Wednesday, 30 December 2009

When would you say 'no' to authority?

The Milgram experiments are famous for demonstrating how people will, under the right circumstances, carry out violent acts due to authority. (Details here:

But what of the people who refused to go along with the elaborate experimental charade. I have just been pointed towards this site (thank you 'the psychologist' January 2010) which has a first hand description by someone of why they refused to administer more pain to the 'subject':
Then the most disturbing part of the entire experience occurred: The professor brought in the learner and I was flabbergasted. His face was covered in tears and he looked haggard. He offered his hand and thanked me for stopping the experiment, saying that the shocks hadn't really hurt but anticipating them had been dreadful. I was confused as to whether he was in earnest or acting. I left unsure, and waited outside for the learner so I could discuss it with him. After about a half hour he had not appeared, and I was convinced that he was an actor and that my suspicions about the experiment had been correct. The report that I received confirmed that the experiment was designed to see how far subjects would go in obeying orders to administer pain to others. It had arisen out of the desire to understand the widespread obedience to horrendous and brutal orders in Nazi Germany. The report also confirmed that the professor and learner were indeed actors, although not professionals — and I have always thought that they deserved Academy Awards anyway...

It is worth a read!

And this got me to wondering - when would I refuse to go along with authority - under what conditions would I say 'no'?

How about you?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Leadership in three words?

Prompted by Professor Richard Wiseman (a very suitably named psychologist who is very active on the interweb: who has just asked people to sum up 2009 in three words (see this link if you are male and this one if you are female) - I thought I would ask you:

Which three words sum up the kind of leadership we need for 2010?

Please add your comments below. Thanks!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The fun principle...

The challenge for many leaders is how to encourage the kinds of action that you want - that will be good for all concerned. Here is a small experiment in Sweden that achieved a remarkable feat: getting people to use the stairs when there was an escalator available. You might be surprised by the result!

How do you use fun as part of your leadership?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Seasonal greetings!

I would like to take this opportunity to offer all readers of this blog my sincere festive greetings and good wishes for 2010. May this forthcoming year and indeed the next decade of this century be healthy, happy and prosperous for you and all those whom you care about.

I do not send out printed cards in order to keep a few more trees in the ground, turning CO2 into oxygen. As part of this I have made a small donation to Adoptaword which is a charity which helps children who struggle to find the words they need to communicate. I ‘adopted’ the word abundant as I aim to help people & organisations tap into their abundant sources of ideas for improvement.

With warm regards & seasonal cheer


Thursday, 17 December 2009

As a leader - what excites and what leaves you cold?

Browsing through some old emails (to dig out addresses for some seasonal good wishes), I came across a list I wrote for someone who challenged me to describe what gets me excited and what leaves me cold. This is what I wrote:

Excited by:
People solving their problems – creating their own visions & dreams
Power of collective understanding
Evidence based action
Top inspirational leadership
Whole systems & networks
Lasting improvements

Harmony and symphony

Left cold by:
‘Solushing’ (the rush to quick solutions)
Snap judgements
Imposition of power & strategies
Target setting that skews strategies the wrong way
Fat reports that gather dust
Blaming people rather than improving systems & ossified processes
Silos & drainpipes

I am sure neither list is complete - but what you put on your two lists?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Superb service - when you don't expect it

Imagine the scene: a wet and cold evening in Northampton. An hour to kill before a movie starts and my wife & I are hungry. We spy a rather shabby looking pizza cafe opposite the cinema - lots of Formica and tables that have seen better days. But it is close, it will be quick and we are hungry. We order two pizzas which arrive within minutes. Smiling staff deliver them to our table. The pizzas are succulent and far better than we were expecting.

But we cannot eat all of them and wonder - out loud - as to what we might do. The cafe manager overhears our conversation and offers to doggy bag them for us. We explain that we are about to see a movie and the cinema might raise an eyebrow or two at us taking a pizza into the theatre. The manager says no problem - would we like him to keep our pizzas for us, and we can pick them up later. We say 'thank you!'

On leaving the cinema we pop across the road. The manager is not there - but his colleague is. As soon as we enter he says 'you have come for your pizzas' and goes to get them for us.

A truly delightful and impressive example of excellent service. And the fact that the manager had clearly communicated with his colleague about the arrangement was just brilliant.

Sometimes you get superlative service when you least expect it.

What examples do you have - as a customer or as a supplier...?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Police collaboration: Creating the conditions for success

The recent White Paper (Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed December 2009) “demands more urgent and radical action to squeeze out unnecessary costs, raise productivity and ensure that we continue to focus on front line delivery.” The White Paper goes on to set out a “wide ranging programme to ...strengthen commitment to collaboration between forces and voluntary mergers where appropriate.” The Home Secretary, in his foreword states that this programme “has to be a priority for us all”.

