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Tag: feedback

Save time (and cut costs) by spending as much time as you need with each person

#35 March 3rd week by next sentence via FlickrWasting the time public servants

I was talking to someone in one of the many branches of the public service yesterday. “And we get a lot of time-wasters”, he said.

This is a narrative, of course.  It is the way we speak rather than any statement of fact.  But it raises the question, “Why do we regard the public as wasting our time?”

Or is our time wasted by management who are poorly trained?

Sadly, targets are the culprits.

This is the psychology.

  • A target creates a goal.  Yup, that is what was intended.
  • Goals create feedback loops.  Yes, we all know targets distract people from their jobs. We have been complaining for years.
  • And there are two further points I would like to add.
    • Simplifying life slightly, we have fast feedback loops and slow feedback loops.
      • Public servants have infinitely slow feedback loops. Slower than “Mum” who runs a house and who cleans the house today and cooks your dinner, and cleans the house tomorrow, and cooks your dinner.   In short, the work of those who serve is never done.  It is very reactive, too.  In plain English, public servants hang around a lot.   That is their job and it takes a special temperament to be able to do that without fabricating a crises or two for stimulation and entertainment.
      • Slow feedback loops does not mean the work is unskilled.  Slow feedback loops mean the opposite. The work is highly skilled. You have to work “by the book”.  “Mum” cleans the house whether guests are coming or not.  The pilot checks the entire pre-flight checklist whether they anticipate a problem or not.  They do work and they do it without anything changing visibly and without applause or immediate reward. You and I can’t do that. We get bored and become disruptive.
      • Simply, public servants look like they are sitting around but they do “hard work”.  It is hard to know that the workis done well unless you really know what you are doing.
    • The public are not time-wasters.  Well they maybe, but we waste a lot more time angsting about time-wasters.
      • The public aren’t experts in the work done by public servants.  Public servants start to take their skill for granted (as we do) and forget they can make a judgment that we will just get wrong.  We could do with their wisdom.
      • Much of the time, the public is worried they are supposed to be doing something.  Good counsel from a policeman or front-line worker reads the request in context and advises the right course of action. The right course of action might be do nothing (take two aspirin and have a good night’s sleep, etc.) and it is useful to know that.  We rarely think that doing nothing is doing good.  Public servants with with their slow feedback loops are masters of “let events unfold”.  Let them make the call.
      • Rushing people who are worried slows them downWhen we treat each request as seriously as the next or the last, people calm down and our work speeds up.
      • That’s not to say that we don’t do triage.  Triage is part of taking people seriously.  People aren’t cattle queuing up at the slaughter house.  If it is better to take one person ahead of others, just tell them.  When we have a good reason, everyone will understand, particularly if we can estimate when we will see them and give them back some control over their lives.  They calm down and work goes faster.

Successful ways of working with people is often counter-intuitive

It is possible to treat each person as an individual.  But when we go 8 hours/x people makes y minutes.  Suddenly there isn’t enough time.

One. We waste time scheduling.  Try not scheduling and see what happens.  I once went to a doctor who simply gave 10 people an appointment on each hour.  He called them in turn but saw whoever was there.  Isn’t that what we do anyway?  And if we a running late to get there for 9, for example, there is no need to panic, because we are in a buffer.

Two. We have time-wasted between appointments.  I was given an appointment at 9:06 last week.  Admirable precision.  Pity the internal paper-work wasn’t ready for her and her printer wasn’t working.

Three. There is simply a simple rule of management. Make sure management doesn’t cost more than what is being managed.  What would happen if we would remove the management and organization?  Often little but saving time and saving heaps of money?  Of course, skilled management that helps us be more productive would be cool to have particularly when it is inexpensive.

We often get more done by being patient.  I know the arithmetic doesn’t suggest so. But arithmetic is not the right analytical tool for this problem. I am a numbers person but turning everything into “3 men dig a trench . . .” simply tells me your arithmetical training stopped when you were 11.  My that is harsh . . but you asked for it.

Using arithmetic to solve the distribution of public service is a constellation of intellectual errors.  And you know it is wrong because it doesn’t work.  If feels wrong.  Stop repeating yourself and try another way!

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Time for some evidence-based management in UK

Global Warming  Ice Cream Van queue at Studland by Watt_Dabney via FlickrGet a lot more done by focusing intensely on a goal

One of the stunning results of psychological research of the second half of the 20th century is that goals and feedback raise performance dramatically.

