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John Seddon

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John Seddon is a British occupational psychologist and author, specialising in change in the service industry. He is the managing director of Vanguard, a consultancy company he formed in 1985 and the inventor of 'The Vanguard Method'. Vanguard currently operates in eleven countries. Seddon is a visiting professor at Buckingham University Business School.

Seddon's prominence grew following attacks on current British management thinking including the belief in economies of scale, quality standards such as ISO9000[1] and much of public sector reform including "deliverology", the use of targets, inspection and centralised control of local services. The Daily Telegraph described him as a "reluctant management guru", with a background in occupational psychology.[2]

He is critical of target-based management, and of basing decisions on economies of scale, rather than "economies of flow".[3]

Seddon has published seven books. In his 2008 book, Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, he criticised the UK Government reform programme. He advocated its replacement by systems thinking.[4] His book The Whitehall Effect was published on 5 November 2014. In it he articulates a more productive role for government in public-sector reform.[5] His latest book, Beyond Command and Control was published on 30 September 2019 and promises to expose the inherent fallacies contained within command and control management.[6]

Seddon won the first Management Innovation Prize for 'Reinventing Leadership' in October 2010.[7]


John Seddon earned a BSc (Hons) in Psychology with the University of Wales in 1974, and graduated with a MSc in occupational psychology from the University of London in 1977.

Debate about local government management[edit]

An opinion piece on the deleterious effects of inspection regimes prompted discussion on the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) website with David Walker, Managing Director, Communications & Reporting, at the Audit Commission.[8]

The debate was also covered in newspapers including The Times, which featured it on 31 July 2009.[9]


Seddon wrote an open letter dated 31 January 2011[10] calling for the Rt. Hon Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, the ministers responsible for Welfare Reform, to "halt the current programme of reorganisation associated with the Single Universal Credit and embark on a better course". In the letter, he says "This campaign is not about the concept of the Single Universal Credit as such. It is about the design and implementation of its delivery". He says the weakness in the proposals for online and call centre delivery of the new Single Universal Credit is the "continuing unquestioning faith in economies of scale". A petition was started on the Government e-petitions site [11] as part of the campaign on 18 August 2011. The petition calls for Iain Duncan Smith to rethink the centralised IT-dominated service design of Universal Credit.


  1. ^ Teaming Up With Local Teens, 18 June 2005, The Guardian. Accessed 3 August 2007.
  2. ^ "Bootcamp tactics won’t win the battle", Stefan Stern, Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2006.
  3. ^ Freedom from Command and Control: a better way to make the work work, John Seddon (2003), Vanguard Press. (ISBN 0-9546183-0-0)
  4. ^ Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: Case Studies 'Delivering Public Services that Work (Volume 1)' Edited by Peter Middleton Foreword by John Seddon. Triarchypress.com (2010-03-09). Retrieved on 2013-07-26.
  5. ^ "The Whitehall Effect".
  6. ^ Beyond Command and Control, John Seddon et al (2019), Mayfield Press. (ISBN 152723956X)
  7. ^ "Announcing the M-Prize Winners: Audacity, Imagination, Experimentation", Polly LeBare, 22 November 2010 Management Innovation eXchange (MIX)
  8. ^ Blackman, David (22 July 2009). "Walker v Seddon - the debate goes on". Local Government Chronicle.
  9. ^ Ford, Emily (31 July 2009). "'New way' thinker John Seddon aims at council targets". The Times.
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Rethink the centralised, IT- dominated service design for Universal Credit - e-petitions. Epetitions.direct.gov.uk (2012-08-18). Retrieved on 2013-07-26.

External links[edit]