|Published: Tue, 21st Dec 2010|
|MANAGING FOR THE BETTER: Reflections on the Vanguard Leaders Summit|
What follows are excerpts from Simon Caulkin's reflections on Vanguard Leaders Summit (you can read the full reflection here). The summit featured the experiences and learning of key systems thinking leaders working on the cutting-edge of service provision in private and public sector service organisations.
In an age of cuts and austerity, never has more been required of the technology we call management. But never has the ‘official’ version seemed more impotent. Faced with demands for more for less on one side and ever-increasing needs on the other, conventional management can only offer more of the stuff that got us here: where we don’t want to be. In the boom years, it is now apparent, increased output was mainly the result of increased input, ie we got more for more. Now that more is over, the harsh truth is that relying on business as usual can only give us less for less – or even worse, less for more.
The Vanguard Method
They all started by learning how their organisation worked as a system and how far it was fit for purpose as defined by the customer. They then redesigned the work to meet the real demand. In subsequent iterations they broadened the scope of the interventions to make it progressively easier for customers to ‘pull’ the value they needed. Vanguard calls the cycle ‘check-plan-do’. The model sounds simple, and conceptually it is. One presenter, Steve Allder, a consultant neurologist at Plymouth NHS Hospitals Trust, maintains that the entire philosophy can be summed up in five words: purpose, demand, value, capability, end-to-end. In practice, however, it is less so, because almost all organisations are unplanned accretions of inherited structures, ad-hoc initiatives and ingrained patterns of thinking that have never been reexamined from scratch. When they are, profound reassessment of the most basic management assumptions usually turns out to be essential, challenging and revelatory.
As all the leaders noted, none of this is easy. The results are impressive, but they are hard won. ‘It’s a roller coaster,’ says Stockport’s Badley. One reason is that, as Allder points out, people have to act their way into a new way of thinking, not the other way round. ‘Our managers thought I was mad,‘ says Buckwell of his experience at Portsmouth. ‘They had mostly come up the MBA route, and this was completely different from what they’d been taught.’ As a supplier, Gilson admits it took ‘brute force’ to get Comserv to undertake check – and before the new way of thinking can take root, there is a lot of unlearning to do: ‘for a business owner, maybe 30 or 40 years of thinking you’re doing the right thing, until you suddenly realise you aren’t’.
Rob Brown, Customer Insight and Strategy Director, Aviva
“It’s fascinating that with all our obsession with costs, we still don’t understand the economics of flow in business”
The next stage: moving beyond incremental change
In most organisations of any size, systems change has started with persistent departmental or unit managers gaining permission to experiment on a limited basis and then spreading it (‘rolling it in) from there. As the summit organisations show, this linear progression yields remarkable results in terms of the individual services. Now, however, several organisations are poised to take it to the next dimension, using the systems approach to transform operations of the whole organisations.
‘We wanted to stretch the envelope,’ says John van de Laarschot, chief executive of Stoke City Council, citing ‘a burning platform for change’: a potent combination of Comprehensive Spending Review, government pressure for reform, high costs and low satisfaction figures for local services, and big-society pressures to connect citizens more closely with their communities. Taking a deep breath, Stoke, like Stockport and East Devon councils as well, is looking across all its services to assess total demand and how it might recast what it provides
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