Depending on our starting point, we can raise our performance between 10% and several hundred percent by focusing on a fixed target and getting timely feedback about how close we are to our goal.

Target & box-ticking culture in the UK

In Britain, goals and feedback have been adopted widely and are known here as targets and box-ticking.   Some people intuitively grasp there is something wrong with the system.  Others believe that we are somehow able to control doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers and GET MORE DONE.

What is wrong with targets & box-ticking?

You have to look no further than the work of British psychologist, John Seddon, to understand what has gone wrong.

Why do goals and feedback dramatically increase our performance?

A goal gives us a fixed point to aim at and an environment where we learn what makes a difference.  Feedback about our progress to our goals, preferably built into the task itself, helps us work out what works and what doesn’t.

Why do targets and box-ticking dramatically fail to raise our performance?

Targets (and box ticking) are not a system of goals and feedback. They are a plain old fashioned assembly line in which we perform simple movements at a set pace.

An assembly line was innovative in 1910 but it was overtaken by Toyota in the 50’s when they realised they could work much more effectively by throwing out the set pace “do it like this” methods and charging each person with investigating for themselves what works and what doesn’t.

University students routinely play the the “beer game” (and its descendants) to learn an important fact about assembly lines.  Fixed ways of doing things don’t fit the natural variety of life.  Too often what we do does not fit what is required.  Fixed ways of doing things generates errors.  Fixing errors is expensive.  Before long, we have a mess and our budgets are way out of control.

Would I try to drive from London to Edinburgh at a fixed speed?

Let’s take a simple example.  If I decide to drive from London to Edinburgh at a fixed speed, I quickly run into frustration I am much better off responding to variations in traffic conditions as I go.

Having a person plan my trip from an office in Cardiff, for example, might look good on paper but it doesn’t work.  It is far better to give me good maps, a sat nav, and breaking news about traffic conditions.

I can take a break earlier than intended to escape a tail back, for example. I can take a detour along back roads and drive further faster.   And other days, my trip will go smoothly along the full length of the M1, and I will arrive early.

That’s life. And it is cheaper, more enjoyable, and much more efficient that excessive planning.

Turning our GP’s and kindergartens in to assembly lines is so 1910

The attempt to turn every feature of Britain from GP’s offices to the kindergarten into an assembly line is very simply 100 years out of date.  It is time to supply the person doing the job with the information they need to do it.  They still need training, yes. They will value coaching; of course.  They could use data to explore their own effectiveness.

The job of a manager is to provide the information they need in a timely way.  The job of management is to provide data that tells us about coordination.  Where is the tail back?  Where is traffic heavy and about to cause another tail back?  Managers have (or should have) the overview that the person on the job, or driving the single car, does not have, and cannot have because they are busy driving.

Managers are responsible for the outcome of our collective decisions.  They are responsible for tail backs.  They cannot make decisions for each of us though.  They cannot.  It is not practical. And it does not work because the only way to tell us all what to do, is to tell us all to do the same thing.  And then our collective behaviour is not sufficiently flexible and adaptive and we get the very tailback that we were trying to avoid.

The way to avoid tailbacks is to keep each of us making our own decisions on the basis of relevant up-to-date information.

It’s harsh to say it, but if a manager does not understand that standardisation causes chaos, they should never have been appointed.  This is MGMT101.  It is taught in first year in university.  We learn it in the boy scouts.  We learn it when we organize a sleep-over.

A GP, for example, needs information on the state of health of their entire patient group.  Then they can allocate resources sensibly. Discretion to spend half-an-hour with a patient might lead to a well thought health programme that resolves dozens of problems.  Equally a frequent user might be distracted from unnecessary visits by non-medical interventions, such as family meeting.

A GP is highly motivated to work flexibly precisely because it helps them eliminate the queues.  No system thought out elsewhere will achieve that.  Instead, it creates dissatisfied patients who are not getting their issues dealt with and who then return to the system for more attention.

A goal of keeping these 2000 patients in good health is very different from a target of seeing 30 or so patients a day.  Feedback about the health of 2000 patients is very different from filling in forms about whom one has seen.

If GPS’s get everything done and every one healthy and go home early, is that wrong?  Emergency calls can still be routed to them at home.

It really is time to demand some “evidence based management”. If a government department wants targets, then let it set up properly conducted trials to compare their method with methods recommended by psychologists.  Not just Seddon. All psychologists.  It is time.

