February 2011



Top 10s are usually made up of things people like – music, restaurants, movies, whatever.

Web searches are different.

People search for nasty stuff as well as good things (it doesn’t of course make them nasty people, that’s a different subject).

But at least Nos. 7 – 10 in my web search Top 10 were things, people or topics I could relate to positively.

The Eaga Showersmart – a FREE device sent to every household in the UK claiming to save energy when you shower – is different.

Some of the phrases people searched for to find out about the Showersmart suggest I’m not alone in feeling less than positive about this…thing.

unsolicited eaga showersmart

eaga showersmart unsolicited mailing, and

how does an eaga showersmart actually work?

I blogged three times about this pointless product – first under the title How not to save the planet at public expense, then The right way to save the planet (my proposal for an infinitely superior product called the Desprat BathDumb), then finally under the obscure heading Mythical things and iguanas (not obscure when you read it and coincidentally the only one of the posts featuring in this select Top 10 making a direct allusion to music – Dory Previn fans will know what I mean).

And now six months after Eaga made me cross with the dreaded Showersmart, and in a maybe prescient move, “giant building company” Carillion is bidding to take them over.  Good luck guys.

Tomorrow – into the top half of this particular chart countdown with a heart-warming tale of positive psychological reinforcement.

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When I wrote about Russ Ackoff as one of my lesser known heroes of improvement I contrasted his relative obscurity with that of W Edwards Deming.

Interesting that the Top 10 searches leading people to this blog include Ackoff but not Deming.  In fact not one of all the many searches mentioned Deming.  Perhaps those interested in systems thinking – because that’s what they’re both about – already know what they need to about Deming but somehow, somewhere are having their interest in Ackoff stimulated and are looking to learn more about him.

Like all these Top 10 hits people searched for a number of related terms including, in this case, girlslink + ackoff; youtube + russell ackoff on health care; russell ackoff right thing; there’s no bigger waste than doing well that shouldn’t be done at all ackoff; and russell ackoff justice talk.

Some of those search terms look a bit off the wall (“girlslink”?) but a quick read of my earlier post on Ackoff will explain.  And they hint quite nicely at some of the big issues that concerned him (he died in 2009 aged 90).

The earlier post includes a YouTube video of an Ackoff interview which I think is just great in both content and style.  Search for him further on YouTube and you’ll find other talks by and about him.

If you haven’t heard much about Ackoff before here are just a few quotes from that interview.  All well worth thinking about in the context of public services.

Information knowledge and understanding are all concerned with improving efficiency…wisdom is concerned with effectiveness

Doing the right thing is wisdom, effectiveness.  Doing things right is efficiency

The righter you do the wrong thing the wronger you become

It’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right

Almost every major social problem confronting us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong things righter

We never learn by doing something right…you only learn from mistakes

There are two kinds of mistakes…[errors of commission and errors of omission]  Errors of omission are much more important than errors of commission

Now you’re in an organisation that says making a mistake is a bad thing…if you’re a manager [somewhere like that] you minimise the chance of doing something you shouldn’t have done by doing nothing.

I mentioned Deming above.  I have huge admiration for both him and Ackoff.  But Ackoff addresses wider social issues than Deming and for that I especially value him.


Well, OK, that’s not quite the 8th most popular search that brought people to this blog.  It was actually british prime minister’s salary or variants thereof

Back in October 2010 I’d asked Who earns more than the Prime Minister then? in response to an item on the BBC radio programme More or less looking at that very question through the lens of the PMI, an index they’d devised for the purpose.

There’s a perennial fascination with what people earn, especially when it seems to be a lot (vide numerous bankers’ bonus rows) and I guess that’s what drove people to have a look at my post on the subject.

It’s inevitable that some of these Top 10 searches I’m listing will look a bit ephemeral now as they’re often picking up on what were topical issues at the time.  But not this one.

Only two days ago  on 16 February, UK – or for this purpose English – secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles was having another go at what councils pay their chief executives, or as he put it on the BBC

it’s a kind of a busted system…these kind of levels of salary should be open to the full council to decide

So there you go – it’s a kind of a busted system, although a kind of a busted system in which chief executives are increasingly leading their councils through major change with lower salaries and fewer senior managers and for some of them doing it for more than one council…kind of.

Whenever I hear this sort of stuff, something about localism niggles away at the back of my mind.  I can’t quite pin it down.

Tomorrow?  Something much more edifying.

