205 – ‘We don’t need to be clever – just less stupid’, The Age 23 February 2016.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         700 words

Dont need to be clever just less stupid image


I read this article and though it was fortunate that the writer, author and polymath Satyajit Das, hadn’t been dealing with his council. No doubt a greater attempt would have been made to feign ‘one stop’ service but if it was anything but a simple matter, he would have come across the same dysfunction. His acuity is evident in his analysis.

Das’s dealings with his bank highlighted how the quest for efficiency and lower costs has achieved the opposite result. This is a recurring theme in the writings of John Seddon about the public sector. Das lists six sources of ‘unproductive and inefficient’ failures that he believes are now common in many organisations.

  1. Tasks have been fragmented across different locations and the simplest activity is now complicated.
  2. There is no continuity. ‘One person is not accountable for the complete activity. Workers lack any idea of how what they are doing, or not doing, affects the whole process overall’.
  3. Staff lack the skills and knowledge required.
  4. Performance measurement has lowered, rather than improved, performance. Staff actions detract from results instead of helping achieve them.
  5. Leadership is lacking in ‘domain knowledge’ (i.e. valid knowledge in a particular area).
  6. There is a tendency to see history as old and irrelevant. The latest technological wizardry is the best solution to any problem. Valuable lessons from the past are routinely ignored.

There have been a number of posts on these very topics. Continue reading

4 – ‘Public service spendathon is destined to increase emotional intelligence’ The Age, 4 January 2015

This article caught my attention. Apparently spending by Australian government departments on emotional intelligence, lean thinking, clear conversations, transformational leadership, yoga, and building resilient teams is seen by some as ‘dubious’ training exercises and potentially a form of waste.

I am not sure that these training courses will provide a return to the Australian government but they are typical of the training being provided in local government today. The investment in people seems to be driven by the belief that this is where the public service performance problem, and its solution, lies. There seems to be a common search for new ways to help move employees towards different ways of thinking and behaving at work.

Much of the training I have witnessed in recent years has focussed on awareness of self, leadership, communication, and team work. The primary focus is on the individual and their skills. In some ways, it is almost an employee benefit of working in the local government. Indeed, some councils compete for staff on the basis of training and development opportunities available. The questions I want to ask are what is the specific benefit to the organisation from the training, and is the return on the investment in training being measured?

In a nutshell, what impact is the training having on performance?

This is a good question when much of the training is high level and relatively conceptual. It is provided almost as an act of faith – train them and they will improve. When the training becomes more practical, it is often not in the systems or processes used by the organisation to produce outputs. I would argue that the effort to understand, document and improve processes will yield more benefit than training for most councils. Once this has been done, training will make sense and be less likely to be seen as dubious or a waste of money.

Colin Weatherby