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Tell us a good story . . .but not an anecdote

Narratives are better than goals

I was talking today with @dominiccampbell and he helped me resolve another question that has been hanging around my head.  Why are narratives so much better than goals and targets for guiding action?

Goals do raise performance

We psychologists know that goals raise performance.  Put a target on the wall and people will try to meet it. Performance can leap by huge multiples of 100, 200, 300%.

Add feedback, that is add the circles around the bull’s eye, and performance goes up further, even by 20% for top performers.

We like making targets.  Just watch a dog at a sheep trial. We love it!

Narratives are better

But, now we are in election season in the UK, the poverty of goals becomes so clear.

Parties are tossing around specific promises for everything from deficits to bus timetables.  It’s most odd.  For a start, most of these target are the job of mid-level civil servants to set and manage.  Not sure what we employ them for if politicians do this.

The targets are also spurious.  Can anyone really set these targets for a year ahead at any time and can they do so now when the world is in such disarray and a double dip recession might happen within weeks?

Most of all, goals are wrong because they are artificially simple.  I pointed @dominiccampell to a Gen Y blogger who paints a depressing picture of the life being led by fresh graduates in the UK.   This is the life they lead and they can “see” themselves leading.

Politicians need to paint the picture of what they see happening in the UK and how it is unfolding.  Stories of the one-legged man they met on the way to the forum, or arbitrary numbers just don’t cut it.   (Can’t remember what they other fella said.)

We need a visual picture of UK – a synopsis of the movie we are living out.

This, dear psychologists, is why we should use narratives.  We need a moment of ‘aesthetic arrest’ where the relevant factors are brought together within a frame, in a story which shows how the main factors come together, counteracting and influencing each other, and it must be “true”.   We need a sense of “yes, I see it now”.  Aha!

Goals and anecdotes don’t deliver ‘aesthetic arrest”.  They are one dimensional or 2 dimensional cutouts.  They cannot deliver a picture of the world in all its complexities.  And that is what we need to hear.

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Noobes shouldn’t be on the front line until they can do it with ‘no hands’

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

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Toddlers with iPads remind us that complexity is good; it is complicated that is bad

I must get an iPad!

Gen i

Lots of buzz today about a 30 month old little girl, still in nappies, who picked up a iPad and used it immediately.   What will she be like when she gets to school?

It’s not that she will know a lot.  She will simply expect that she is allowed to act on the world and that the world will respond immediately with useful intelligible feedback.

If people think Gen Y is spoiled, what will they think of Gen i?

So much IT is sooo painful

As for me, I wish the software I’ve been using today was responsive.  One program took over my screen, crashed a live podcast, demanded I reboot my computer, crashed my print jobs, and didn’t work any way.  I queued that reinstall for last thing tonight.

Now I am using a web 2.0 drawing program.  It’s super.  But I can’t find the right order to use the controls.  It stops working mysteriously.   As if design isn’t hard enough.   Well at least we didn’t pay for this one.

Complex is good; complicated is awful

And to remind budding psychologists who stop by here.  The little girl likes iPad because it is “complex”.  The iPad gives her choice and control.  At 2.5 she was playing spelling games.

My software is frustrating because it is complicated.  I don’t have control.  The feedback doesn’t help me find the controls.  And if I have any choice, I have not the time to enjoy it.  I am messing around with controls.

I’ll be interested to see if older people respond as easily to the iPad.  I hope so.  Old computers are terrifying to too many people.

Complex is good.  It is interesting and engaging.  Complicated is bad.  It is obtuse and exhausting.

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Want efficiency? Make the space and time for people to be efficient.


Imagine 6 000 students gathering in a hall and becoming a little rowdy.  The police arrive. The local Chief Constable arrives.   So does the head of the riot police.  Who is in charge?  Who decides what will happen?

Well, the riot police often think they are in charge because they are bigger and more powerful. The local Chief Constable is likely to assert him or herself, though, and say, “I am in charge in this place.  Everyone will take their instructions for me.”

Chain-of-command in business

We might think that this reasoning only begins in the uniformed services. But it is relevant in business as well.

At any moment, it is someone’s job to make a decision.  We should not get in their way. Even when we are bigger and more powerful, we may not have all the information we need to make a good decision.  Nor can we follow through.  We simply have no business making decisions that we will not see through to the very end.

Work & organizational psychologists and the chain-of-command

Work & organizational psychologists, or occupational psychologists as they are known in UK, or IO psychologists as they are known in the US, are well trained to identify who is making the decision and what information they need to make it.

