How Zombies Use Compliance & Governance to Build Stupid Systems


The moment Robert Francis began his summary of the report into the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital Trust killings (I can think of no other word) I recognized the hallmarks of a leading Zombie manager. His first phrase included the words: “They [the victims] were failed by a system… “ And I realized that we were in for what Einstein used to call insanity, or the vain hope that by “doing the same thing again, something different [and presumably better] might happen". A few seconds later he delivered the second clue: a list of “290 recommendations designed to change this culture and ensure that patients come first”.  Now, if he had said the top 3 things that have to change, we might have a chance, but Zombie Behavioural logic prevailed.
It is interesting to note that it appears that another 5 hospital trusts have a similar mortality pattern, which may bring the figures up to at least 6,000 unnecessary deaths that we know about between 2004 and 2008. This is not to suggest that there aren’t brilliant and inspirational individuals and teams within the National Health Service who hold a powerful sense of vocation and purpose applying leading-edge knowledge and techniques.  I have met some amazing nurses and clinicians, and we are all aware of the work being done by Royal Army Medical Corps Reservists out in Afghanistan, of all ranks. I bow my head in awe at the gift to the nation of their service.  But if the NHS is a system, then something is fundamentally wrong with the way parts of it have chosen or been forced to behave, and the way that vocation has been sacrificed at the altar of careerism and class warfare.

When Zombie managers use “system” and “culture” and list hundreds of lessons to be implemented they are using an unconscious, almost neuro-linguistic cues for a stream of words that follow as a mask for reality, a masked way of saying that no-one accepts responsibility for their own behavior within a “system”. Indeed it could be argued that “systems thinking” is an oxymoron in that it is often used as justifying idiotic behavior which ignores the reciprocal behavior of systems and those operating socially within them and how system myths corrode personal morality and responsibility.
Systems failure = no-one is individually responsible (after all, we were only obeying orders).

It’s at this point that you begin to realize that perhaps the fascist atrocities of WW2 or the Communist industrial approach to mass-killing of class enemies over the past century was also systemic, and similarly just as idiotic in the sense that only idiots could be compliant and unaware of the meaning of their own behavior.

The Milgram Experiment
This famous “atrocity” experiment appeared to demonstrate that ordinary individuals are quite willing to commit atrocities on strangers as long as there is a presiding authority-figure to hand, and that the environment appears to be designed for some special treatment. In this case, the experimental subject thought they were involved in a learning experiment and continued to “punish” the fake student behind the glass screen with electric shocks even when the fake student begged for mercy.
In effect, Milgram constructed a behavioural system that used social and architectural cues for compliance.

Implications of Behavioural Compliance within Compliance Regimes: The Architecture of Atrocity
What is fascinating is that the logic of Zombie management is always to solve a problem by institutionalizing it and making it worse. Zombie managers design what they see as “systems” and fail to understand that their governance and compliance structures have an inadvertent, emergent quality and carry a dangerous cyclical message that reinforces alienation until it becomes toxic.

The Alienation “System” Cycle
1.       It starts with, I am imposing goals or Key Performance Indicators onto this work “system” because you have learnt how to ration or “game” your outputs and I have given up on trying to negotiate with you. If you don’t deliver, you don’t get a bonus (hence the need for bonuses as a means of gaining compliant bullies).

2.       Original Behavioural Message Sent: We know that if we don’t measure you: we don’t get what we want. If you could find a way to cock it up, you would. You are not an autonomous, moral person.

3.       Message Received: We are not trusted, we don’t need to take responsibility for outcomes because you are measuring them for us, so they are not ours.

4.       Result: we ration our energy, we go through the motions. So our managers have to manage us more closely, which removes our sense of autonomy and turns us into either passive victims or active saboteurs. And since we cannot punish those monitoring us (who are idiot-ising us) we punish the patients because they screw up our day.
And then something interesting happens in this Atrocity System:
5.       We do bad stuff. But because managers don’t want the hassle of dealing with it personally, we notice that nothing happens when we do bad stuff.

6.       Second Behavioural Message Sent: It’s not just OK for us to “game” the system, it’s OK for everyone to “game” the system. No-one actually cares about our formal Purpose, it’s OK to impose our personal, alienated purpose on complete strangers and punish them.

·         “Systems” failure may be a symptom of a shared cynicism about the Purpose of the organization,where the new purpose of compliance can only institutionalize failure and serve to build new careers on the ruins.

·         Compliance/ Governance “systems” carry a dangerous narcotic when over-used. Like any drug, they become a poison when the safe dosage is exceeded.  More compliance may kill even more people, because they carry a hidden behavioural parasite that encourages Zombie emotional behavior in the form of alienated workers who, the more they are managed, the more dangerous they become.

·        The more complex the compliance  "system", the worse the alienated, punishing behaviour will become.  The answer is instead of working from the OUTSIDE: IN, to reverse focus and direction and work from employees' INSIDE: OUT by building and reconfiguring individuals' personal rules: their behaviours, attitudes and beliefs; by giving them permission to be courageous.  It is said that courage is the outcome of negotiating 3 elements: risk, fear and noble purpose. It is time to change direction, and move from trying to force individuals to do things right and license them to all to do the right thing for patients and customers.
 ·       Train individuals in Behavioural Literacy: the meaning of their own and each others' behavioural messages, use BL to help individuals become responsible for their own work and put it into a moral context. This is as revolutionary as lean thinking was to automotive assembly.  Help everyone to become “Can-Do” participants instead of Zombies trapped within a reciprocal, reinforcing  cycle of “Won’t-Do” and “Can’t-Do” behaviours.


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