Why I dislike…

maturity-model…(so called) ‘maturity models’.

You know the ones I mean:

They are drawn up with an answer already in mind…and there’s seemingly one ‘out there’ for every ‘silver bullet.’

They are broken into:

  • a supposed linear 1 to 5 scale; and
  • neat horizontal swim lanes of supposedly important sub-categories.

The wording to articulate each point on the scale is contrived to work for the author’s intent. They start off as ‘black’ on the left (obviously undesirable), finish as ‘white’ on the right (i.e. heavenly) and go through a torturous swamp of grey in-between.

The people involved in designing and then scoring ‘our position on’ the scale are ‘in management’ (often assisted by some external consultants)…with little or no (meaningful) inclusion of the front line or customers i.e. those that would actually know about reality.

Scoring is performed based on opinions (perhaps in workshops, or via surveys), not the facts at the gemba.

Each team employing such a maturity scale is miraculously1 led to self-score themselves somewhere between a 1 and 2 at the start.

Management then use this ‘shocking’ score to justify the investment in a transformation programme (often given a name that is dripping in propaganda). Such a programme contains a wondrous set of initiatives to move2 the organisation from a ‘1.5’ score, up to a target3 score of ‘5′.

…and finally, each organisation stops once they reach a (self declared) ‘4’, saying that this is how far they need to go – a 5 now being seen as somehow no longer important. They stop because everyone’s got bored of it and/or they’ve used up their budget…and want to move onto another shiny new thing.

BUT…and this is the biggie…before, during and after this maturity exercise, they retain, and promote, management’s current faulty logic on ‘implementing change’.

An observation: A fundamental fault with the ‘maturity model movement’ is that each model has an end point (the supposed end of the journey). If this were so then the likes of Toyota would presumably have stopped improving decades ago.

A reflection:  I was asked by a comrade as to whether I believed that ‘maturity models’ could be of use4.

So, er, yes…there could most definitely be some positives BUT I’d suggest that these will be limited in scope, scale and duration….so not really transformational.

Now, if you think that you’ve got a maturity framework that would change management’s fundamental beliefs and behaviours…then you are very welcome to share this with me and anyone else reading this blog.

 A closing ‘cover my arse’ comment: I ‘get’ that many of you reading this will have ‘successfully’ used maturity models in your careers to date. This post is just me jotting down my thoughts on why I have a problem with them. It’s merely therapy for me 🙂

Footnotes

1. Not so miraculous when you consider that the people wanting the organisation to implement ‘the change’ wrote (or copied) the scale and its associated wording. It would be no good if you were already a 4 or 5.

2. When I say ‘move’ I actually mean ‘look for any evidence’ that could justify arguing that you are now a rather wonderful 4!

3. regarding ‘target’ – management will likely have baked some success criteria into their existing (and hugely flawed) cascaded objectives and incentives framework…meaning that they are somewhat biased in looking for favourable outcomes.

4. A few of those around me are always trying to get me to ‘see the positives’ in things 🙂

 

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Crossing the Divide

Picture1Are you interested in crossing that divide?

Okay, listen up 🙂 …this post is my attempt at one of those important bringing-it-all-together ones that provide a big message (see – look at the picture!)…which means that it’s a bit longer than normal because it needs to be.

I thought about breaking it into pieces and publishing bit-by-bit but this would make it longer (each bit needing a top and a tail) and hard to mentally put back together.

So I’ve decided to keep it together and let you, the reader, decide how you consume it. You might like to read it in one; or dip in and out of it during your day; or even set yourself an alert to finish it the next day…so (as Cilla Black used to say) “the choice is yours”. Here goes…

Mike Rother wrote what I believe to be, a very important book (Toyota Kata) about how organisations can improve, and what thinking is stopping them.

In particular, Chapter 9 of the book deals with ‘Developing Improvement Kata [pattern] behaviour in your organisation’. I thought it worthwhile posting a summary of his excellent advice derived from his research….

…and I’ll start with a highly relevant quote:

“Do not create a ‘Lean’ department or group and relegate responsibility for developing improvement behaviours to it.

Such a parallel staff group will be powerless to effect change, and this approach has been proven ineffective in abundance.

Use of this tactic often indicates delegation of responsibility and lack of commitment at the senior level.” (Mike Rother)

Many an organisation has gone down the ‘Lean department’ (or some such label) route…so, given this fact, here’s what Rother goes on to say, combined with my own supporting narrative and thought:


1. Be clear on what we are trying to achieve

If you really want to cross that divide then the challenge that we should be setting ourselves is learning a new way of thinking and acting such that we:

  • get the ‘improvement behaviour’ habit into the organisation; and then
  • spread it across the organisation so that it is used by everyone, at every process, every day.

