Portrait of Lord Havelock Vetinari. Original art by Paul Kidby, copyright Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby.
It’s a surprisingly recent idiom in spoken English, but the sentiment has probably existed for millennia.
This attitude is the biggest barrier to your case for transformational change. In times of increasing accountability and constrained resources, senior decision-makers become even more reluctant to undertake potentially risky projects. Your case must be extraordinarily compelling if it is to win the right kind support.
Not broken, but needs attention
In 2008 I worked as a project officer on shaping a new strategy for a large-ish university department. This department’s client satisfaction rates were slipping; its funding had declined; its buildings and facilities were increasingly shabby; and it was struggling to adapt to the new demands of a university that had recently been through a profound strategic realignment. The department and its services were broken.
That was a transformational change project. It came with new money and strong political support from senior stakeholders. And in the last five years that department has improved many aspects of its operations. Buildings were renovated, technology upgraded, jobs redesigned, new services introduced. Satisfaction ratings among clients and stakeholders are high.
The momentum and energy of 2008 has settled into the operational reality of 2013. The university community has turned its attention to other, more urgent problems. In our transformed department the long-term staff are enthusiastic though somewhat change-weary. There’s still has plenty of room for improvement, both in the customer-facing arena and in the underlying systems and processes that support service delivery.
We’re now on an incremental change path. In the service improvement arena our high-level priorities are guided by nine long-term strategic goals — our equivalent of the desire to protect Florence.
Two years ago my team undertook a ‘listening tour’, visiting all workgroups and asking a list of five questions that exposed gaps in the department’s internal communication and document-sharing practices. We presented the results to our senior executives and secured a mandate to implement a formalised Service Management Framework across this 200-person department.
The framework is a hybrid of several off-the-shelf schemas. We’ve defined a multi-tier service delivery model, drafted individual management plans for each of 30-odd services, established regular analysis and reporting of performance metrics, done high-level process mapping of all our service lines, and introduced a customer service charter and related communication protocols.
There’s been no formal plan or project for this work. It’s happened by stealth, one small piece at a time, and not always with an explicit link between the task at hand and the larger Service Management Framework.
You’ve probably heard of Nicolo Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince” — a handbook about getting and keeping power — and his observation that “the end justifies the means.” That book is often identified as the start of the academic discipline of political science.
Our Vice-Chancellor, himself a political scientist, puts Machiavelli’s observation a bit differently: for the University of Melbourne to achieve its goals we must be firm on the ends, flexible on the means.
In Machiavelli’s world, the only worthwhile end was protecting his beloved city. In today’s case study, the end is less lofty but still worthwhile — it’s about doing public good by supporting the university’s teaching, research and community engagement efforts.
A few years ago the philosopher Robert Greene wrote an updated version of Machiavelli’s handbook. He called it The 48 Laws of Power and those are the rules I’ll refer to in this presentation.
(If you want to debate the ethics of this management approach, let’s do it in the bar later.)