Tag Archives: management paradox

Keep Decision-Making with the Work

Command and control management thinking is flawed in many ways.  The separation of decision-making from the work is one of these flaws and because of this separation decision-making defines management’s role.  Scientific management theory influences this separation because work is defined in “functional specialisms” and control (decision-making) is maintained by financial budgets, targets and standards.  The focus of management becomes output with the assumption that improving the numbers is equivalent to improving performance . . . it is not.  This way of thinking only assures sub-optimization, causes waste and prevents managers from understanding an organization’s performance.  In a management paradox, command and control thinkers act in ways that only make things worse.

A better “systems thinking” way is to work on how well systems and processes delivered what matters to customers and engaged capability data (measures on how well an organization serves what matters to customers).  This would give an organization the ability to learn how to improve and make better decisions.  Putting these same measures in the hands of the workers would allow them to make decisions . . . learning and continually improving the service offered to customers.

Command and control thinking will meet its demise as systems thinking is far more efficient and economical.  If it isn’t abandoned by the U.S. soon, I have no doubt that service industry will fall like manufacturing has . . . a sub-optimized organization can not compete with a systems thinking one.  Leadership innovation can only be achieved by making this transformation.

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Government Efficiency: It Doesn't have to be an Oxymoron

This blog title is truly bi-partisan.  I am not posting for or against any political view, but to agree that services could actually be distributed for the greater cause.  I have worked in state and federal governments as a contractor and an employee.  There is no shortage of waste in the provisioning and outsourcing of government services.

Government management in agencies that I have worked with were consumed with the following types of issues:

  • How much money could the agency get.
  • How much did it spend.
  • How the agency could get more funding.
  • How does the agency avoid (unwanted) attention.

Unfortunately, at the government management level there was limited discussion of how well the services were being provisioned, unless the agency received “unwanted” attention (bullet #4).  When there was unwanted attention there was usually some knee-jerk reaction to fix the issue, or a previous administration, vendor or person to blame.  Sometimes the media or interest group with an issue got the facts wrong and those were easy to defend.  Rarely was the conversation about how well a service was executed.

The four bullet points above became the de facto purpose of the agency.  To be good stewards of the taxpayers money the purpose should have been related to how well the services were provided.  As in the private sector, the public sector believes that the provisioning of services is a zero-sum game, where costs increase as service improves.  The management paradox here is that costs actually go down as service improves.

I have seen a movement in recent years to manage the costs like a business.  The focus on the management of costs will always increase them.  I am not saying we shouldn’t know the financial score . . . we should.  What I am saying is that the total costs go down as service improves.  A systems thinking service organization (private or public sector)understands these differences.

To find out more on systems thinking go www.newsystemsthinking.com.

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Improve the Work . . . Not Blame the Worker

The front-line worker (and by the way it is “front-line” vs. “low-level”) is continually sought for blame in organizations.  The command and control thinker has many tools in place to track performance for these poor souls like performance appraisals, coaching, technology, scripts, policies, regulations, performance/productivity measures, work standards, rewards/incentives, quality control, etc.  The problem is that the focus is on the wrong thing.  You see 95% of problems (failure demand) are attributable to the system and only 5% to the individual, so why waste resources that won’t solve the problem?  Because we all have been taught that way from scientific management theory that prevails in almost every US service business.

Our focus has been on how to get someone to do (or more of it) and not how do we make the system better.  Managements view is limited, focused on costs.  In a management paradox the focus costs, actually increases them.  The productivity mindset unwittingly forces the quality down. 

For example, take a call center with the mantra to reduce AHT (Average Hold Time) if I do not answer a customers question, will the customer not call back (failure demand) and take up more time plus be upset with the service?  Doesn’t the additional call (or calls) wind up costing more money?  What about the impact on customer?  None of these show up in the costs, but they are real and buried in the “unknown and/or unknowable” costs to the system. 

The focus needs to be on the system and will require leadership and thinking . . . systems thinking.  The system is made up of customer demand, work design and flow, information technology, training, hiring, etc. all well beyond the ability of the worker to change or influence.  W. Edwards Deming used to say “Did you hire the wrong people or just kill’em?”  I have found command and control organizations just kill them.  Most workers walk in as a new hire with high expectations and a good attitude before the system beats them down.

If you want business cost reduction, business improvement and/or organizational change you need to start to change from command and control to systems thinking.  A free download is available from my site (www.newsystemsthinking.com) to get you started.  Save a worker, get started improving the work today!

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Our New "Get Tough" Policy

You figure in life if you live long enough, you will hear something so ridiculous that it defies all comprehension.  So here we go . . .