And to make it even more ‘black and white’: the challenge is NOT about implementing techniques, practices or principles on top of our existing way of managing.

It means changing how we manage. This involves a significant effort and far reaching change (particularly in respect of leadership).


2. What do we know about this challenge?

  • Toyota (from the foundational work of Taiichi Ohno) is considered the world leader in working towards this challenge…they’ve been working towards it for 60+ years;
    • We can study and learn, but should not merely copy, from them;
  • The start, and ever-continuing path, is to strive to understand the reality of your own situation, and experimenting. This is where we actually learn;
  • No one can provide you with an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution to the challenge:
    • There isn’t likely to be an approach that perfectly fits for all;
    • It is in the studying and experimenting that we gain wisdom;
    • ‘Copying’ will leave us flailing around, unknowingly blind;
    • Our path should continually be uncertain up until each ‘next step’ reveals itself to us.

Wow, so that’s quite a challenge then! Here are some words of encouragement from Rother on this:

“There is now a growing community of organisations that are working on this, whose senior leaders recognise that Toyota’s approach is more about working to change people’s behaviour patterns than about implementing techniques, practises, or principles.”


3. What won’t work?

If we wish to spread a new (improvement) behaviour pattern across an organisation then the following tactics will not be effective:

Tactic a) Classroom training:

Classroom training (even if it incorporates exercises and simulations) will not change people’s behaviours. If a person ‘goes back’ into their role after attending training and their environment remains the same, then expect minimal change from them.

“Intellectual knowledge alone generally does not lead to change in behaviour, habits or culture. Ask any smoker.”

Rother makes the useful contrast of the use of the ‘training’ word within sport:

“The concept of training in sports is quite different from what ‘training’ has come to mean in our companies. In sport it means repeatedly practicing an actual activity under the guidance of a coach. That kind of training, if applied as part of an overall strategy to develop new behaviour patterns is effective for changing behaviours.”

Classroom training (and, even better, education) has a role but this is probably limited to ‘awareness’….and even that tends to fade quickly if it is not soon followed by hands-on practising with an appropriate coach.

Tactic b) Having consultants do it ‘to people’ via projects and workshops:

Projects and workshops do not equal continuous improvement. This is merely ‘point’ improvement that will likely cease and even slip backwards once the consultant (or ‘Black Belt’) has moved on to the next area of focus.

Real continuous improvement means improving all processes every day.

Traditional thinking sees improvement as an add-on (via the likes of Lean Six Sigma projects) to daily management. Toyota/ (actual) Lean/ Systems thinking (pick your label!) is where normal daily management equals process improvement i.e. they are one and the same thing.

To achieve this isn’t about bringing experts in to manage you through projects; it is to understand how to change your management system so that people are constantly improving their processes themselves. Sure, competent coaches can help leaders through this, but they cannot ‘do it for them.’

And to be clear: it is the senior leaders that first need coaching, this can’t be delegated downwards.

“If the top does not change behaviour and lead, then the organisation will not change either.”

Tactic c) Setting objectives, metrics and incentives to bring about the desired change:

There is no combination of these things that will generate improvement behaviour and alter an organisation’s culture. In fact, much of this is the problem.

If you don’t get this HUGE constraint then here are a few posts already published that scratch the surface* as to why: D.U.M.B., The Spice of Life, and The Chasm

(* you are unlikely to fully ‘get’ the significance from simple rational explanations, but these might make you curious to explore further)

Tactic d) Reorganising:

Shuffling the organisational structure with the aim (hope) of stimulating improvement will not work. Nothing has fundamentally changed.

“As tempting as it sometimes seems, you cannot reorganise your way to continuous improvement and adaptiveness. What is decisive is not the form of your organisation, but how people act and react.”


4. How do we change?

So, if all those things don’t work then, before we jump on some other ideas, perhaps we need to remind ourselves about us (human beings) and how we function.

The science of psychology is clear that we learn habits (i.e. behaviours that occur unconsciously and become almost involuntary to us) by repeated practice and gaining periodic fulfilment from this. This builds new and ever strengthening mental circuits (neural pathways).

Put simply: we learn by doing.

We need to start by realising that what we do now is mostly habitual and therefore the only way to alter this is by personally and repeatedly practising the desired (improvement pattern) behaviours in our actual daily work.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

“To know and not to do is not yet to know.” (Zen saying)

Further, a coach can only properly understand a person’s true thinking and learning by observing them in their daily work.

In summary, we need to:

  • practise using actual situations in actual work processes;
  • combine training with doing, such that the coach can see in real time where the learner is at and can introduce appropriate adjustments; and
  • use the capability of the actual process as the measure of effectiveness of the coaching/ learning.

