Systems thinking, customer service and unlearning the way we do things – Interview with John Seddon of Vanguard


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Back in November, I shared an interview with you called: Using systems thinking to improve customer satisfaction and employee engagement – Interview with Rob Brown of Aviva.

I met Rob at an event run by John Seddon and Vanguard Consulting. John was speaking at the event too and I and was lucky enough to get John to agree to be interviewed and share a few thoughts with us.

This interview makes up number forty-two in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping create businesses that customers love.

Below are highlights from our interview:

  • John is an occupational psychologist and helps service organisations change from a command and control design to a systems design.
  • Systems thinking is all about a better way to design and manage work
  • Intervention theory is all about how do you make that change
  • John was taught by W. Edwards Deming
  • The Vanguard Method is all about how do you study service organisations to find out what is wrong with how you currently think.
  • If you change they way that managers look at and think about the way that they currently work then that energises them and motivates them to think differently and design their businesses differently.
  • It is a mistake to do an employee engagement programme in a command and control organisation
  • Culture change is free because your culture is a product of your system.
  • The reason that more organisations don’t adopt this type of approach is that it is counter-intuitive.
  • As a result, you have to go through and unlearning phase before you can learn a new way of approaching work.
  • Asking your frontline staff about where the problems lie may not be the best approach as they are just as conditioned and socialised into the command and control system as their managers.
  • Deming’s idea was that 95% of all business performance issues stems from the system and not the other 5% associated with people.
  • Consulting staff is likely to identify problems they have have in their current working life but is unlikely to come up with ideas about the system as their thinking is conditioned by the current command and control system. This is where the intervention comes in and helps people unlearn what they already know before they can start to change their thinking and look at things afresh.
  • The hardest part of any of this work is the intervention part of the work. The changing of thinking and how do you change to a systems design.
  • One thing you could do if you have regular calls coming into your business, in a call centre say, is to go and listen to a number of calls and on each call ask yourself is this call a valid demand or is it failure demand ie. ‘demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer’
  • Failure demand is caused by system design and is not about process or people.
  • John often says to managers: ‘When you manage for cost your costs always go up’

About John (taken from his Amazon author bio)

John Seddon

Professor John Seddon is a widely-published occupational psychologist and management thinker credited with translating the Toyota Production System (TPS) for service organisations. John began his career researching the reasons for failures of major change programmes. This led him to W. Edwards Deming, who taught him the importance of understanding and managing organisations as systems and Taiichi Ohno who showed the practicality and power of doing so in manufacturing. The economic performance of the TPS is legendary. John is Managing Director of Vanguard, a systems thinking consultancy practice for service organisations, and Visiting Professor at the Lean Enterprise Research Centre, University of Cardiff. He is an entertaining, controversial and informed public speaker

You can check out John’s book’s on Amazon here. However, if you are interested in applying systems thinking to your service organisation and want to find out more then check out Vanguard’s new site: which has a great library of resources and e-learning site for you to start your journey away from a command and control business design to a systems design.

Thanks to Brett Jordan for the image.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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