We often have massive status but we should not get in the way of the people who are doing the work. We wouldn’t get in the way of a surgeon and we should not get in the way of anyone else either.

Work & organizational psychologists respect the skill of decision making in each and every job

The information that people use to make decisions is also not immediately obvious to us.  Skilled workers have mental models for organizing their work.  They have goals, they recognize information as signals, and they pick up information as feedback which tells them whether they are approaching their goals.  We don’t have their expertise and when we move things around, we can utterly muddle the way they organize information.  Taking a single piece of paper off someone’s desk can be akin to knocking out a a supporting wall of a house -whereupon, it all falls down.

When we are working in someone elses workplace, we are trying to read what they are noticing, what they are responding to, and what they are trying to achieve.  None of this may be obvious particularly if they’ve been doing the job for a long time.

Work & organizational psychologists do not set up goals or targets for other people

Setting up goals or targets for skilled people is utterly absurd. When we do so, we imply that they have no mental models or expertise to organize and to bring into being a smoothly operating system.

Setting up targets shows incompetence on our part.

Goals & targets are set up in basic professional training

The time to set goals and targets is during professional training.  At that point people are learning what information is available and how it comes together into a working system.

Everything we do thereafter needs to recognize that organization or requires a hefty reinvestment.  We will always look first to see if we can wrap a system around skill models before we take that route.

So how do we work out how people make decisions?

  • We watch what they do.
  • We watch how they respond to different situations.
  • We notice what irritates them because that tells us their efficient operations have been disrupted.
  • When it is safe to do so, we interrupt and listen to their inner talk as they try to remember where they are in a complicated process!

And above all, we are patient.

The people we are working with may have inefficient habits.  But, it is much more likely that they have deep professional considerations for what they are doing.

Our job is to broker boundaries and space for people to do their work

Our first obligation as psychologists is to broker the space in the organization for people to follow the logic of their trade or profession.

Are we doing that?  Are we adequately setting the boundaries and making the space and time for people to be effective?

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The opposite of complicated isn’t complex. It is flow!

Complicated vs Complex

I am so chuffed to see my post on Complicatedness and Complexity take off – even if belatedly.

The difference between the complicated and complexity is important.  We love the complex sound of music and are quickly tired of the repetitive noise of a jackhammer.

And complicatedness wears us out in seconds.  Meetings which are run around the manager’s whim leave the rest of us to hang about like spare parts. Not knowing when our delayed flight will resume and not being able to call ahead to rearrange our transport and meetings renders us astonishingly irritable.  Internet banking cluttered with advertising and instructions below the fold don’t allow flow.

The opposite of complicated is flow and we do know how to make flow.

#1 The task must allow us to act autonomously

All the information must be in front of us. We shouldn’t have to open dozens of files, folders and notebooks to find it.  Nor should we have to ask anyone.  Eveything we need should be in front of us and obvious.

#2 The task must give us feedback

As soon as we try the task, it should be clear whether we are doing the right thing.

#3 The task must allow learning.

A toddler persists in putting a square into a round hole until they achieve the insight, quite accidentily, that the shapes and holes match.  We like to learn.  We don’t mind at all.

But we must have time to learn.  Don’t shout at us or time us our while we figure things out.

#4 We must be allowed to finish.

Once we get going, we want to get everything done.  Please don’t interrupt.  Wait!

We also know how to test flow

It’s easy!  We take the group who is likely to do the task and we let them do it.  We watch.  We learn where we have misunderstood their skills, needs and working conditions, and we redesign!

Complicated – how I hate it!

But then I’ve always been a flow junkie!

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Get a big job done twice as fast using the psychology of goal setting

We love goals that simplify what we have to do

We are a hopeless species! Give us a goal and we cannot help ourselves. We chase it.  But if the end is not in sight, we feel tired and we stop.

Hence the three rules of goal-setting.

  • Make the goal definite and visible.
  • Show our progress to the goal in real-time
  • Make sure it is doable before we get tired.

Blog migration

My predicament

I have been writing this blog in for two years. Now that is is established, I want to move it to a self-hosted site using software from

I am going to move to a magazine layout which means that the last post from each category will be visible on the front page. And the reader is able to click to a category’s index to see everything I’ve written in chronological order.

The big task

My difficulty is that I have dozens of categories. I eventually settled on a format that uses 5 categories and I have chosen the categories.

Now I need to reclassify 500 or so posts into the 5 categories.   At a handful a day, this could take me a year to do!