5. Where to start?

So, bearing in mind what is said above (i.e. about needing to learn for yourselves), what follows is merely about helping you do this…and not any ‘holy grail’. If there is one then it is still up to you to find it!

An experienced coach:

“Coaches should be in a position to evaluate what their students are doing and give good advice…in other words, coaches should be experienced….

…If a coach or leader does not know from personal experience how to grasp the current condition at a process, establish an appropriate challenge [towards customer purpose] and then work step by step [experiment] towards it, then she is simply not in a position to lead and teach others. All she will be able to say in response to a student’s proposals is ‘Okay’ or ‘Good job’ which is not coaching or teaching.

The catch-22 is that at the outset there are not enough people in the organisation who have enough experience with the improvement kata [pattern] to function as coaches…

…it will be imperative to develop at least a few coaches as early as possible.” (See establishing an Advance Group below)

A word of warning: Many people assume a coaching role, often without realising that they are doing so. Such a presumption seems to be something that anyone hierarchically ‘senior’ to you considers to be their right. As in “Now listen up minion, I am now going to coach you – you lucky thing!*”

(* I had a rant about this in my earlier post on ‘people and relationships’ …but I’m okay now 🙂 )

So: Before any of us assert any supposed coaching privileges, I think we should humbly reflect that:

“The beginner is entitled to a master for a teacher. A hack can do incredible damage.” (Deming)

Who practises first?

The improvement pattern is for everyone in the organisation……but it needs to start somewhere first.

“Managers and leaders at the middle and lower levels of the organisation are the people who will ultimately coach the change to the improvement kata [pattern], yet they will generally and understandably not set out in such a new direction on their own. They will wait and see, based on the actions (not the words) of senior management, what truly is the priority and what really is going to happen.”

The point being that, if the organisation wants to effect a change in culture (which is what is actually needed to make improvement part of daily management) then it requires the senior managers to go first.

This statement needs some important clarifications:

  • It isn’t saying that senior leadership need to stand up at annual road-shows or hand out some new guru-book and merely state that they are now adopting some shiny new thing. This will change nothing. Far better would be NOT to shout about it and just ‘do it’ (the changed behaviours)…the people will notice and follow for themselves;
  • It isn’t saying that all senior leaders need to master all there is to know before anyone else can become involved. But what is needed is a meaningful desire for key (influential) members of the senior team to want to learn and change such that their people believe this;
  • It isn’t saying that there aren’t and won’t be a rump of middle and lower managers who are forward thinking active participants. They exist now and are already struggling against the current – they will surge ahead when leaders turn the tide;
  • It isn’t saying that the rest of the people won’t want the change: the underlying improvement behaviours provide people with what they want (a safe, secure and stimulating environment). It is just that they have understandably adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ habit given their current position on a hierarchical ladder and the controls imposed upon them.

Establishing an Advance Group

The first thing to notice from this sub-title is that it is NOT suggesting that:

  • we should attempt to change the whole organisation at once; or that
  • we should set up some central specialist group (as in the first quote in this post)

Instead, it is suggesting that we:

  • find a suitable1 senior executive to lead (not merely sponsor!2);
  • select/ appoint an experienced coach;
  • select a specific value-adding business system3 to start with;
  • form a suitable1 group of managers (currently working in the system, not outside it);
  • provide initial ‘awareness’ education;
  • ‘go to the Gemba’ and study4 to:
    • gain knowledge about purpose, demand, capability, and flow; and then
    • derive wisdom about the system conditions and management thinking that make all this so;
  • perform a series of improvement cycles (experimenting and learning);
  • reflect on learnings about our processes, our people and our organisation…
    • …deriving feelings of success and leading to a new mindset: building a capability to habitually follow the improvement routine in their daily management;
    • …and thereby crafting a group of newly experienced managers within the organisation who can go on to coach others as and when other business systems wish to pull their help.

(for explanatory notes for superscripts 1 – 4, see bottom of post)

Caution: Don’t put a timescale on the above – it can’t be put into an ‘on time/budget/scope’ project straight jacket. The combination of business system, team and organisational environment is infinitely varied…it will take what it takes for them to perform and learn. The learning will emerge.

A number of things should be achieved from this:

  • meaningful understanding and improvement of the selected business system’s capability;
  • highly engaged people who feel valued, involved and newly fulfilled;
  • a desire to continue with, and mature the improvement cycles (i.e. a recognition that it is a never-ending journey);
  • interest from elsewhere in the organisation as they become aware of, develop curiosity and go see for themselves; and
  • A desire to ‘roll in’5 the change to their own business system.

A caveat – The big barrier:

Every system sits within (and therefore is a component of) a larger system! This will affect what can be done.