An executive once told me that they were going to enforce a new “get tough” policy with customers and they would be enforcing the letter of the contract because customers were trying to take advantage of them.  This executive sees good service as a zero sum game where good service and costs have to be balanced.  For command and control organizations their attitude to customers is to seek out the contract for fear of losing money or exposing themselves to risk.  These organizations build gigantic legal departments, risk managers, project managers, and accountants to ensure that no money is lost in a contract.  Did anybody mention the cost of these people and the waste they produce? . . . just in legalese, project plans, PowerPoints and spreadsheets to avoid “scope creep” and those darned customers that are so demanding.  They believe business cost reduction is only achieved through more non-value added activities like inspection and reporting. 

A systems thinking organization knows better.  They know that providing good service always leads to lower costs and happier customers.  A management paradox that command and control organizations can’t comprehend.  A systems thinking organization understands who does the value work for their customers, and what their customers value.  They understand that not meeting customer demands lead to more costs in increased failure demand, poor reputation and many unknown and unknowable measures that suck the life out of an organization.

So, if you hear about any “get tough” policies with customers, please send the offending party here to think about a better way.

You can read more about the distinctions between command and control and systems thinking through this link.

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The Cost of Everything and the Value of Nothing

My wife recently read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and read me Chapter 50.  Dr. Pausch writes about an experience he had at Walt Disney World when he was twelve and his sister was 14.  His parents had allowed the two to go off on their own and explore.  While they were exploring they got the idea to pool their allowances and purchase a salt and pepper shaker as a thank you for recognizing their maturity.  While walking through the park with their purchase, the bag carrying the gift dropped and broke.  The two were devastated by the turn of events.  A stranger noticed their despair and suggested they take the package back to the  shop where they purchased the gift.  They followed this suggestion and took the gift back explaining what had happened and admitting their carelessness.  The cast member (Disney employee) replaced the shakers and told the two that the store should have packaged it better.  Dr. Pausch explains that this small act of kindness was repaid Disney with $100,000 in subsequent visits to Disney World.  Decades later in speaking with Disney executives he asked them if workers still would be able to replace the item?  He says the executives would squirm and the answer would be probably not.

Command and control thinkers don’t understand value and where it is derived from . . . the customer.  Instead they fill the organization with mandates from financial budgets that are penny-wise and dollar foolish.  Playing the zero-sum game where there are winners and losers, fighting over the piece of the pie instead of finding innovative ways to make the pie bigger.  The customer management process becomes just that a way to manage customers.  The story above creates a management paradox to their way of thinking.

 The “unknown and unknowable measures” as Dr. Deming would refer to those things that can not be measured, but were important.  No one knows the cost of a dissatisfied customer, but command and control thinkers can only understand what comes out on the income statement or balance sheet in the short-term.  Business improvement comes from their ability to manage these financials in everyday work by making front-line employees adhere to scripts, mandates, policies, standards, etc. so they can make sure $50 doesn’t go out the door without their knowing.  Meanwhile all the complexity and waste they build into the system winds up costing them more and they wind up being the ones that make the big mistakes for their short-sightedness.

Command and control thinkers can be seen by the fruit they don’t bear . . . They know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt.

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My Brand of Insanity – What is it? or What it is.

My brand of insanity can be characterized as a management paradox – a different way of thinking if you will.  I personally have been  known as:

  • The sand in the oyster
  • The note that goes sour
  • The ant in the picnic
  • The fly in the ointment
  • The snake in the woodpile
  • The hitch in the giddy-up (my wife’s favorite)
  • The pain in the neck
  • The run in the stocking
  • The snag in the zipper
  • The crimp in the writing
  • The hole in the sidewalk
  • and the gum on the shoe.

A tag not aspired to . . . but one that goes with the territory.

See I abhor bad service.  Not because of the employees that are typically blamed for bad service, but because of the systems they work in.  Let’s refer to them as command and control systems.

What is a command and control system?
Organizations that have a top-down hierarchy, work designed in functional areas (scientific management born from Frederick Winslow Taylor), decision-making separated from the work (from Alfred P. Sloan), the use of measures with targets (budgets, activity, productivity, standards, etc.) in management decision-making.

What organizations use the command and control management style?
Well, let’s see.  I would say just about every red-blooded U.S. service organization (public and private sector).

So what is wrong with command and control management?
It doesn’t work very well.  Not anybody’s fault, it is just the way we have all learned to manage.  The problem is we haven’t changed our management methods in over 100 years.  Are we dinosaurs or what?

Are there better methods?
Yes, and I will reference it as “systems thinking” in future blogs.  A combination of W. Edwards Deming, Taiichi Ohno and intervention theory.

What’s the difference between command and control vs. systems thinking?
Every thing that you have learned from scientific management theory and change management programs . . . do the opposite.  OK, that might be a little severe, how about 95% opposite.

I hope you will find my blogs challenging, controversial, infuriating, and enlightening.  My aim is to achieve this by making you curious to learn more.  It’s my only hope . . . before the people in white uniforms find me.

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