The Jericho Syndrome

by A.R. Giles


The reader will remember very well the problem faced at Jericho. The leaders of the people, the executive and their management team, were in the city under threat. But there was a large high wall around them, and whilst they could peek fearfully over the wall to see the threat, it really did not matter. They had closed and barred the gates, and their minds, so that no one could get in. They could return to managing the City in their own way. Unfortunately, there were no Chinese literates on the Team who might have pointed to the Chinese proverb ‘threats have opportunities’. So, what could the leaders have done? What strategy could they have adopted?

They could negotiate with the people outside, whom they perceived as a threat. But that might lead to changes in the City that they felt would be uncomfortable; worst of all, the outsiders might want to take over and displace the well known and understood norms of management of the City.

They could leave their thick wall and go out and fight a battle—not a good idea because they did not know enough about the people outside. Did they want to impose their ideas, or simply facilitate changes in the process of management for the good of the City?

No, the best plan was to hunker down and hope that the outsiders would get fed up and go away. They also thought it might be a good idea to throw sufficient dust in the air so that they could not see out, and better still those outside could not see in! They knew that there were some very skilled craftsmen managers in the City who could manufacture the dust.

Now, that turned out to be a bad, bad decision— when faced with what is perceived as a real threat, it is best not to turn away! The outsiders might react in an unexpected way. After all, they had been marching round and round the wall for days, suppose they thought up some unexpected scheme to get at the city leaders, like blowing trumpets!

Is this story an attempt by some cult to re-interpret the Bible account in which the people outside were the Israelites and Joshua their Chief Executive? No, it simply provides a way of illustrating a mindset all too often found in leaders. Where does this mindset come from? It
may be that there are several contributors:
◆ Our service is of high quality, clients and staff are happy, we have assured funds (inputs) and well-understood expenditure (outputs). Engineers would say ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’
◆ We know the future means change, but we have met every previous change and dealt with it.
◆ Nobody understands our process, except us.
◆ We are our own oracle!
◆ We cannot spell ‘strategic thinking’.
◆ We do not have (and if we did we would not use it) a mirror to look at ourselves.

By this time, dear reader, you will wonder why this very well written piece appears in Frontline. One of those smart management magazines might be more appropriate! Just take a close look at the army marching around your Jericho. Notice that they are led by a big Drumm. They are marching in six regiments, at the head of the army, behind Drumm, is a banner. Can you see what it says? ‘TRANSFORMATION’. Each regiment seems to have its own banner, one reads ‘IMPLEMENT, others ‘ENSURE’, ‘CONFIGURE’, ‘DEVELOP’. Look even closer at the troops— some carry calculators, others devices for measurement, worst of all, the most brutal-looking soldiers carry very big sticks.

Listen to their speech, they use words that are strange to the Jericho language: efficiency, transparent standards, accountability, optimal, cost effective, resource allocation. This army sends shivers down the spine. Yet, if you look into their faces they seem good people who, although a threat, seem to want to bring benefits to the City and, most of all, to the people cared for in the City. They want to change systems that have existed for many years and maybe no longer work.

‘They are not going to go away, you know!’ So those of us managing the ‘City’ of care services in Ireland had better take advice and see if we are suffering from ‘Jericho Syndrome’. If so, we need to get treatment quickly so we can engage with this army—for all our benefit.