If you select a specific value-adding business system, it sits within the larger organisational system;

If you move up the ‘food chain’ to the organisational system, it potentially sits within a larger ‘parent organisation’ system

….and so on.

This is a fact of life. When studying a system it is as important (and often more so) to study the bigger system that it sits within as studying its own component parts.

It is this fact “that so often brings an expression similar to that of the Sheriff Brody in the film ‘Jaws’ when he turns from the shark and says ‘we need a bigger boat’. Indeed we do!” (Gordon Housworth, ICG blog)

If the bigger system commands down to yours (such as that you must use cascaded personal objectives, targets, contingent rewards and competitive awards) and your learning (through study and experimentation) concludes that this negatively affects your chosen business system then you need to move upstairs and work on that bigger system.

You might respond “But how can we move upstairs? They don’t want to change!”. Well, through your studying and experimentation, you now have real knowledge rather than opinions – you have a far better starting point!


…and there you have it: A summary of Mike Rother’s excellent chapter mixed with John Seddon’s thinking (along with my additional narrative) on how we might move towards a true ‘culture of improvement’.

There is no silver bullet, just good people studying their system and facilitating valuable interventions.

Notes: All quotes used above are from Mike Rother unless otherwise stated.

  1. Suitable: A person with: an open mind, a willingness to question assumptions/ conventional wisdom, and humility; a desire and aptitude for self-development, development of others and for continual improvement (derived from Liker’s book – The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership)
  2. On leading: “Being a…Sponsor is like being the Queen: you turn up to launch a ship, smash the champagne, wave goodbye and welcome it back to port six months later. This attitude is totally inappropriate for leading…in our business environment. We need ownership that is one of passion and continual involvement…” (Eddie Obeng)
  1. The business system selected needs to be a horizontal value stream (for the customer) rather than a vertical silo (organisational function) and needs to be within the remit of the senior executive.
  1. Study: Where my post is referring to Seddon’s ‘Check’ model
  1. Roll in: The opposite of roll out – pulling, instead of pushing. Please see Rolling, rolling, rolling… for an explanation of the difference.

“I hear what you say…but I don’t want to change my world”

Upton Sinclair quoteSo, for this post, I’m going to use a ‘true story’ as explained by Daniel Kahneman in his mind-bending book ‘Thinking fast and slow’.

(Kahneman is a Nobel prize winning giant in the field of human psychology and I will be adding him to my group of giants soon).

Some years ago, Kahneman was invited to speak at an investment firm whose advisors provide financial advice to wealthy clients. I can almost hear them shouting “buy, sell…buy” across the trading floor.

Pre-meeting preparation.

Kahneman asked the firm’s executives for some data so that he could prepare for the talk he was due to give.

He was provided with a spreadsheet containing the investment outcomes of 25 of the firm’s advisors, for each of 8 consecutive years. No names, just anonymous identifiers.

The firm used the investment outcome success of each advisor as the main determinant of their (potentially large) year-end bonus.

…so what was Kahneman interested in understanding about this data set? And what did he do to interrogate it?

His thinking: That investment outcomes will be a combination of skill (on the part of the advisor) and luck1

His question: How much of the outcome in this ‘providing expert investment advice’ work was down to skill and how much to luck?

How to determine the answer: Kahneman was interested in understanding whether any apparent differences in skill were persistent i.e. did the same adviser consistently achieve better (or worse) returns year on year?

postive corelation pictureTo work this out he calculated the correlation coefficients2 between the advisor rankings in each pair of years: year 1 with year 2, year 1 with year 3….all the way along to year 7 with year 8. This gave him 28 correlation coefficients from which to calculate the average.

  • An average score close to 1 would mean that it was a very highly skilled job and the best (and worst) advisors were easy to identify – in this scenario, luck plays virtually no part;
  • A score midway between 0 and 1 would mean that skill mattered a bit but that luck also had a huge part to play.
  • Anything nearing 0 would mean that it was really just about luck.

So what were his findings and what does this mean?

Drum roll…he was surprised to find that the score was…0.01 or put more simply ‘zero’.

In Kahneman’s words “The consistent correlations that would indicate differences in skill were not found. The result resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.”

Clarification: Just in case you are thinking “hey, that’s just one set of data. He got lucky!”…Kahneman knew roughly what he was going to uncover because this ‘person or system’ type analysis has been done many times by many people. He knew the theory and the evidence….he expected it to be low but he didn’t expect it to be soooo close to zero!

So what happened next?

Well, he ended up having dinner with the investment firm’s executives the night before he was due to give his talk.

He explained the question he had asked of the data they had provided to him and asked them to guess the year-to-year correlation in the rankings of their advisers.

