My client ran a housing repairs service

Customers could wait a long time for an operative to answer a ‘hotline’. Or visit their Housing Office.

There were six ‘levels’ of repair; each with a ‘resolution time’ (part of the ‘customer promise’).

There were hundreds of codes for the different repairs. Customers and officers didn’t understand repairs, so the code was wrong at least half the time.

Administrators, trying to meet the resolution times, gave out work to operatives, paid by the code, who tried to get the better paid jobs.

Lots of appointments were wasted because the tenant hadn’t been told or couldn’t stay in, because it had got worse, or because the code was wrong. …

‘Commissioning’ is misunderstood, denigrated, reduced to something else, and important. Often seen as just procurement, outsourcing, or a commercial activity, in fact it is about really achieving our goals as a society.

There are three versions of commissioning

1.0 started as a way to try to buy things effectively, thinking about the real needs, and learning from results. Commissioners were the centre of the universe, their budget what made everything happen

Imagine buying street cleaning services. Complicated, tough — but you sign the contract and things happen

2.0 got us thinking about the outcomes we need, and how to get to them — immediately making the commissioner a humbler part of a much bigger, complex…

‘to understand is to know what to do’ Wittgenstein

‘I can only know what I should do if I can first answer the question: of what story, or stories, do I find myself a part?’ MacIntyre

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If you follow me, you might have heard this thing called ‘systems thinking’ or ‘complexity’ or ‘cybernetics’. It’s about:

-> knowing that to do anything, we create a frame and make sense of the picture inside — how the patterns form and connect. And knowing that redrawing that frame will allow us to see differently

-> a set of core, often counterintuitive ‘laws’ which seem to illuminate aspects of *how the world really…

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1. Shape and manage demand: effect behavioural change, reduce failure demand

2. Create economies of flow: match capacity, capability, contact points to demand

3. Reduce waste: re-engineer processes or develop a lean whole system

4. Optimise the use of resources: buildings, IT, vehicles, other assets, people (scheduling, downtime, contracts and management), income generation

5. Effective organisation: appropriate grouping and sharing of activities and services, organisational structures, role and task clarity

6. Optimise procurement: procure volume, shape the market, reduce or standardise specification or achieve multiplying effects, share services, social value

7. Change policy: stop, ration, reduce eligibility, delay, charge, develop policy to better meet organisational purpose, demand and underlying need, outsource, mutualise, use the third and social enterprise…

There are two fundamental outlooks on life:

➊ To regard the Universe as a gigantic machine hurtling through time and space to its final destruction: individuals in it are but tiny organisms with private lives that lead to private deaths: personal power, success and fame are the absolute measures of values; the things to live for.

Individual little entities cannot help being in constant conflict, hastening the approach of their final destruction.


➋ To regard the Universe as one composite whole; an organic entity, progressively driving towards greater harmony and unity whose individual parts exist as interdependent aspects of one whole realising their fullest life where communal contentment is the absolute measure of values. …

These are the ego traps that lie in wait as you enter into any powerful field of knowledge.

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- The naive enthusiast thinks that this new thing they’ve found will change the world! And is incredibly frustrated that they can’t be allowed to run wild and just apply it to make *everything* better. They don’t want to hear about the history of what happened the last seventeen times that was tried!

- The populariser wants to get a following — they count the ‘likes’ and the retweets, they don’t want to hear about the real complexities of the issues — that would get in the way of being an inspiration! …

…‘But I thought *you* were doing that?’
…‘What do you mean, I don’t have permission? You asked me to fix it!’

Here’s a simple, powerful way to improve clarity.

Take a piece of paper, divide it into three columns.
Think of a task, role, or project you’ve been given by someone.
In the left box, write the hard boundaries — their ‘must haves and red lines’, the fixed things you have to deal with.
In the right box, write the things you have complete freedom to decide about.
In the middle, put the wishy-washy ‘check with me first’ stuff.

Take this humbly to them, and say ‘I was just trying to get clear, I really want to do a good job of this — can you help me for five minutes? …

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Are you fed up of consultants who
- create dependency and undermine the confidence and capacity
- sell the same old solution whether it fits the problem or not?
- are more focused on position in their business than value to the client

Look, I’ll come right out — I’m a consultant.
A former member of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, no less.

I love the combination of analysis, intellectual challenge, the complexities of helping people and organisations to be better, opportunities to perform — and maybe just a tinge of ego.
And consultants, managed properly, can be invaluable

But I believe that the true job of consultants is to do themselves out of a job. …

Three basics:

1. honest conversations, discussing the undiscussable of emotions and reasoning — nothing can develop unless there’s a shared effort to get at the truth

2. clarity — no learning is possible, and productivity and
psychological safety are unlikely, without clarity of roles, tasks, decision-making, and relationships

3. learning — true learning isn’t possible without planning, prediction, and learning and reflective practices

These three create a *learning system*

4. Culture shaping, understanding that leaders and systems and emotional responses to them create conditions which generate psychological safety and productivity — or not.

A productive system.

5. Intent — measure customer / citizen / community outcomes — as *they* judge them. …

The challenges appear insurmountable. Conditions that are truly ‘turbulent, uncertain, novel, and ambiguous’. And we are running on empty.

This paper, from @RedQuadrant and the Public Service Transformation Academy @ServiceReform, sets out twelve principles for an adaptive approach to meet the needs of our circumstances.

Which of these twelve capabilities do you think is the most important? Which have we missed? Did we get any wrong?

Full paper:

PSTA page:

#adaptivecouncil #publicservice #localgovernment #adaptability #organisation

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Benjamin P. Taylor

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