You don’t get promoted for teaching people how to wash their hands – Interview with James Lawther


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Today’s interview is with James Lawther, Director at Squawk Point Consulting and Author of ‘Managed by Morons: The Path to a Thriving Organisation’. James joins me today to talk about his new book, why so many organisations are mediocre, what we should be thinking about when it comes to measuring performance, a story about a Unilever soap factory, the signs of a poor culture and what we should doing to not become one of ‘those’ managers or leaders.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – What happens when you give data back to people? – Interview with Jamie Smith of Customer Futures – and is number 498 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders who are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here are the highlights of our conversation with James:

  • Primary thesis of the book is that management is easy and it has been well understood for ages, but people don’t do it.
  • Mark Jenkins, a professor of business strategy at Cranfield, came up with a performance pyramid. He said if you really your organization to succeed, it needs only three things you need to worry about.
    • The first thing thing is focus. So are you really clear what your organization is there to do and what you’re doing for customers?
    • The second thing is learning and improve. So improvement only comes from learning, are you improving your process and are you improving your systems? Are you constantly getting better?
    • The third thing is do you have a culture which underlines all of that?
  • Management is easy like losing weight but most managers don’t do it
  • Many organisations are mediocre for a variety of reasons including managers focus on money not customers and they manage the output not the inputs.
  • Only the people who do the work know the work
  • Improvement comes from testing and learning
  • Look at the story of Dave Brailsford and the UK cycling team. One of the things he did was just to look at the system that they were working with to see where they could make small improvements (marginal gains). It just shows how successful you can be if you really look and understand small stuff.
  • But for most managers, that’s just not sexy, is it? You’re not going to get promoted for teaching people how to wash their hands.
  • Most managers are too busy with high-status can’t afford to fail projects
  • Charles Goodhart: “whenever a government seeks to rely on a previously observed statistical regularity for control purposes, that regularity will collapse” and “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
  • What are the signs of a poor culture?
    • Perception trumps performance.
    • Conformity is rewarded. Dissenters are ostracised.
    • Managers know all the answers. So Staff don’t speak up.
    • Good news abounds. And problems are hidden.
    • Success is claimed by leaders whilst Failure is blamed on staff.
    • Leaders amplify stress rather than act as shock absorbers…
  • Simplest example: Named car parking spaces
  • James’ best advice: Admit you have got a problem. If you don’t want to admit you’ve got a problem, you can’t fix it.
  • Taiichi Ohno: “No problem is the biggest problem of all.”

About James

James LawtherJames Lawther is Director at Squawk Point Consulting, and Author of ‘Managed by Morons: The Path to a Thriving Organisation’.

James spent 33 years in corporate Britain.

He has packed frozen peas, processed credit card applications, keyed in data, and paid insurance claims. He has stacked the nation’s shelves with ready-made curry, sent the bailiffs around to collect unpaid taxes and made hundreds of thousands of tons of sweets.

During that time, he has tried to make each of those organisations work better, riling against the stupidity of others and cursing his political naivety. He has been called a great boss twice (twice in 33 years) and was also described in a year-end appraisal as the management equivalent of Marmite. (If you are not from the UK, you will have to search for adverts on YouTube to understand).

As you can see from his CV, he either has a wealth of experience or cannot hold down a job. If the latter is true, his book isn’t worth a minute of your time. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to read it and decide for yourself.

Alternatively, you could try his blog at

Finally, feel free to say Hi to James on X (Twitter) @SquawkPoint and connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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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