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Book Review

Beyond Command and Control – A Book Review

John Seddon of Vanguard Consulting Ltd. kindly shared an advance copy of his upcoming new book “Beyond Command and Control” with me recently. I am delighted to be able to share my impressions of the book with you, by way of this review.

I’ve known John and his work with e.g. the Vanguard Method for many years. The results his approach delivers are well known and widely lauded. But not widely taken up. I doubt whether this new book will move the needle much on that, but that’s not really the point. As he himself writes “change is a normative process”. That’s to say, folks have to go see for themselves how things really are, and experience the dysfunctions of the status quo for themselves, before becoming open to the possibilities of pursuing new ways of doing things.

Significant Improvement Demands a Shift in Thinking

The book starts out by explaining how significant improvement in services necessitates a fundamental shift in leaders’ thinking about the management of service operations. Having describe basic concepts such as command and control, and people-centred services, the book then moves on to explore the concept of the “management factory”. Here’s a flavour:

“In the management factory, initiatives are usually evaluated for being on-plan rather than actually working.”

(Where we might define “working” as “actually meeting the needs of the Folks that Matter”.)

Bottom line: the management factory is inextricable bound up with the philosophy of command and control – and it’s a primary cause of the many dysfunctions described throughout the book.

Putting Software and IT Last

One stand-out section of the book is the several chapters explaining the role of software and IT systems in the transformed service, or organisation. These chapters excoriate the software and IT industry, and in particular Agile methods, and caution against spending time and money on building or buying software and IT “solutions” before customer needs are fully understood.

“Start without IT. The first design has to be manual. Simple physical means, like pin-boards, T-cards and spreadsheet.”

If there is an existing IT system, treat it as a constraint, or turn it off. Only build or buy IT once the new service design is up and running and stable. Aside: This reflects my position on #NoSoftware.

John echoes a now-common view in the software community regarding Agile software development and the wider application of Agile principles:

“We soon came to regard this phenomenon [Agile] as possibly the most dysfunctional management fad we have ever come cross.”

I invite you to read this section for an insight into the progressive business perspective on the use of software and IT in business, and the track record of Agile in the field. You may take some issue with the description of Agile development methods as described here – as did I – but the minor discrepancies and pejorative tone pale into insignificance compared to the broader point: there’s no point automating the wrong service design, or investing in software or IT not grounded in meeting folks real needs.

Summary

I found Beyond Command and Control uplifting and depressing in equal measure.

Uplifting because it describes real-world experiences of the benefits of fundamentally shifting thinking from command and control to e.g. systems thinking (a.k.a. “Synergistic thinking”).

And depressing because it illustrates how rare and difficult is this shift, and how far our organisations have yet to travel to become places which deliver us the joy in work that Bill Deming says we’re entitled to. Not to mention the services that we as customers desperately need but do not receive. It resonates with my work in the Marshall Model, with command-and-control being a universal characteristic of Analytic-minded organisations, and systems thinking being reserved to the Synergistic– and Chaordic-minded.

– Bob

Further Reading

I Want You To Cheat! ~ John Seddon
Freedom From Command and Control ~ John Seddon
The Whitehall Effect ~ John Seddon
Systems Thinking in the Public Sector ~ John Seddon

A Star is Born

I’d like to tell you about my new book, “Hearts over Diamonds”. Moreover, I’d love for you to tell your friends about it, too. And about the new field it illuminates: Organisational Psychotherapy.

A New Star

Not a “celebrity” kind of star. And certainly, not me. No, a True North kind of star. A guiding star. A shining beacon in the darkness of the enduring 50+ year Software Crisis.

I’m talking about Organisational Psychotherapy, and specifically the birth of a new approach to organisational change. The kind of organisational change necessary for tackling – and maybe even ending – the Software Crisis. The kind of change necessary for organisations, finally, to start getting to grips with challenges like exploiting digital technologies, implementing business transformations, and conducting effective product development.

Organisational Psychotherapy is a new field. Some have called it revolutionary. Although grounded in over a century of global psychotherapy and group dynamics research and practice, the idea of applying therapy techniques to organisations is not widely known or understood. In the hope of making these ideas more accessible and raise the profile of this revolutionary new field, may I invite your to take a look? 