This is fighting talk and perhaps might be summed up wryly as ‘tough on bureaucracy & duplication and tough on the causes of bureaucracy & duplication’. The police service has been here before. Since the Autumn of 2006 (after police force mergers fell by the wayside), there has been significant pressure on police forces and authorities to make improvements in both efficiency and effectiveness via collaboration.

In the Green Paper of last year (Chapter 6: Reinforcing collaboration between forces), there is a helpful map which shows collaboration activity across England and Wales. Whilst there have been a few notable & sizable successes, given that this map was created after 2 years of focused investment in collaboration, the public might have expected a little bit more. As the White Paper, points out “Since last year’s Green Paper was published HMIC have, in Get Smart 25, undertaken a detailed review... [and whilst they found] evidence of progress in enhancing capacity and capability to deliver protective services and an increase in collaborations... overall, HMIC were concerned about the pace of progress and readiness across the police service”. (Protective services remain the priority for collaboration efforts since by the end of this year, all forces should be able to demonstrate their readiness to address the highest need areas as required in a ministerial letter of 14/2/07.)

In the light of the White paper identifying that “Forces and Police Authorities supported the idea of collaboration in principle but often struggled in practice” (originally from the paper Getting Together: A Better deal for the public through joint working HMIC 2009), the real challenge is how to make solid and sustainable progress this time. The purpose of this short article is set out a few guidelines that may help.

Making any programme of change stick requires attention not only to enabling and supporting through new structures & practices (for example) but also (and often critically) to removing barriers to progress. The strength of the drive forwards must be greater that any resistance pressure met. With this in mind, this article argues that the following issues need to be addressed:

The HMIC paper (referenced above) highlights the ‘net donor syndrome’ where each collaboration partner may well remain fearful that they will lose out from a ‘common good’ investment that they each make. This fear discourages investment in and commitment to collaboration. The HMIC’s answer to this is their ‘Informed Choice Model’ which seeks, through value for money research into good practice, to provide 5 levels of ‘support’ to local police services which range from monitoring to mandating. Time (and perhaps a general election) will tell whether this arrangement works in the long term. What this model does highlight are two connected issues, one concerning belief and the other to do with trust.

For collaboration to work there has to be a default belief that a joined up & collaborative service is probably going to be cheaper and better for all concerned. Without this belief, the endless iterations of business plans will be just that, endless. No matter how well researched, a business case is still just a possible future and not a certainty. It seems likely that many collaborative initiatives fall at this first hurdle because the default belief is, in fact, that the status quo is probably cheaper and better. Unless this belief is challenged, the chances are that collaboration will not flourish.

Deciding to work in collaborative partnership with one or more other agencies requires a high level of trust. Unless each agency involved believes that all the others are working for the common good and not for partisan interests, again, collaboration will not flourish. Any actions or behaviour that affirms these trusting relationships will be helpful. The opposite is also true. Each collaborative partners bears a responsibility to support not corrode trust. This is another condition for success.

There is, of course, nothing that succeeds like success. Another condition that needs to be present is clear research into what is working and moreover widespread communication of these positive results. There are many people who will continue to be negative about collaboration (for an array of reasons). Positive news is very important to counter this.

Making a collaborative arrangement work requires an advanced set of skills including negotiation, commercial management, good governance, user consultation, external partnership development, change leadership and project management. Sometimes the investment in developing these skills is seen as costly and a ‘quick-fix-just-do-it’ approach is adopted instead. However, for collaboration to succeed, these deeper and more strategic capabilities are essential.

There are many positive aspects to what may be called ‘police regimentalism’ such as the pride in one’s own force and commitment to the joint endeavour to serve the local community. However in the field of collaboration, this regimentalism can become something of a barrier. There are the real (not apocryphal) stories about diagonal vs. horizontal loops on shirts or numbers of lights on the light bars getting in the way of collaborative working. The ‘we have always done it this way in our force’ (tried but often not tested) approaches are hurdles that require attention. (The commitment of police authorities to collaboration can also be affected by this as well.)

The ‘cost of non conformance’ (a useful starter site for some ideas around this subject) comes from the field of quality management. This idea seeks to provoke analysis of the ‘real’ costs of providing a service in a certain way, which includes the opportunity cost of not doing it differently. This approach suggests that the rounded and  full (quality) costs of running a non collaborative service need to be taken into account when analysing & comparing the cost of setting up and running a collaborative one.

Sometimes the approach taken to develop business cases and then implement collaboration initiatives fail to generate sufficient ardour, urgency or tenacity from stakeholders. A key success factor will rest upon approaches that are inclusive, creative and which integrate the views of the citizen in the eventual design of the new collaborative service. It is also vital to ensure that adequate attention is paid to key financial / HR / legal / procurement etc matters.

Collaboration with more than one partner may continue to be seen, by some, as being in the ‘too hard to do – relative to the benefits achieved’ box. Time may tell whether this is a productive position to take or not. Indeed it may vary from one kind of function to another. It may be the case that major crime investigation is best done by no more than two forces whereas organising for civil contingencies is best done by a regional partnership of four, five or even six forces. Only good evaluation will be able to address these questions. 

