Management

By

Objective

There. It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named has now been named. Like Lord Voldemort

Management By Objective is the name, and by their name so shall ye know them.

Plans, seem natural. Cascaded objectives from above, seem natural. Individual targets derived from plans, seem natural and inevitable.

They are not natural.

They SEEM natural because they’re all that most staff have ever seen in the workplace. They’re as natural as cars or mobile phones. Ie, ubiquitous but man-made. A choice.

They are integral parts of Management By Objectives, or MBO.

MBO is the unknown and un-named model that runs the vast majority of organisations.

You’ll have seen triangles in your work. In interminable service plans or strategic policy documents. Things that assert with a straight face what the organisation and therefore you will be doing.

This is a visual model of MBO. Your annual appraisal, no matter where you sit in the triangle, will be a monitoring of your delivery of a tiny chunk of it.

And MBO is roundly, almost comedically, discredited.

The first time i heard of it it was being debunked. I didn’t even hear of it when it was being mooted, or in its prime! It is THAT much of a secret to most staff. And that old-fashioned.

And it doesn’t work! Not as a model of how work actually works, or an aspiration of how it could work. Drucker first popularised it in the 1950s, so it’s had time enough to see if it COULD work. Look around you, does it?

Which brings me back to appraisals. Do they work? Not in theory, not if you tried really hard and THIS time made it work, but actually in your experience and of those around you, do they?

So, for a laugh, ask your manager in your next appraisal, “what is the name of the management model that we use here? that this is a part of?” Just for a laugh, cos it’ll be the only one you’ll be going to get.

Same time next year folks!

***LATE EDIT! Seems as if four years ago I typed virtually the same blog post, just much prettier cos I was all arty then. So here it is a bonus extra, to celebrate National Democracy Day*****

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Why WIFFY’s are bad and to be squashed at birth

YEARS ago some clever lady told me…

Avoid What If’s, these are called WIFFYs. Never allow them. If you see somebody asking “But…what if?” stop them there and then and ask “has it? do we have data that it is? what do we KNOW about it?”

This is not some kind of motivational “hey! don’t concern yourselves with What Ifs, just go for it, it’s your negativity and worry!

This is isn’t about THOSE What Ifs.

The What Ifs i mean, the WIFFYs, are when somebody asks something hypothetical…

“yeah, I see what you’re saying about numerical targets causing people to act odd, but WHAT IF we took the targets away and the lazier and less motivated staff don’t do the work, we’ve got nothing to make ’em do it then, its the customers who need that work done, and quick too.”

Yes, WHAT IF. Are they though? Has that happened? Where can we go to see these demotivated staff? When?

“but WHAT IF we speak to customers to find out more about what matters to them, and the problem they need solving, WHAT IF they want the moon on a stick? An executive gold plated service? What then eh?”

So, have you? And do they? What data do you have on what matters to customers?

“WHAT IF we get rid of service plans, and nobody knows what they should be doing?”

What data do you have on what they know they should be doing now? How did they get that? What data do you have on staff using service plans to find out what they’re supposed to do?

That’s the first part of a WIFFY, bring up what we know, and don’t know. The second part is to say….

“Whatever we find out is actually happening, and have data on, we will deal with, when we find it and when we have data on it.”

IE, we deal with we know, we find out about what we don’t know.

That’s it. 

Why are WIFFYs so dangerous? Because in normal ordinary command and control organisations the imaginary realm of the mind is what people deal in. Things that aren’t real are the currency of corporate thinkings. Once created, ie said out loud, it’s real.

Plans aren’t real, but they’re what people talk about, approve, monitor, cascade. There’s a big difference between a good days backed theory to be experimented with, and a series of quarterly guesses.

Risk management, that’s not real. WIFFYs by another name, they are the worst imaginings of what could go wrong, ignoring what is already predictabley going wrong.

Data-free imaginings are the how command and control organisations run. A WIFFY is the unit of currency in the market of guessology.

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First they came for the desks, and nobody said NUFFINK

What’s the DEFINING FEATURE of a bureaucrat?They have a bureau!

Or rather, a desk, cos we’re not French and thanks to Brexit no longer have to follow EU regulations on what we call our desks.

The bureaucrat has a desk. I’ve got one, cos I’m a bureaucrat. Take it away and what am i? Just some dude with a clipboard. Yes, i own a clipboard too, I went FULL bureaucrat for comic effect a few years ago, now I inhabit the role. Where does the bureaucrat end and the joke begin, nobody can tell. It’s a seamless piece of situationist art. 

Regardless, THEY’VE COME FOR OUR DESKS.

