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John Seddon - my localist manifesto choice


I give my full support to ‘Replace compliance with responsibility’

At the heart of public sector reform has been detailed central specification of how services should be measured and managed, strongly reinforced by inspection.

Such a regime assumes that all problems are alike; that experience and/or intelligence are equivalent to knowledge; and that the centre knows best.

The dysfunctional consequences (worse services at high costs) are well documented, yet public service managers who learn the hard way of the limitations of compliance, and redesign their services to avoid them, are met with suspicion from inspectors.

I should add that this is not the fault of the latter, who are carrying out their jobs to their specifications.

A powerful fear among politicians is that dismantling the regime will lead to a loss of control. This is understandable but wrong. A regime of compliance with bad ideas has effectively put services out of control, as well as impeding improvement and driving up costs. This pledge puts control where it needs to be.

This meets the second preoccupation of central government - identifying lazy, self-interested or incompetent public service managers. Again, compliance makes it easier to evade real responsibility.

Clearly locating responsibility with those who deliver the services makes incompetent or self-serving behaviour visible. More positively, it is a prerequisite for innovation.

We can be certain that the savings will be considerable. Not paying for thousands of specifiers is a good start, but those will be dwarfed by the savings that come from ceasing to comply with bad ideas.

John Seddon, managment consultant, Vanguard


Readers' comments (3)

  • John,
    We both know that 'compliance' immediately leads to the question, compliance with what? Specifications for the work in the public sector is very difficult. Some of the major issues with CCT was that some contractors did what the specification said and charged extra for everything else.

    Due to Best Value and all that has followed it there is more fragmentation in the public sector with far too many organisations with differing systems tripping over each other trying to get work done, causing duplications and gaps in services.

    Designing services based on work flow will transform services, however there is a major gap between strategists and operations that need to be healed by the new ways forward, and a healthy review of business opportunities needs to be considered.

    The AC and accountants are so focussed on control and cutting, that they have lost sight of adding value. Performance Managers think that service cuts ARE efficencies, there are so many people who have lost the plot!

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  • John Seddon writes "Clearly locating responsibility with those who deliver the services makes incompetent or self-serving behaviour visible. More positively, it is a prerequisite for innovation."
    The current regime of compliance produces worse managers. Managers are taught to be self serving - "cover your back", "make your stats look good" - Inspectors are suckers for a nonsensical stat. To become a manager in public and some third sector organisations requires self serving managers more interested in producing spurious performance information to prove they are competent (or competent at complying). In fact sophistry and deception are key skill requirements.
    Giving organisations some independence to make sensible decisions that improve service for customers (rather than ticking boxes for inspectors) is key to changing this damaging, soul destroying culture.
    Making managers responsible and giving them the freedom to manage can only bring benefits. There might be many managers who's skill sets do not match the need to be responsible, studious, and truly innovative, and, with a re focus on purpose and what's actually important to service users, some managers will have to change their ways.
    The current dysfunction caused by compliance and robotic management is really so damaging not just to public services but to humanity, it must be stopped and soon. So scrap dumb compliance it's bad for everyone - customers , organisations, society, and the soul sucked saps that blindly comply.

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  • Targets will never work. Top down management will never work.
    Pushing down the decision making process to the lowest possible level consistent with good management will work.

    Let the people who know what the customer requires be at the forefront of making sure the objective is achieved. Managers manage, leaders lead. More leaders and less managers please.

    Frank Wilde

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