A teacher . . . leads you to the threshold of your own mind

Teaching XVIII

No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.

The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.

If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.

The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.

And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.

For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.

And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

Khalil Gibran

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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We do know how to deal with the unknown

When I listen to the news and the financial commentaries, I am still struck by the lack of useful information on the financial crisis.  We are told no one knows what has happened, what is happening, or what to do.   We are told there are no examples in history to instruct us.

This is not true.

Arriving at a place where we are both disoriented and scared-to-death by the challenges we face is as old as time.

David Whyte, corporate poet, reminds us of a line from Dante’s Inferno.

In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Could we persuade David Whyte to make a series of broadcasts about dealing with junctures in our lives when we are lost, alone and scared?

Until then, I recommend David Whyte’s CD Mid-Life and the Great Unknown.  It’s good to listen to in the car and on the train.

Come with me!

We do know how to deal with the unknown.  Spread the word!  We do know how to deal with the unknown.

UPDATE:  I posted today about Karl Weick’s ideas about systems that spin out of control. If I have understood him correctly, to understand the unknown, we have to  “leap in order to look”.  Action is critical to knowing.  If we want to understand something we have to act on it!

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