The executives (being intelligent and self-protecting people) thought they knew what was coming and calmly accepted that performance certainly fluctuates and, yes, there was an element of luck…however, none of them expected the average correlation to be zero.

Kahneman gave them the clear message that “the firm was rewarding luck as if it were skill”.

This should have been a major shock, but it created no great stir…they calmly went on with dinner as if nothing of note had been said.

Kahneman goes on to write about The illusion of skill: Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed….people consistently ignore statistical studies of performance when it clashes with their personal impressions from experience.”

Why write this post?

There are two key points within the case above:

The first is that Kahneman’s story is an (extreme) example of the system vs. the individual. Yes, some people may be outstanding but a great deal of ‘performance’ can only be ascribed to the system in which they operate. (You might perhaps take note that investment advice is little more than a game of chance.)

But perhaps the second (and main) point is clearly expressed in the phrase “I don’t want to change my world”. The executives may very well accept ‘the maths’ and the conclusion…but that doesn’t mean they are about to change anything.

Consider that executives are probably also on a (larger) bonus structure which will have a similarly dubious rationale. We can expect little change unless and until those ‘at the top’ of an organisation understand, agree and want it.

People (such as me) can bang on about performance reviews and contingent rewards, providing ever increasing evidence and logic…yet (and this is an open question) what will cause a change?

1 This is another way of stating Deming’s x + y(x) = the result equation. i.e. the result is partly down to the person and a large part down to the system in which they operate (which is simply luck from the person’s perspective).

2 A correlation coefficient (usually denoted with the letter R) is a statistical measure of the strength of the relationship between two sets of data.

Correlation coefs

R = 1 means that the two sets of data are a perfect positive fit.

R = -1 indicates a perfect negative fit

R = 0 indicates that there is no relationship i.e. any relationship is purely random.

A correlation greater than 0.8 is generally described as strong, whereas a correlation less than 0.5 is generally described as weak. 

 

It’s NOT about the nail!

It not about the nailSo there’s a fabulous (yet very short) YouTube skit called ‘It’s NOT about the nail’.

Many of you will have watched it…and if you haven’t then please watch it now before reading on – you won’t get this post if you don’t.

And I bet that those of you who have seen it before will want to watch it again (and again).

(though please see my ‘PC police’ note at the bottom 🙂 )

So, why am I using this clip? What’s the link?

Well it struck me that this is a brilliant systems analogy!

Let me explain:

Let’s assume that the woman is an organisation and the man is outside it, looking in.

The script might go something like this…

The organisation: “It’s just, there’s all this pressure you know. And sometimes it feels like it’s right up on me…and I can just feel it, like literally feel it, in my head and it’s relentless…and I don’t know if it’s going to stop, I mean that’s the thing that scares me the most…is that I don’t know if its ever going to stop!”

[Turns to show the outside world the reality of the situation]

Outside:     “…yeah…well…you do have…a ‘command and control’ management system.”

The organisation:     “It’s not about the management system!”

Outside:     “Are you sure? Because, I mean, I’ll bet that if we got that out of there…”

The organisation:     “Stop trying to fix it!”

Outside:     “No, I’m not trying to ‘fix it’…I’m just pointing out that maybe the management system is causing….”

The organisation:     “You always do this! You always try to fix things when all I really need is for you to listen!”

Outside:     “yeah…see…I don’t think that is what you need. I think what you need is to get the ‘command and control’ out…

The organisation: “See! You’re not even listening now!”

Outside:     “Okay, fine! I will listen. Fine.”

[Pause]

The organisation:     “…it’s just, sometimes it’s like…there’s this achy…I don’t know what it is. I’m not sleeping very well at all…and all my workers are disempowered and disengaged. I mean all of them.”

[Pause. Searching looks between the two]

Outside:     “That sounds…erm…really…hard.”

The organisation:     “It is! Thank you 🙂 

[Pause. Reach forward to reconcile….]

The organisation:     “Owch!”

Outside:     “Oh come on! If you would just…”

The organisation:    “DON’T!!!…”

[(usually) The end, unfortunately]

But let’s not stop there and just cope with the nail….

…to the point:

To successfully and meaningfully change a system towards its purpose, you need to look from the outside-in. You cannot achieve this looking from the inside-out.

Deming was very clear on this point: “The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.”

Seddon wrote “When managers learn to take a systems view, starting outside-in (that is, from the customer’s rather than the organisation’s point of view), they can see the waste caused by the current organisation design, the opportunities for improvement and the means to realise them. Taking a systems view always provides a compelling case for change and it leads managers to see the value of designing and managing work in a different way…

…but this better way represents a challenge to current management conventions. Measures and roles need to change to make the systems solution work. You have to be prepared to change the system…”

In a similar vein Einstein is credited with the saying We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

A catch:

Gosh, it sounds so simple….let’s just look from the outside-in shall we? But, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Here’s Stafford Beer with why not:

“…a new idea is not only beyond the comprehension of the existing system, the existing system finds it threatening to its own status quo…the existing system does not know what will happen if the new idea is embraced.

