The tyranny of the ideal

Dave Snowden‘s on good form here:

…autocratic managers and the dark side of management consultancy have discovered how to keep their penny and still eat the bun.

The way it works is this. You spend a lot of money putting in control systems based on idealised process flows and ways of working. This applies in customer relationship management and health & safety alike along with many other fields. It looks really good on the flow charts. However the day to day reality of dealing with customers or doing the job (say on an oil rig) means that people have to break the rules. Your business depends on their doing so and as long as it has a good outcome you ignore it. However if something goes wrong, you bring out that rule book and the idealised model and now you have someone to blame: the poor smuck who has been making your business work for you.

3 thoughts on “The tyranny of the ideal

  1. Graham Hill


    Whilst I recognise what Dave Snowden is talking about, in fact I see it all the time, it has little to do with putting in standardised processes.

    It has much more to do with poor quality management not giving staff appropriate standards, not giving staff training to use them and not empowerment them to interpret the standards flexibly when something unexpected happens.

    Standardised processes are required to deliver high-quality work – 50 years of experience within Toyota have shown that – but not down to the nth degree, where they obviously won’t work if something unexpected happens.

    There are plenty of quality management tools available to assess how to incorporate each exception into the body of knowledge that helps staff to know what to do next time something unexpected happens.

    I shudder to think whar would happen if you took away standardised processes at most service organisations. Chaos most probably.

    Graham Hill

    Independent CRM Consultant

    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Graham: Thanks for your comments and that very intersting link. As with all these things, the devil is in the detail. Toyota sounds a great case study; similarly, I’ve experienced several situations where I think Dave Snowden’s description is pretty apt.

    There’s a paradox about structure and freedom; they’re not opposites but feed off each other. You may know the saying “creativity loves constraints”…


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