Public Sector: “complexity paralysis” – creator and casualties

Management of Complexity

Image by michael.heiss via Flickr

A recent blog about procrastination led me to get this off my mind. It has been rattling around in there for some time…

Ever had so much going on in your head that you don’t know what to do first?

Too many tasks, too little time: which “master” to satisfy?

Every issue or task has its own factors to consider: short term effect; long term impact.

Assessing cause and effect or imagining problems, leading you to “flit” – in rising desperation – from one task to another.

Imagining failure or ridicule.

Getting frustrated by your own inability to make progress and wrestling with the temptation to walk or run away.

Turning to a familiar “crutch”, such as alcohol, irrespective of health concerns.

Contemplating delegation to a potential scapegoat. “Parking” it (procrastinating) or dumping it all together.

Seeking out some trivial distraction to fool yourself that you are too busy…even just to satisfy yourself that you are doing something when, in reality, you are DOING NOTHING!

Come on be honest. You have experienced the scenario at some point in your personal or business life. But imagine (if you have to) your state of mind, if this is what you have to contend with in your working life day, after day, after day, after…

Our minds are dynamic complex systems and can – DO – reach “overload”. Falling performance, absenteeism, stress, breakdown, etc. Different for each individual but bad news all round; work; home; family; community.

Some workplaces are more prone to this scenario than others and the excessive complexity of organisations, such as those within the Public Sector in UK, that have responsibility for dealing with the effects of these stresses in our communities, are as sick – individually and collectively – as those they are trying to help!

NHS: Too important to fail…too sick for surgery!?

With political and financial pressures constantly looming, the “price” of getting it wrong, ever changing protocols and demands from every direction, is it any wonder that stress accounts for an increasing number of Public sector sick days (months)?

When, even, basic tasks are no longer simple is this “Complexity paralysis”?

When caring for the service user is the priority but the burden of other issues weigh heavy: personal; financial; procedural; operational; management; budget; political. Even the most dedicated and caring staff find it difficult to maintain focus. It is a depressing, stressful and de-motivating experience.

No matter how you express it, in a dynamic (non-linear) system, that is, by definition complex, “what goes around comes around” – the “feedback loop” – complexity begets complexity until the system reaches breaking point –  “critical complexity”. But the closer the system operates to this point the more fragile and unstable it becomes. Things can, do, get ugly, painful, dangerous and costly on a variety of levels.

Our banks failed but were deemed “too big” so we bailed them out. There has been outcry and it is fully justified. Greed, excessive risk taking and complexity have all been cited as causes of the financial crisis

Our sovereign debt is huge and austerity required. Nobody, least of all those employed in the Public Sector, wants to hear about cuts. Service users and that is all of us, are, rightly, concerned  at the impact upon services…but, come on, whichever service it is, it is actually delivered inspite of the fat, lazy, incompetent, multi-layered administration that are an enormous drain upon the vital frontline services.

The last Government took the taxes paid by  bankers and ploughed an enormous amount of it into the Public Sector which grew exponentially creating jobs and with it just enough of an illusion of wealth to keep power.

I’m not sure which crime was worse. The Government KNOWINGLY allowing the Financial Services industry to  peddle debt wrapped in the lie of  free/never-ending credit to turn customers [voters] into ravenous consumers and contaminate our Society with their greed. Or that they, so badly, mis-used the ill-gotten proceeds to perpetuate the myth of growth and prosperity whilst failing to rebuild the manufacturing base decimated by their predecessors.

I don’t deny that they “invested heavily” in NHS but shedding 490,00 PS jobs tells you all you need to know about  how the money was spent and in what areas? De-motivated, undervalued, disenfranchised staff at the frontline.

Too many silos; too much admin; too expensive; too much nepotism; too rigid; too entrenched; too many agendas; too many targets; too many KPI’s; too much fire fighting.

NHS appears over-reliant upon dedicated individuals “going the extra mile” and little pockets of excellence to compensate for a rotten, top heavy, patched-up and excessively complex structure.


Public Sector arguments smack of self-preservation and the recognisable look of “leaders” who are fully paid up members of the club that never admits they did or got anything wrong – you know the look, you have seen it in politicians, police, army, church, bankers, ponzi scheme operators, social workers, corrupt businessmen, terrorists, etc. All well schooled in the art of defending the indefensible. But damned by their own evasiveness when asked direct questions. Long on rhetoric short on substance and rarely able to present  robust arguments for top-heavy management, outsourced cleaning and catering which – from the rise of MRSA and taste of the food – it is hard to know sometimes if the two tasks haven’t been confused!

Public Sector: Creators, casualties and, (with the rest of us) victims of complexity.

Complexity Solutions: What is i2o and why should it be any different?

Well it is something that I thought summed up what Quantitative Complexity analysis is all about! Getting right to the heart of the matter to build a clear – objective – picture [complexity map], literally from INSIDE TO OUT.

TOP DOWN requires an in depth and objective management review using the same people, tools and knowledge that created the problems. External consultants bring further cost but, rarely, new techniques. Ultimately, change needs the buy-in of engaged employees. Too often this approach is, understandably, associated with a “command and control” management strategy even where “persuade and influence” is preferred.

BOTTOM UP is all too often dismissed as irrelevant, ill-conceived, impractical or not financially viable, by every layer of “the management”.

The result, at least in theory, is impasse. or, at best, compromise that results in minor – often short-lived change.

Seth Godin:Change and its constituents (there are two, and both are a problem)
People who fear they will be hurt by a change speak up immediately, loudly and without regard for the odds or reality.People who will benefit from a change don’t believe it (until it happens), so they sit quietly.And that’s why change in an organization is difficult.
“Physician heal thyself”

i20 because Change Management is a difficult enough task to perform when people have seen it all before, don’t need the additional worry, view it as an even greater drain of resources to frontline services or have their little empires to protect. There are many reasons. Silos begin to close ranks and unite like they rarely do on a day-to-day basis! Even within relatively small organisations there is always someone to question the motivation for change. Hardly surprising if there is little [or no] transparency associated with the decision-making process!

Hence the benefits offered by i2o. Objective and transparent based upon a quantitative complexity analysis that can be measured, monitored and managed on an ongoing basis. Reduce the number of KPI’s. Identify strengths and weaknesses within the operational structure whilst monitoring the overall complexity of the system and its ecosystem.

Measure: Assess the current health of the patient and stabilise. Treat; Monitor; Manage; Maintain: in a healthy state.

I wholeheartedly believe that “prevention is better [and more cost effective] than cure.

RESULT: CONSISTENT, TRANSPARENT, QUANTITATIVE, DECISION-MAKING. Good for everyone, well, except for those with a hidden agenda…

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