I get work because of you!
16/12/2011 - "I get work because of you!" by Donal Carroll

I get work because of you!

Hate consultants? Hate the ‘cost’? Think your organisation should be able to ‘do it yourselves – improve’? How easy can that be!

Here are three recent comments from experienced staff: a secondary teacher: ‘In 10 years of teaching maths, I’ve only come across say 10 students who actually wanted to learn’.  A college teacher: ‘I’ll only do excellent teaching when I get excellent wages’. A private sector manager: ‘What do you expect –of sustained inferior quality service – with the way this management works!’                        

Now whatever arguments you raise, even retributive ones eg ‘Whose job is it to create an effective learning orientation -–if not yours?’ or ‘So you want to be paid for any old kind of service?’ or ‘What do you expect -from yourself?’ it usually invites more defensiveness, and I’d guess little difference to behaviour. ‘What can you do - it’s them, students, customers, parents, the system, the Government, low pay, the managers, the company…’ Well maybe it is –in part! The comments all came from ‘satisfactory’ organisations, who as one staffer said, resent the fact that they receive only ‘negative feedback’ from customers. Incidentally, a ‘satisfactory’ judgement on performance in the public sector anyway, means not satisfying 50 % of your customers.

These comments are made as if self-evident, even with a triumphalist confidence. Nonetheless, they are important as valid perceptions of truth in feeding diminished expectations of higher performance and can lead to all kinds of defensive collusion, such as learned helplessness and professionals de-professionalising themselves. Obviously if change is to occur they need to be tackled. But how?

One way is to hire consultants. Even the most limited of these do all the diligent stuff, get cross organisational performance evidence and seek clues from how staff actually work… But their overall approach needs to recognise that if customers are more uncomfortable that staff this is less a skill and more a will issue. And proceeding ‘traditionally’ [eg offering ‘training’ to upskill individuals (a max 10% improvement) while leaving intact the overall system (determining 90% of performance)] which does not directly challenge these mindsets and the conditions which created them can end up reinforcing the very self-limiting circumstances they need to transform.

Part of the approach needs techniques like the ‘good looking/ugly brother question’. The good looking question: what’s it like to work here (with predictable responses to make your ears bleed) followed by the ugly brother one: what have you done about it, have you raised these questions with colleagues, and particularly as a manager, why are they reacting as if hearing these questions for the first time?

These questions should inevitably lead to how much does your attitude cost in terms of current deficient quality, the need for external help, the psychological self-cost and the more unchallenged, the more expensive it becomes. And posing these all the way up the hierarchy including –and particularly- the senior management team till someone (or a group) is found who actually does want to improve the service. Good consultants might also recognise that the deeper the defensiveness the more individual coaching will be required. However, this is key: they use methods to get organisations to a state where they don’t need them (consultants). And begin to develop a culture of excellence which includes an ‘obligation to dissent’ -if any member of staff feels inferior quality is occurring anywhere.    

This isn’t blaming staff like the 3 here, rather their conditioned mindset and its responsibility-dereliction, which results in their organisations needing to be ‘saved from themselves’. The new approach starts with ‘you can’t stay here’ – that comfortable state many individuals currently occupy, its cost, and how their loss is inevitably someone else’s gain.

Any examples from your experience? Any thoughts?

See also subscription to Critical Difference riffs: Ready Steady Manage! (1) Who invented consultants  http://www.criticaldifference.co.uk/unplugged.php


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