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Agora.PublicServicer1.3 - 06 Oct 2017 - 16:22 - GregorioIvanoff

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New book shakes foundation of management

Cutting costs on dealing with customers is the wrong direction, says Simon Caulkin in his article "Jobs go east, service goes west" in the Observer on February 15th 2004.

Simon Caulkin says of John Seddon's new book, Freedom from Command and Control: a better way to make the work work, "As the title suggests, this is a full assault on the top-down, function driven management philosophies that still govern almost all western companies and how they are damaging service firms"

The book is a strongly argued attack on command and control management thinking and it uses case examples from Seddon's clients to illustrate the better way. The book also exposes the folly of many management fads such as Six Sigma, the Excellence Model, Investors in People and ISO 9000. Seddon is also the author of "The Case Against ISO 9000.

If you haven't read the article for yourself you can by following the link below:,6903,1148192,00.html

John Seddon's new book "Freedom from Command and Control: a better way to make the work work" is available from booksellers and John Seddon's web site:

It is the considerable virtue of John Seddon's new book, Freedom from Command and Control (Vanguard Education), that it charts with rigour and precision exactly how this infernal machine fits together to work as perversely as it does.

Seddon has long been a scourge of the conventional call centre industry, and he uses many telling examples (good and bad) in the book. But his field is wider. As the title suggests, this is a full assault on the top-down, function-driven management philosophies that still govern almost all western companies, and how they are damaging service firms.

So here is a lucid account of how customers have been duped into mistaking IT features ('solutions') for benefits, often leading to worse service and higher costs. Here also is an explanation of why so many off-the-shelf management aids at best have little effect, or lead companies seriously astray.

ISO 9000 (a particular bugbear), the 'excellence model', Investors in People, Charter Mark, the balanced scorecard, IT-based knowledge management, and customer relationship management all get it in the neck for failing to disturb the top-down, mass production thinking that service companies adopted wholesale from manufacturing - just as manufacturing firms are moving on.

Here in particular is an eloquent discussion of that most treacherous of management subjects: measurement. Seddon shows how the conventional apparatus of measurement - targets, standards, service levels, activity measures and budget - focuses almost all managers' attention on individual performance, whereas 95 per cent of performance variation is due to the system over which the individual has no control. Where managers are mostly remote from the work, Seddon notes dryly that paying attention to people can be extremely demoralising for those paid attention to.

Service is harder than manufacturing because demand is more varied - the consumer helps to shape it. The conventional approach to this is to try to constrain variety by forcing it through a computer-regulated filter into a mass production factory allowing economies of scale.

Wrong way round, says Seddon. People are good at handling variety; computers aren't. 'The assumption in the command-and-control design is that freedom must be subordinated to efficiency; the worker must be kept under control. In fact, efficiencies only come from freedom - the people who do the work must be able to decide the best way to handle any particular demand to maximise efficiency.'

Instead of being controlled by measures, people need measures and methods that allow them to control and improve the work. In this way people, and only people, can absorb variety. And the results can be spectacular: capacity rises as waste is removed. Cost falls. Better service is cheaper; not dearer.

This applies everywhere, but particularly to the public sector. Throwing resources at a wasteful system just compounds the inefficiency. Paradoxically, for all the privatisation and experiments with private-sector delivery, the real problem with the UK public sector is that it is under as much central command and control as it was when nationalised. As a result, despite all the inspection, auditing and targets - in fact because of it - 'every public service ... shows significant scope for improvement without any additional resources. The services are replete with waste; it is designed in. Public sector managers need help in designing it out.'

Seddon quotes Deming: 'Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.'

This book is what the pioneer systems thinker might have written about improving services: practical, rigorous, experience distilled through theory. If the public sector took it seriously it would have more effect on delivery than all the targets put together, and if the private sector adopted it there might be fewer call centre jobs, but they wouldn't be heading east.

Measures that fall short

There are three tests of whether the measuring stick you are using to assess performance is a good one:

  • Does it help in understanding and improving performance?

  • Does it relate to its purpose, as established by the customer?

  • Is it integrated with work (that is, in the hands of those who do it)?

Many conventional activity-based measures - response times, service levels - fail at least one of these tests, and often all three. As applied to the public sector, Seddon argues that all targets should be removed. Instead, public-sector organisations should be required to show that they have measures that help them understand and improve performance, and to what effect.

Using such measures, both public and private sector organisations have made startling improvements: cutting response times from weeks to days, multiplying productivity and slashing costs by eliminating useless activity. Ironically, such achievements make a mockery of official targets, which in many cases prevent continuing improvement.

Keywords: services design, the U.K.

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-- GregorioIvanoff - 20 Sep 2016
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