John Seddon rips into the curse of performance targets and other managerialist methods in the public sector. I wonder how many politicians and managers have at least considered his perspective in designing systems. (Possibly not helped by his combative name-and-shame style – but I can really understand his frustration)
He argues that target setting inevitably causes waste; that it’s too easy to blame individuals for failures that are really caused by the system; that creating back and front offices disempowers workers and generates huge waste. The Audit Commission, and several (named) civil servants come in for some particular stick.
About 50 mins in, I really sat up as he described how managers blocked an approach to adult care that worked for the users. Care was handled by one person, not chopped up into measurable fragments. It was kiboshed by management who said it didn’t tick the performance management targets. As he puts it
people who know that the care is rotten and the stars are good.
And then he turns to Haringey Council, which had the requisite stars at the time of the Baby Peter case, dealt with by as many as 25 different people. The social worker’s eye is taken off the child and put on feeding the bureaucratic machine. He argues (and I agree) that we’ve created a lousy job for social workers, and then we wonder why we’re losing them.
I also liked his demand that locus of control be moved away from the specifiers and the inspectors.
It’s 60 minutes; I thought it was worth it. (Click here for the video if you can’t see the embed.)
Hat tip: Rondon (who asks “Why oh why do we still have targets?”)
UPDATE: Simon Bostock does a good summary/reflection.
UPDATE 2: David Gurteen picked this up and ran with it, finding this further video of Seddon speaking. What caught my ear in this was his argument that it’s not about copying successful systems – “don’t codify method, don’t write tools”. He talks about one Japanese leader who put managers in a factory with a simple instruction to observe what what was happening. And then left them there for two weeks. It seems to me to about really seeing what is happening, and there’s something (potentially) quite Zen about it. (Click here if you can’t see the video)
Professor John Seddon: Seminal moments that informed the evolution of his systems thinking method from The Systems Thinking Review on Vimeo.