Isn’t it depressing just how little imagination or talent exists in the field of management, assessment, regulation, auditing, reporting, evaluation, testing and all those other tiresome terms and techniques applied to the so called art of management, or to what I like to call ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’ but making a flow chart and a spreadsheet to fix it anyway. The crucial point is an old cliché ‘It’s the human factor – stupid’
A case in the point Offsted say today that 81% of schools are outstanding – so what! Is the result brighter more motivated people, stimulating and exciting education environments, a richer more vibrant, diverse and tolerant society with a narrowing gap between rich and poor. No. It’s some meaningless, wooly headed pat on the back (or kick up the arse for those that haven’t achieved their ‘high standards’) and no doubt another load of absolutely unproven theories about education that will cite Singapore as a role model.
Common sense and good science will tell you that complex systems are highly and unpredictably interactive. What you put in does not lead in a linear way to what you get out. If you put humans into the mix this is even more likely to be the case. We are indisputably a human centric, a human focused system. What really matters is what we do for ourselves and other humans. In other words any subsystems we design to support the super (human) system must be acutely aware of the way humans operate at the grass roots and not make assumptions without recognising that the human factor is dominant and likely to be decisive…and I mean at the sharp end – not as a theoretical data point but as someone in the street or in the office, farm, swimming pool or even in space. What they actually want care about, love and dream of is all that matters – fact.
A good case in point- setting targets- if you set targets and make it important enough for people to achieve them they will cheat in order to achieve them. Then your results will be lies, the humans involved will be dispirited and the service or whatever you are trying to improve will only appear to have improved. This has been shown to be case by DEMOS and other reasonably objective organisations probing the NHS and similar target driven systems such as education. I may look out the paper concerned if anyone is interested – I used it in an anarchist diatribe delivered in my rebellious period.
Similarly if you punish someone and their family for coming forward with information on terrorism activities then fewer people will come forward.
If you blame secondary teachers for lower standards and poor test results then they will make sure that they concentrate on improving their results rather than improving their teaching or the lives of their students. After all bad tests can only produce bad results even if the results are called ‘good’!
If someone sets out to be a manager they should not be allowed to be. It’s the same oft repeated argument about politicians. We need people in management prepared to challenge the status quo, who are in touch with human needs and aspirations, who can read more than a spreadsheet, whose goal is is to look, listen and gather evidence of specific human activity related to specialised domains, not to generalise, theorise and resort to counting stuff. Managers who have experience of the real lives of the people they manage. Managers who have not just taken courses from other managers, managers who actually want to make life better for us humans not just to manage it.
So here is my list of anti managerial strap lines
1. Mistrust all management and managers passionately
2. Go to the grass roots to learn what individual people do and what they need in order to to do better
3. Don’t trust a report anymore than a passing comment in the lav. Reports are usually written by managers with vested interests
4. Counting something does not make it true. I depends on how you count.
5. Counting something that cannot be counted (that’s almost everything that matters) eg. Measures of happiness, are even less likely to be true
6. Saying something does not make it true. It depends what you mean and crucially what other people think you mean
7. Writing it down and getting support for it does not make it truer
8. Humans change and adapt quickly. Management systems stultify that impulse.
9. Managers should never spread fear in order to exercise control. That is bullying.
10. Management is a very difficult job. Respect those rare individuals of talent. If you are managed by one, count yourself blessed.
Finally anecdotally – when I and my colleagues have had to endure a 2 hour management meeting, every time we come out of the room saying the same thing “ what a waste of time.” Isn’t it about time the managers (sometimes in truth that’ s me) listened to that complaint and took it seriously. In future I will.