Much of Professor Seddon’s work is based on the experience of Toyota Production System. This is the most efficient manufacturing system in the world and Professor Seddon has translated the ideas embedded in it to service organisations. This means teaching people to ‘unlearn’ traditional top down management approaches and to learn new approaches including integrating management with work and giving workers the opportunity to design real measures of effectiveness rather than being governed by ‘arbitrary targets’.
John Seddon is also critical of the new emphasis on ‘customer choice’ and ‘personalisation’ as these too are driven by ideology and paradoxically lead to worse service and high costs. However, this does not mean that he is advocating a producer led service with no customer voice.
One of the unwanted, and unexpected casualties, of the current system in public sector organisations is the demoralisation of staff. They are the ones who often have to do things they know are ineffective simply to meet externally prescribed targets. This demoralisation is sapping energy and enthusiasm for work and undermining the well-being of public sector workers. This then reduces efficiency and customer service even more.
Professor Seddon’s critique of what is happening in organisations is relevant right across the public sector in the UK – health, education, social services, housing, skills. The Scottish Government, however, has broken free to some extent from this ideology by removing the internal market from the health service in Scotland, focusing on outcomes, and removing ring fenced budgeting . However, there is much more to be done in questioning and replacing the automatic assumptions of how to run public sector organisations.
Professor John Seddon advocates the adoption of a ‘Systems Thinking’ approach which encourages those running public services to understand how services work and how to improve them in a whole systems way.