Hearts over Diamonds – the Book

It’s been ten years in the making, and a year in the writing, but it’s finally done. My new book on Organisational Psychotherapy, that is. The book is not about software development, product development or even Digital Transformation as such. Its scope is much broader, and answers the question “How might we go about building highly successful organisations wherein everyone’s needs are met?”.

The book’s title is “Hearts over Diamonds”, and you can find it on Leanpub. The title refers to the newly-dawning reality that when organisations focus on compassion, joy, meaningful relationships and humanity (hearts), their bottom line (diamonds) improves significantly. 

As Dr. Martin Seligman puts it:

”If you want wellbeing, you will not get it if you care only about accomplishment [e.g. profit]. If we want to flourish, we must learn that the positive business and the individuals therein must cultivate meaning, engagement, positive emotion, and positive relations – as well as tending to profit.”

~ Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center

Current approaches to change, and to building effective collaborative knowledge-work organisation, are not working. I commend Organisational Psychotherapy to you as an alternative approach that offers the prospect of more success. My book aims to inform you as to why that might be.

– Bob

The Advantage – A Book Review

“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it.”

~ Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

I don’t usually indulge in book reviews as blog posts (there is an extensive annotated bibliography on my website), but the new book from Patrick Lencioni has prompted me to make an exception.

Not that I think it’s a great, must-read book. Far from it. But because it’s topic – organisational health – is sufficiently close to my core focus (organisational therapy), I’ve decided it’s worth mentioning by way of this review.

“After two decades of working with CEOs and their teams of senior executives, I’ve become absolutely convinced that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little, if anything, to do with what they know or how smart they are; it has everything to do with how healthy they are.”

~ Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

Lencioni

For those unfamiliar with Patrick Lencioni and his works, he has written a number of great (IMO) books including:

  • The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive ★★★★★
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team ★★★★★
  • The Five Temptations of A CEO ★★★☆☆
  • Getting Naked ★★★☆☆
  • The Three SIgns of A Miserable Job ★★★☆☆
  • Death By Meeting ★★★★★
  • Silos, Politics and Turf Wars ★★★★

Each of these, in their own way, has been great reading; informative, thought-provoking and grounded in Lencioni’s 20+ years of consulting practice. Each has been a notable influence in my own practice.

The Advantage

Simply put, I found this book a disappointment. I guess this is because it’s mainly a rehash of much of his other work. I had been hoping, from the free sample, to find a book centred on the issues of organisational health. But apart from the first chapter, there’s nothing much here about organisational health per se at all. It’s as if the author has suddenly found a smart label to stick on his collective works, and tied a whole bunch of stuff together under one umbrella. Kudos for the marketing chops, at least.

His continual emphasis on the role of leaders and leadership also grates with me. For the majority of organisations – i.e. those of the Analytic mindset – I’d agree that leaders (senior execs in particular) set the tone and model the behaviours that the rest of the organisation tends to follow. But doing the wrong thing righter is, I posit, not anywhere near as useful as doing the right thing – for which I offer fellowship as a prime candidate. Ironically, then, it seems to me that an organisation that emphasises the hegemony of leaders (and the relative diminution of the role of others) is likely less healthy than it might be.

These things being said, you might like to read this book if you haven’t read much or any of his other works before. The Advantage offers a convenient entry point into his collective works, with sufficient references into his other books for following up on details and specifics.

The Advantage is also a departure from the author’s more usual business novel (a.k.a. ‘Fable’) format. So if you shy away from business novels, then this more prosaic, text-book approach might appeal to you. ★★☆☆☆

– Bob

P.S. For the Rightshifters amongst you, I suggest that the author’s enthusiasm for organisational heath, and the benefits he attributes to it, correspond fairly closely to an organisation’s relative position on the horizontal (rightshifting) axis (i.e. the healthier an organisation, the more effective it is). More specifically, I’d say that organisational health corresponds more or less to the green (fun) line on this ‘Perspective on Rightshifting’ chart.

Further Reading

Flourish ~ Prof. Martin Seligman See also: PERMA and the Positive Business
tablegroup.com/theadvantage – website for The Advantage (incl dumb flash videos)

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