Department of random comparisons – back in June 2010 162 civil servants earned more than £150,000 and 14% of them had knighthoods


A Top 10 needs to come fast and furious, even one counting the web searches that bring people to this site.

Unlike the weekly music versions on the radio, this boy’s not going to achieve his countdown in one 3 hour slot.  But he is going to upload one hit a day for ten days running.  That, for him, is fast and furious.

Yesterday, I described today’s hit at No. 9 as “stonking”, or as the trusty Oxford online dictionary puts it

something impressive, exciting, or very large

Perhaps it was glib hyperbole and Tomas B is certainly no exponent of urban music.

He’s Tomas Bata, late Czech shoe-maker (and much more).

I looked for a Czech equivalent of stonking but the various online translation freebies don’t run to that level of slang.  The nearest I could find was působivý or vzrušující, so they’ll do me.  Apologies to any passing Czechs who will presumably find these computer-generated approximations laughable.

Tomas Bata was no laughing matter as a quick perusal of my blog post Lesser known heroes of improvement – No. 2 Tomas Bata will show.

I tagged him a hero of improvement because he was a pioneer ahead of his time in the development of modern management.  People searching for him who visited the HelpGov blog were mostly searching for principles of the Bata management system and it was indeed a whole system he developed.

No point in repeating what’s already written about him but a brief quote of what he said at one stage to his workers gives the flavour

We want to reach the situation that [our] shoes are cheaper and workers earn even more.  We think that our products are still too expensive and workers’ salary too low

Many managers still don’t understand what at first sight seems a paradox but is in fact a profound truth about work – you improve work by driving out inefficiencies, not only making your products (and services) cheaper but also better and allowing you to pay your workers more.

Personally, I’d put Tomas B much higher than No. 9 in a Top 10 search for the best advice on improving work.  But then I’m not searching for my own blog.

Tomorrow, No. 8 in my countdown, and a more topical tale of salaries, but greed and envy too.


Hi there, pop pickers.

DJ GovMan is proud to bring you the top ten all time searches that found the HelpGov blog.  Certified by the online auditors at WordPress.com and including all those cover versions where folks have keyed in similar titles, these are the hits on Google and other search engines that brought seekers after truth through to this great site.

In traditional top ten style we blast off at No. 10, holding the suspense for that coveted top No. 1 spot until the end of the show series of posts.

Bubbling under at No. 10 we have two joint equal entries – Happy Birthday and Innovation.

Happy Birthday?  What is this, some social networking site?

No, the prosaic truth is that there’s lots of people out there just searching for a happy birthday.  Some of them found the one occasion HelpGov’s helpful blog mentioned the phrase – in our post Happy birthday Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and anon., an eclectic look at a single day’s Tweets we received (oh, and  feast your eyes on our virtual – and very cheap – birthday cake).

Joint No. 10 Innovation is a more logical HelpGov Top 10 hit.

Way back at the beginning of this blog we said innovation was one of the five issues we’d be discussing.

Search for the word on the blog home page (just there at the top right under the logo) and you’ll find eight posts that mention it, some of which appear in this Top 10.

Others include our post about an unconference (that’s right), the good old Piggly Wiggly Corporation (we kid you not), and a brief note about the FixMyStreet web site and its putative antipodean spin-off It’s Buggered Mate (also true).

There’s a heck of a way to go with Innovation to make it No. 1 – in the public service and this blog – but never let it be said it isn’t fun.

Tomorrow, a stonking  No. 9 in our Top 10.


Why do lawyers still communicate in meaningless mumbo jumbo?

A legal notice in my local newspaper today says it all.

I’d normally consign this sort of stuff to this blog’s Jargon Bin where you can enjoy many more classic examples of the genre.  This one’s a cracker and worth quoting in full.  Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  I repeat the text, grammar and layout as closely as WordPress allows.  The italics are mine so you can see where the nonsense starts and ends.

FORM OF WARRANT OF CITATION

IN FAMILY ACTION

Court Ref. No: xyz123

Aberdeen on the [date – over a month ago]

Grants Warrant to cite the Defender upon a period of notice of 21 days by publication in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, newspaper of an advertisement as nearly as may be in accordance with Form G3 as set out in the ct of Sederunt (Sheriff Court Ordinary Cause Rules) 1993 and Appoints her if she intends to defend, to lodge a Notice of Intention to Defend with the Sheriff Clerk at, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Castle Street, Aberdeen.  Within the said period of notice after such publication.

Grants Warrant to intimate this initial writ upon the Defender’s next of kin, Susan Smith, [address].

