I’ve begun to see the world in a kinder way since working for Research in Practice and Research in Practice for Adults, which is no small feat given how horrible things seem in the wider world at the moment.
I’ve consciously worked with a lot of self-confessed change makers in my career. They and I have quite often been very frustrated with the pace of change. I’ve heard people remonstrate with those who use the tanker analogy, where it takes long time to turn a service around.
What I have learnt is that this anger doesn’t change hearts and minds. Shaming people doesn’t work. I’ve worked with consultancies who have taken a shock and awe approach to tackling antiquated ways of working, forgetting the constraints that public services are working under. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has designed a service maliciously, and I’m confident I never will. Amy C. Edmondson’s Spectrum of Reasons for Failure shows that blame isn’t warranted except when people choose to violate a process or practice.
Deming’s quote on “Bad systems, not bad people” are words to live by. A good awareness of culture and systems enables us to have different conversations. Instead of dishing out blame, we can have constructive conversations around change that are based on empathy. Change begins with understanding the system and figuring out what the real problem to solve is.
This helps us to move away from an adversarial approach and to start working with people. If colleagues are unable to work together, then the chances of them being able to work with communities to deliver effective services are slim to none.
Myron Tribus puts forward an interesting thought experiment in his paper on The Germ Theory of Management:
“Try to imagine that it is now the year 1869. Pasteur has only recently demonstrated that fermentation is caused by organisms which are carried in the air. Suppose that you have been invited to speak before a group of distinguished physicians. What you now understand from your readings if that these famous physicians are actually killing their patients.
Your assignment is to persuade them to forget most of what they have been taught, to abandon much of the wisdom they have accumulated over their distinguished careers and to rebuild their understanding of the practice of medicine around the new theory of germs. Do you think you could do it? Do you think you could convince them? Do you believe they will be glad to hear you?”
We should all bear this in mind when we’re trying to change both behaviours and systems. As Tribus says, staff work in the system. A manager’s role is to work on the system itself, and to work with staff to improve it. It’s only by working together and with empathy for others that we can deliver better services and improve people’s lives.