The Search for the Single Right Answer

We currently live in a world which can be defined by two things its complexity and the need for wide scale change. The world is complex – the accelerating pace of change, globalisation, new technology and the blurring of traditional boundaries all contribute.

 

The need for change is also apparent.  Even before we faced this economic crisis issues such as climate change and over-population were pressing governments (and us as individuals) to try make radical changes to how we think and act.

 

These issues however major and however theoretically important often seem a long way from the tough challenges of day-to-day life.  The hardest of these are those that involve other people and as soon as people are involved problems become really difficult to solve.

 

In my experience regardless of the scale of the issue faced, there is also a common blockage – the search for single right answer.

 

The hunt for the mythical one right answer seems to dominate so many conversations and more worryingly get in the way of things being done.  Complex problems will never have a single right answer so we need to stop wasting time and resources trying to find it.

 

Instead we need to find solutions that will help the situation and that we ourselves can implement.  Then we need to just give it a try – it might not work but it will always be work effective than searching for the single right answer that does exist.

 

Where is the hunt for the Single Right Answer getting in the way of you actually doing something?

 

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Women in the Boardroom

On Sunday, Caroline was on BBC Scotland’s flagship Business programme discussing if there is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace? Follow the link here to hear the prgramme.

Real Change or Rhetoric?

There’s a lot of rhetoric around doing things differently across the public and voluntary sectors. The current and increasing budget challenges are supposed to make everyone think of new ways of delivering the same or better outcomes with fewer resources.

The reality is rather different. 1970’s industrial re-engineering seems to be the order of the day. Take three departments, merge them into two, strip out management costs and ask people to do more work.

Now there is scope for this. Undoubtedly there is management overpopulation and, while it’s a complex world, does it really have to be so complex? There is also a lot of activity that is unproductive in terms of good outcomes or inefficiently delivered.

So, yes there are opportunities for traditional efficiency drives and these are being taken. The real prize is something different.

The key is in the phrase “ask people to do more work.” We need to shift people from concentrating on how they do the same things with fewer resources. At all levels, people need to focus on how they can have a bigger impact, how they can make a difference. And they need to do this in a tight financial framework. Shifting plans and accountabilities from activity to impact will be a massive cultural shift with a need for radical internal and external collaborations. The payback will be equally massive.

While the prize will be won when we get a critical mass of people thinking and operating differently, it starts at the top. The leadership of our public bodies need to show the way. Let’s not underestimate the personal and professional challenge for them, but do it they must.

Are you in the middle of all this? Are leaders – and that may be you – genuinely up for it?

Public sector = Bad people?

There’s a move afoot. People in the public sector are having to shift how they think about their job and how they work. Four years into the Scottish Government’s outcome-based approach, the advent of Scotland Performs and Single Outcome Agreements, the power of outcome-based planning is starting to be understood – if not realised.

Over generations, public sector workers have been held accountable for activity. Put together a plan at the beginning of the year and review progress on that plan. Success was largely about whether you did what you said you would do – or made a case for why it couldn’t be done.

Now we are moving to a world where plans start with the difference we intend to make rather than the things we put in place. This means that simply delivering what you said will not be enough – if it didn’t make the difference you intended.

Many public sector organisations are way more complex than private sector companies. Getting things done means collaborating with varied interest groups, in your own organisation and others. Making a difference means doing that – plus doing it in a much more flexible way.

Middle managers in particular now need to think in terms of the impact they have on citizens and service users, not on the programme of work they have committed to. They need to reflect on the effectiveness of what they are doing; monitoring impact, changing course in mid-stream and taking complex partnerships with them as they adapt.

The deep organisational culture change implicit in this is the single biggest lever in delivering efficiency while still delivering better services for citizens. To achieve this we need to see accountabilities deep in public sector organisations shifting dramatically. People need to see their roles framed differently and managers need to be able to coach and support staff through the change – and beyond.

There is a human danger in this. People who have worked in one way and with one mind set, for their entire career, will have to change. Many of them know only an output-based or process-based world. Indeed, either through career choice or inertia, they have selected to work in this world. They need to change. Some will not want to and we need to allow them to leave with dignity. Others will find the changes required difficult to understand or implement – they have no experience of this new way of working.

The danger is that they are branded as “bad people.” The reality is that this kind of fundamental shift can be enormously difficult. Trouble is I hear a lot of talk about service redesign (“real or imagined” is for another blog) but little focus on organisational and human development to make the change work. We need a step change in culture and in management capability if we are to meet the coming challenge.

Are our public bodies taking this seriously?