Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Problems of redundancy and systemic failure

Recently I was listening to a series of reports on failures in some key organisations, public and private. All had a common element, the way that costs had been cut to the point that the organisation lost the capacity to respond to the unexpected. The subsequent costs of failure far exceeded the savings made.

Don't get me wrong. The battle against costs is a constant struggle that must be waged on an on-going basis. But would you want to go onto an aeroplane where systems had been cut to the point that there was no redundancy, where a simple system failure might lead to a catastrophic outcome?

To my mind, our constant pursuit of productivity gains has reached the point where the costs exceed the benefits in many cases. Again don't get me wrong. My professional colleagues and I have generated a lot of fees out of productivity improvement advice. However, there is a question of balance.

Today we live in a world of performance agreements, KPIs, performance based contracts. To a degree, our technology defines us. If you look at those agreements etc, you will find that they are all linear. We have translated computer decision rules into a human environment.

We humans don't work this way. We are often messy, disorganised. We are creative. We have dreams. I sometimes feel that there is no place for humans in the current management environment. We would be better off with robots who just do as they are told.

The modern approach works fine in a straight line environment. It can collapse as soon as a challenge emerges from left of field.

My message. Simply, I suppose, cut your staff some slack.

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