Clever goal setting is motivating & doable

I’ve finally found a way to do the transfer that is motivating.

  • I look down my categories list, pick one with few entries, and resort the posts. Eventually the number becomes 0.
  • Then I delete the category from the list and the categories list grows shorter!

It will still take me months but eventually

  • I will have a blog with all the posts categorized under 5 topics
  • I will have reread everything I have written in two years and done some light editing
  • I’m bound to have write some more summary posts
  • It will be easier for me review my own posts and find the questions that I have answered well and should answer soon!

The trick has been to arrange the work so

  • I can see where I am going
  • I have a constant sense of progress
  • I can organize the work into chunks that I can finish before I get tired.

Great goal setting!


Do you make any of these mistakes of job design and sabotage your organization?

Classical ideal feedback model. The feedback i...
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I’ve just been reading a post from an ambulance driver (woops, they don’t like that title).

It is a privilege, because I might not otherwise have the chance to observe the nuances of their job, and even if I did, to learn the same might take hours of interviews and hours of rewriting.

So we are lucky to have this blog.  It also teaches lessons for the general practice of job design – which it did today.

Briefly, feedback is a key idea in job design. Yet, it gets forgotten for procedures and targets.

This is what is critical.  For every task anyone does, they must get feedback on how well they have done before they begin that task again.

Experts often get feedback as they move from one part of a large task to another.  That’s what makes them expert.  The ability to detect feedback that will mean nothing to anyone else.

But at some point a task is handed over to someone else. When and how do they get feedback on how well their work fitted into the next process down the line?

If they don’t get feedback, what sense are the supposed to make of their work?   What sense will they make of their work?  And what of evidence-based practice, if the people doing the work do not get ‘knowledge of results’ before they start the same task again?

This is the story

The ambulance man and his colleague raced a severely dehydrated child to hospital rather than attempt to re-hydrate the child themselves. They drop off the child, but hear nothing more about what happened next.

There appears to be no mechanism to tell them if their decision was correct and whether equally trained people would have made the same decision.

The blog post talks about the decision points in the job.  It is worth reading in the original for the pattern of thinking that is typical in skilled people.  We are constantly on the look out for this thinking to inform our understanding of the information that experts use and need.   And indeed, who is an expert and who is not.

You will also see the confusion and overload that’s caused by not getting feedback quickly.

So what can the organization do to provide adequate feedback?

I don’t know what the NHS does. I’ve never worked with the NHS in a professional capacity and I don’t know any work psychologist who has.

What I would expect to be happening is a regular psychological audit of each and every job to look out for situations like this.

We want to know that in each and every situation, a skilled and experienced worker is able to set a goal, lay out a plan, and obtain feedback before they begin that task again.

Why might that feedback not be available?

1.  The task is handed over, and for some reason, the feedback loop is not in place.  It might have gone AWOL (in which case alert the line managers and check that they put it back).   It might never have existed (in which case which psychologist slipped up).  The job might have drifted (in which case re-analyse it and adjust the feedback system).

2.  There is one other scenario that is more tricky.  Managers have been known to hijack feedback because making people wait for information makes them feel powerful (and sometimes allows them to distort what is said).   An organization has to come down on such practices like the proverbial ‘ton of bricks.’   Withholding information causes stress and overload, delays learning, and potentially causes accidents, which in an organization, like the NHS, may lead to loss of life.   If managers are intercepting feedback, that has to be reversed.   In a hierarchical organization, usually we have one meeting with the manager concerned, and if that does not produce immediate redress, we have an urgent meeting with his or her manager.

Who guards the guards, so to speak?

The system does not stop with psychologists keeping jobs properly balanced.    The file on the job (not the person – the job) should have the internal auditor’s signature on it confirming they have checked that the psychological audits are taking place and are being conducted properly.

And there should be another file with copies of the report that the internal auditors routinely send to the Chief Psychologist to report on the quality of the psychological audits.

A lot of work?

Organizations are a lot of work.  That’s why we have to consider whether we want one at all.  But once we have one, we have to run them properly and ‘prevent rather than cure’.  Good systems reduce crises, problems and accidents.

I don’t know what the NHS does exactly but as the largest employer in the world, I imagine they have sophisticated management systems in place.  Feedback failures are one of the many things that ‘staff managers’ count, monitor and resolve.

Does anyone know how the NHS, or other large British employers, manage their feedback systems?

For further reading on the 3 tier system of

  • Doing
  • Directing
  • Reviewing


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5 rules of motivation for the lazy psychologist

Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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