The innovator fails to work through the systematic consequences of the new idea. The establishment cannot…and has no motivation to do so…it was not its own idea…the onus is on the innovator…[but] the establishment controls the resources that the adventurous idea needs…”

Blimey, that’s a bit depressing isn’t it!…which is an opportune moment to remind you of my earlier ‘Germ theory of management’ post.

You/I/we won’t succeed by trying to push the idea onto the system. We need to make ‘it’ curious and want to pull the idea at the rate that understanding, acceptance and desire emerges.

So it IS about the nail! …Oh never mind.

(if you watch the YouTube clip again, I expect you will find it hard not to mentally overlay the above script onto it now! I know I do.)

Comment for the ‘Political-Correctness’ police: I ‘get’ that the clip is stereotypical about the differences between men and women…I ‘get’ that men will likely find it funnier than women…but, come on, it is very funny.

Okay, okay…I am more than happy to post an equally funny clip (to address the gender balance) that sends up men…here’s a good one: ‘Man flu’

What do germs have to do with modern management?

5248_1651_2006-021If a hugely important message is so different to how people currently believe and behave, how do we best help people ‘get it’ and, even better, passionately ‘jump ship’?

I’d like to use an excellent ‘germ theory’ analogy, written about by Myron Tribus (see credit at bottom of this post).

Imagine it is the year 1869

Louis Pasteur has recently demonstrated that fermentation is caused by organisms which are carried in the air. Joseph Lister has applied Pasteur’s work and experimented with the first antiseptic and found that it worked to prevent infection after surgery.

Between them (and others), they have opened up a whole new theory – the germ theory of disease.

However, their contemporaries, the doctors administering to their patients have no understanding of this knowledge. Worse, current practises contaminate patients with virtually every action taken. Surgeons routinely operate with unwashed instruments and unwashed hands and then ‘sew death into the wound’ with unsterilised needles and unsterilised thread. Some people recover, some stay the same, but many die. In each case, some rationale (from what is currently believed) can be used to explain the outcome.

Today we cringe at the actions of these doctors…but at that time the medical world believed in a totally different (Miasma) theory and, as such, the practising doctors were constrained by this thinking. These professionals knew no better – they were prisoners to the state of knowledge of their profession, to the current way of thinking and were under pressure to conform, to follow ‘best practise’. They could not apply what they did not know or believe.

So, going back to the year 1869…the American civil war has recently ended. Imagine you are a young researcher in an American medical school and you have learned about these incredibly important new European developments in germ theory. The spread of such knowledge is rather slower than it is today (there’s no internet, no email).

You want to spread the new germ theory knowledge and the importance of sterilisation! You’ve been invited to speak in front of a group of distinguished doctors. They have achieved their fame from heroic work as surgeons in the field during the war (they are very good at sawing limbs off!)…but your underlying message to them is that they have been killing their patients.

So your task is to persuade them to forget what they have been taught, to abandon the wisdom they thought they had gained through many years of experience and to rebuild their understanding around a new theory…but think about this:

  • they have a very nice life based on what they have been doing (respect and prestige in their community, a nice house, some fine horses and a few servants);
  • you are effectively telling them that they are (currently) a menace…that they are dangerous!
  • …what about their reputation if this ‘gets out’?

How do you go about winning them over? Do you think they will be glad to hear you?

Let’s apply this analogy to management

Here’s the preface to W. Edwards Deming’s important book ‘The New Economics’:

“This book is for people who are living under the tyranny of the prevailing [command and control] style of management…Most people imagine that the present style of management has always existed, and is a fixture. Actually it is a modern invention – a prison created by the way people interact.”

Deming’s book (and his famous lectures) goes on to explain that what is considered as ‘best practise’ in management is in fact not…and that, instead, it is doing much harm and there is a better way….which sounds rather familiar to trying to educate doctors about germs in the late 1800s.

Now there are successful companies (think Japan for starters, and many forward thinking companies) and hugely respected educators (Ackoff, Scholtes, Womack & Jones, Seddon,….) around the world that have taken on and advanced Deming’s work. Deming is for management what Pasteur and Lister were for medicine.

But Deming’s message is some mouthful for the successful ‘command and control’ Executive to take!

In the same way that the doctors wouldn’t have liked to hear the “you are killing your patients” message, neither would an executive who has ‘got to the top’ using their knowledge and understanding of the traditional ‘command and control’ management system.