Dispenses with intimation by Form F9 upon the said child, Fred Brown, born [date], due to his tender years.

Rule 5.6(1)(a) NOTICE TO JANE BROWN

In Causa JOHN BLACK, c/o HM Prison [name]

[address]

PURSUER

Against JANE BROWN whose present whereabouts are unknown but who was last known to reside at [address]

DEFENDER

Court ref. no xyz123

An action has been raised at Sheriff Court Aberdeen by John Black, Pursuer, calling as a defender Jane Brown whose last known address was [address].  If Jane Brown wishes to defend the action she should immediately contact the sheriff clerk at Aberdeen Sheriff Court from whom the service copy initial writ may be obtained.  If she fails to do so decree may be granted against her.

Signed

Solicitor for the pursuer,

[address]

So what’s that all about?  I think I can just about guess the general thrust from the last paragraph.  But it is a guess and an imperfect one at that.

What’s wrong with it in detail?  Where do you start?

  • jargon
  • obscure and archaic legal language
  • long sentences
  • words between full stops that do not make up sentences
  • other incorrect punctuation
  • meaningless abbreviations
  • poor layout.

Whose fault is it?

Well don’t blame the newspaper.  They always offer a proof copy to advertisers.

If the solicitor concerned had a choice of words and could have expressed this more clearly s/he needs to get their act together.

If they had no choice and statute or regulation require precisely these words to be used the country’s parliamentarians need to pull their collective finger out and bring the language into the 21st century.

It may be difficult to think of pursuers (sic) and defenders as customers for legal services but they are and they deserve better.


This post is Part 3 of a response to a suggestion made by Ingrid Koehler of Local Government Improvement and Development.  If you don’t see it on this page, Part 1 is here and Part 2 here.

Coincidence is all.

In my snappily titled post Leadership is the key: redemption lessons expanded – No. 1 I mentioned a senior manager whose catch phrase was

I don’t care about processes.  I’m interested in outcomes.

Lo and behold.  As I check for the topics the aforementioned Ingrid K suggested bloggers like me might write about in 2011 I find

Why process still matters.  The importance of good governance in an outcomes based world.

And that’s all I need to set me off.

You won’t have known “my” senior manager and wild horses wouldn’t drag his name from me.

But I’ll bet you could name at least one boss you’ve had, may still do, who struts his stuff (it’s usually a male and they usually strut) shooting from the lip with this macho nonsense.

How do you always get an outcome?  Answer – by doing things in a series of steps one after the other.  That’s all a process is.  Getting the process right is essential to achieving a good outcome.

A small example.

I worked somewhere once where expensive consultants were brought in on a central government-funded programme to improve procurement.  They ran a workshop for admin staff responsible for placing orders with the in-house procurement team.  How did people place an order for a bog standard 5-wheel adjustable ergonomic office chair?

The expensive consultant explained the rudiments of process mapping.  Within a few minutes the road engineers had shown it took 8 actions in their department to order a chair, the social workers 13.  To put it another way, the social workers had to take 63% more actions than the road engineers to achieve the same end.

This is macho man(ager)’s cue to pile in with a cutting observation on trivial examples.

But hold on.

Work is by and large made up of routine activities carried out 10/100/1000 times a day/week/month.  They consume by far the greater part of an organisation’s resources.

If even a tenth could be carried out with 63% fewer actions the potential savings would be major.

Savings to help reduce budgets and improve customer service.  Keep the library open that might otherwise close.  Repair those potholes that feature in the local press every week.

Ingrid Koehler also links process with good governance.

Governance is often taken to mean the big stuff.  And so it should.  The probity and transparency with which councillors make decisions.  How big budgets are allocated and spent.

But if you accept the purpose of a council is to meet its customers’ needs (substitute citizens, taxpayers, residents, service users as your ideological preference dictates) then governance is also about ensuring as little resource as possible is used that does not add value for those customers.

Finally, Ingrid doesn’t just refer to outcomes but to an outcomes based world.

Oh, yes (sigh).  Outcomes are fundamental.  Of course.

However, too often central government tries to hold councils accountable for outcomes over which they have little or no control.

It’s OK for the proportion of domestic waste recycled but not for climate change.

It’s OK for the number of road accidents where highway design and traffic management is a root cause but not for the overall number of young people killed or injured in road accidents.

In other words, many of the issues that councils deal with are complex social problems with multiple and sometimes, if we are honest, unknown causes.  That sounds like another post.

But getting processes right is still fundamentally important.

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