In common with loads of other public sector bodies that have had vast budget cuts to pay for bankers bonuses, we’ve had to shed office space and very soon will have a load more people working in our office. More people than actual desks. This situation will be met by the adoption of HOT-DESKING and AGILE WORKING

I’ve capitalised both these phrases on purpose, because like with LEAN, when this word hit our horizon very unfashionably late we also capitalised them, if not when written down then at least when saying them out loud. These are strange new words that are foreign on our lips. Probably Japan cos that’s futuristic. We don’t know what it all means but it’s all for the best.

I’ve heard conflicting definitions given as to what HOT-DESKING and AGILE working actually mean.

(I’m instinctively AGAINST the word AGILE. When I first started blogging eons ago and people started leaving comments on here i go to their Twitter account or their own blog, and see mentions of it. I still don’t really know what it is, but it sounds HOKEY. This is NOT an invite for people to leave helpful explanation​s.)
What’s really queer about this whole thing is how everybody knows the phrase “agile working” to be total nonsense, and yet we still keep using it, in very different ways.

 In personal 1-2-1 chats we put on a silly voice and do some kind of arm shake like a gibbon. “Oh, I’m agile [arm shakes like gibbon] working today, so I don’t have a desk”.

But in official channels, it’s used totally straight. 

In the end it means you don’t have a particular desk, but most days you have one, and if you’re unlucky on a few days you’ll have to scrabble round to find a spare one.

It works alright, cos people are off on leave or out for day, or working from home etc so it turns out not to be a disaster in the slightest. I’d call it more desk-sharing than AGILE WORKING though.

In the run up to AGILE WORKING we all had a massive clean out of desks and cupboards, keeping only what was “necessary”. I think you’re either a hoarder or a chucker. I’m a chucker so I LOVED this. Sod YOU retention guidelines, I’m off the leash.
One thing that’s odd is it DOESN’T MATTER. The incredibly important things from a long time ago that I certainly wasn’t allowed to chuck then, I’m encouraged to chuck now. Chucking stuff is fine cos we have to right now, and the bureaucrat’s innate tendency to caution and storing all things for future back-covering had been temporarily paused. It’s a lot cleaner too.

It also allowed me to chuck with gay abandon what is just not needed on voyage.

 I found a whole box of CDs with these labels on…

Archived reports!
Miscellaneous documents!
Be still my beating heart. BIN!

And these beauties….

Is been 7 years since I did systems thinking last with Housing Benefits, and 3 since the marble madness, there’s zero call for systemsy stuff here so… BIN!

Found a tube full of a collection of Vangrad posters that I used in an introduction to systems thinking. BIN!

In my drawer were…

I took these home, they’ve got a reprieve despite the misery they’ve caused. Not their fault, poor things.

I keep passing this abandoned chair everyday on the way to work. This has been brutally chucked out too.

It reminds me that once somebody bought it cos it was liked and wanted, and now it isn’t. It was of its time, and now it isn’t. Time’s moved on, as time by definition does.
I was saying to a colleague recently that I can’t recognise the person who typed such things as…

101 tactics for revolutionaries.

Aaaaaaand others like that. They were of a time, and that time has moved on. Now the contents of this blog are less about what to do to change things, and more to do with what is silly and wrong in an organisation, rather than any optimistic guff on what to do to change these silly things.

This is a recognition that the things required to change in organisations belong to top management, cos it’s the inside of their own heads, and that’s THEIR responsibility.

A weird thing about Demingy/Vangrad systems thinking is it’s about changing management thinking, but it’s very relevant to and approachable by anybody who works. It’s not like most management theories, it’s ABOUT work. So you can see it, in your daily existence, it isn’t only relevant to the executive on their strategic retreat. That’s obviously a good thing, KEEPING IT REAL, but also a bit dangerous cos it sucks in people with an interest in how work works, but without the power to do anything about it.  Essentially, the subject of this whole blog from end to end.

Now I can see how huge organisations are, and how much noise there is in them from transformation programmes and all the usual management gubbins. God knows how a manager COULD be dissatisfied and curious AND do all the usual stuff that’s expected, it’s too much. So I’m totally fine that during the time when I did that 101 tactics thing (above) that I was known as systemsy, and now I’m quiet about it and known for being a policy officer instead.
I like the anonymity of being a clipboard wielding copy/paster. I have nothing to do with performance, other than relaying numbers and text without it touching the sides. I see it around, but because the use of measures is formed by the mental model of work used in managing, it’s all very silly indeed, so best avoided.

I think this post is me fully embracing my loser-dom. Like in this piece here!

It says organisations are comprised of three layers…

The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.

I didn’t realise that was my allotted role, but now that I do, and have chucked the struggle against it, it’s a lot easier. I’m not saying that you should, cos there’s all sorts who read this blog, people right at the apex of the triangle even. I’m just acknowledging what’s been personally chucked along with the contents of my desk.

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