So what reactions should we expect from the 1869 doctors and today’s ‘command and control’ executives to a new way of thinking? Well, that depends on how the message is delivered!

One way will result in denial, the other curiosity (by some) to learn more.

Rational vs. Normative change

So what actually happened? Well, the doctors fought tooth and nail against the idea of having a sterile environment. “What, stop to wash my hands…don’t be silly. I have important things to do!”

But, consider this. Those doctors who were curious leapt ahead…those who wouldn’t change eventually became ridiculed, sidelined and even ruined. It took time…but the new theory eventually won out.

So back to delivering that message…here’s a comparison of two intervention methods:

  • Intervention Method 1: Rational change – This is the idea that you can use logical arguments to rationalise the proposed change (you explain, they listen)…but, if you do this, they will always map what you are saying onto their current world view (which is the very thing you are trying to change!) and then they will defend their current thinking since they know no better – this results in denial. You won’t get any traction here!

  • Intervention Method 2: Normative change – This is where you get them curious to look for themselves, to study their system (stand back, observe, collect information, consider) and thereby open their eyes to that which they could not see. Then, and only then, will they be ready to change. This change in thinking (unlearning and relearning) is achieved through experiential learning – people don’t deny what they see.

So, the task is to get ‘command and control’ leaders to become curious and then help them study their system, to open their eyes to what is actually happening….and then work with them to experiment towards a new way of management.

There are a couple of obvious ways to begin this study:

  • Demand: Take them to where the demand comes in (a branch, a contact centre, the mail) and get them to listen to/ observe demand. Get them to classify this as value or failure demand… get them thinking about what they ‘see’;

  • Flow: Get them to follow some units of value demand all the way through the current system, from when the demand first arose (from the customer’s point of view) all the way to when the customer achieved a satisfactory closure (to them) to their actual needs. Get them to identify the value work, seeing everything else as waste…get them thinking about what they ‘see’.

…now they should be curious to think about the why, why, why.

“Okay Steve, we get the ‘germ theory’ example….but what’s your supposedly missing management theory?”

Well, actually, it’s not just one missing theory – there are four!! I’ve put an introductory table at the bottom of this post if you are curious 🙂

Deming aptly referred to the understanding of these four theories, and their inter-relationships, as ‘profound knowledge’. Obviously, my simple (rational) writing about these can’t change anything much…but it might help you when studying your system.

So who’s this post actually written for?

If you are reading this, are part of the system and already ‘see’ some or all of the new way, then it is to explain to you that rational change is unlikely to work…so try to go down the normative change track with your leaders.

If you are a leader who is responsible for the system, then this post is merely to make you curious. I cannot rationally convince you that there is a far better way than your existing ‘command and control’ management system but I can help you study and learn for yourself.

…and finally, on a positive note…

Not everything that the doctors, or ‘command and control’ managers did was wrong. They did what they could with what they knew and they were sincere in their efforts to do the right things.

Four missing theories from command-and-control management:

The theory of:

Meaning…: Which will show the madness of:
A system When we break up the system into competitive components, we destroy value of unknown magnitude.

What matters most is how the components fit, not how they act taken separately.

An unclear purpose, vertical hierarchical silo’d thinking, continual reorganisations, cascaded personal objectives, and the rating & ranking of peoples’ performance;

Failure demand and waste

Variation There is natural variation in everything: we need to understand the difference between a signal and noise.

Targets are ‘outside’ the system and cause dysfunctional behaviour.

Binary comparisons, targets, traffic lights and tampering.
Human Psychology Understanding people and why they behave as they do (particularly in respect of motivation, relationships and trust). The use of extrinsic motivators, such as competitive awards and incentives (and a misunderstanding of money);

Management by fear and compliance; Treating people as the same, an obsession with ’empowerment’ and the missed opportunity of developing people

Knowledge True learning and development occurs through experimentation (e.g. PDSA) – from a theory that is properly tested and then reflected upon…leading to true and sustainable improvement.

Benchmarking and implementing solutions rather than experimentation; saying something is ‘an experiment’ when it’s not; a focus on results rather than their causes; Speeches and workshops rather than Gemba walking.

After thought: ‘Germ theory’ is but one example of a scientific theory that could have been used as the analogy in this post. In generic terms, ‘old knowledge’ hangs around for a while in spite of our efforts…but it does eventually die out, allowing us to move forward.

Credits:

  • The analogy comes from Myron Tribus: ‘The Germ theory of management’ (1992), SPC Press
  • The intervention thinking comes from an enlightening email exchange with John Seddon

Image: I had some fun looking for an appropriate image to go with this post. I came across some gruesome pictures of 19th century (unsterilised) amputations but, given that some of you might not appreciate seeing this, I limited myself to just showing you a 19th century surgeon’s instrument kit…and those of you that want to can let your imagination run riot 🙂

Chalk and Cheese

Chalk-and-CheeseLet’s compare two organisations (or departments within):

In one (let’s call it Cheese – I like cheese…it matures into a lovely outcome):

The senior manager is curious as to how to get the best out of the system, for the good of the customer. She has understood that, to achieve excellent results, the organisation must continually work on the causes of those results.

She questions her own learning’s to date, always looking to expand her knowledge and amend her ‘worldview’, seeks counsel from others* and (once suitably skilled) actively coaches the people that work within the system. She has the humility to realise that her role is to lead, not to know the answer.

* such counsel comes from meeting the process rather than a reliance on the  senior management team.

This mentality has become the way that all her managers now think and operate and, because of this, they have removed all ‘management instruments’ that get in the way of collaborative system-wide thinking.

They don’t believe that the ‘answers’ are out there, to be found and copied from other organisations or consultancies selling the ‘current best practise’.

Instead:

  • they identify measures that demonstrate the system’s capability at delivering value to their customers (making these transparent to all) and they monitor these measures over time to understand variation and any progress.
  • they constantly work to understand their current condition, set themselves challenges (target conditions) that, when achieved, would be good for their customers and then move towards these goals through experimentation and learning.

They accept that their path will be unclear…but they are clear on what they want to move towards, why and how they are truly doing.

And, because of the above:

  • everyone is engaged in a collaborative effort towards a clear purpose (for the customer);
  • there is transparency for all within the system;
  • there is mutual trust and respect across the system; and as result
  • there is a high degree of commitment and engagement….dare I say ‘a thriving culture’ in which people want to come to work

BUT: it’s not perfect, it’s often rather messy…but learning is like that.

In the other (Chalk – crumbly, disintegrates…not enjoyable to consume!)

The senior manager has come across some improvement methodologies and guru books and has issued a directive that these will be implemented across the organisation.

A corporate team is set up to drive each implementation. Energy is spent developing and deploying presentations, training, tools, templates and methods of working. There is an implementation plan with activities, milestones and metrics. Benefits are to be ‘realised’.

Tweaks are made to incorporate the programme into the existing management instruments: objectives, performance appraisals, rewards, awards.

‘Operations’ (the various teams within) are then expected to enthusiastically embrace and absorb the ‘shiny new thing’ (along with the other ones that are regularly handed down from the brains above) whilst continuing to deliver against silo’d targets.

The corporate team responsible for the initiative ‘lives and breathes it’ as if its implementation is the most important thing…no surprise since their rewards are based on this.

A regular reporting mechanism is put in place to demonstrate adoption. Operations do what they can to categorise their actions as ‘evidence’ of their successful compliance, thereby pleasing those above and ‘proving that it was a good idea’.

So what’s the point?

  1. It’s not about ‘implementing’ a methodology (or two), it’s about a complete change in thinking;
  1. It about changing your management system rather than manipulating it;
  1. You can’t separate Operations from those responsible for actually managing the improvement of the system. (You have to be very careful about setting up a separate corporate team i.e. why you are doing this and how this will actually be of value!);
  1. You don’t start with an answer, you don’t ‘implement’, you never complete…it is a never ending journey with a clear purpose and an open mind.
  1. If senior management don’t truly get this, then there’s work to do – they need to understand their system for what it really is.

If you want to understand the above at a deeper level, I would recommend reading (in increasing order of length and therefore time commitment):

  • the essay ‘Modern Management vs. Lean Management’ by Jim Womack in his book Gemba Walks;
  • the prologue to John Seddon’s book called ‘Freedom from Command and Control’;
  • the book called ‘Turn your ship around’ by David Marquet

Which pill is it?

red-pill-blue-pillAt the end of the ‘Improvement through Systems Thinking’ course I run, I facilitate a conversation about going back out into the real world. I use the ‘blue pill/ red pill’ Matrix analogy.

I got talking with one of my previous course attendees the other day…and neither of us knew whether it was blue or red we should be taking!…so, after looking up the script (thanks H)…here it is:

“You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Just to confirm (in case you weren’t sure), I took the red pill some years ago!

We got to reading a few more quotes and, wow, I’d forgotten what a classic film that is, and how cool some of the quotes are.

__________________________________________

In respect of normative change:

“Sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

__________________________________________

On the dominant command-and-control management system:

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system…you have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that corporate life and the matrix are directly comparable but I hope you see the well meaning intent in the comparison.

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And, finally, on showing people the reality of their command-and-control system, and helping them move towards a better (systems thinking) place:

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

The ‘you’ in the above being the dominant command-and-control management system rather than any individual within.

Great film. Great quotes.