It would appear that collaboration is still perceived as outside the usual ‘kitbag’ of organisational improvement interventions and therefore used only with some reluctance in many quarters. In particular it can be seen as not delivering improvements in efficiency or performance overall, quickly enough and more ‘standard’ ways are favoured. There is clearly an issue of leadership here for chief officers, senior managers and police authority members to make it crystal clear that collaboration is always an option to be fully explored openly and without prejudice.

This article has argued that successful collaboration is founded upon believing & trusting in its value, broadcasting successes, investing in capability development, using only the best aspects of ‘regimentalism’, analysing the costs & benefits in the round, developing collaboration in ways that create enthusiasm & commitment, evaluating the best collaborative combinations and clear, positive leadership.

The question remains however: just how likely is it that an incoming Government will want to restructure the police service and consequently make collaboration, for the time being, a redundant effort? Or is it more likely that the 2012 Olympics will focus collaborative minds even more keenly and push back any possibility of major restructuring? 

Sunday, 6 December 2009

What does good consultation mean to you?

For me - good consultation means:
  • Focus on the future (ask what do people want now and next - not what they did or did not want yesterday)
  • Do it early (ie before the glossy 'draft' plan is produced - do it when things are still very rough)
  • Do it in lots of ways (people are different - don't just stick to one method such as the 'residents survey' I got in the post today from Bucks CC)
  • Do it partnership (with other agencies - this would save so much money - and help join up local services)
  • Ask about outcomes not outputs (how do people want the world to be different not what do they think of the 'X' service on a 5 point scale)
  • Get judgements not just opinions (ie give people information and time to think so that you can get their informed views not off the cuff 'yesterday's headlines' opinions
  • Make it two way (so that the person being consulted is helped to take action afterwards as well! See my posting in empowered citizenship)
  • Get everyone together (make sure the head of housing - say - actually has to talk with a tenant: encourage authentic & challenging conversations between all the people involved...)
What about you - how do you consult?

Friday, 27 November 2009

Open Space and Community Cohesion

I had a very enjoyable time yesterday taking part in a practitioners network meeting organised by iCoCo - the Institute of Community Cohesion (see During the day we got to talking about the use of Open Space as a method not only to coordinate plans around Community Cohesion in localities but also as a way of building cohesion itself. Time ran out on us sadly - but it is a dialogue I hope to keep going.

(You can join in too, if you wish, by either joining the OSlist - an email network of OS practitioners around the world by registering at this address or by registering to join the iCoCo forum by registering at this address or both! Both are open fora.)

In the course of posting ideas around this issue the facilitator of what looks to be a fabulous event got in touch: Linda Mitchell. She sent me this link to a site which has links to what happened in this OS meeting about community cohesion in Leeds. It is well worth a visit and explore!
Our Bringing People Together event took place on Thursday 21st May 2009. The day was full of passion, lively discussion and great ideas and the energy was fantastic all day. Over 20 separate workshops took place and they have been pulled together into a report...

Click here for a link to the page.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Making whole systems work

This is my model of how to achieve whole system change using the kinds of events I have described below in various postings such as here, here and here!

We need complexity to be 'held' (or 'cradled' even) by the system itself. It is not a question of hiring some super bright team of consultants at huge expense to come and 'do' change to the system. In my view - the best (i.e. most sustainable, efficient, effective and adaptable) organisational / system comes from the system itself. (Please see my other blog for lots of ideas that are all about doing that.) The processes need to be assembled to enable the system (i.e. all the people who know care or can do something about change) to understand and harness its own complexity. It is unlikely that this can be done by anything (or anyone) other than the whole system itself.

Creativity is required so that new solutions can emerge. In attempting to make improvements there is, in my experience, a great deal of doing the same things only harder or longer. We need to stand back, and take a sideways look, and do something different! (Perhaps the 'solution' to low rates of breast feeding in some communities, for example, is not a whole number of new 'Mother and Baby' groups but instead a 20 metre high sculpture of a woman breastfeeding her baby in the local shopping centre...!) If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got (as someone once said - but I don't know who though!)

Finally we need commitment. Without involving and really engaging people: the people who will have to take the actions forward, it is unlikely that the improvements will actually happen in the long term in my view. I have seen far to many ideas & great plans, no doubt brilliant in conception, fizzle out for want of someone to take it forward.

To get these three components present, we need imaginative processes that inspire people to think of different things. This may need (what I call) 'Blue Peter' type materials (glitter, cardboard tubes and glue) to encourage people to 'mess around' with what the future needs to be. Or you may just need to 'Open Space' and allow people to think and talk without boundaries or someone telling them what they should be discussing... (as most structured events & conferences do...).

We also need a focus on the future, so that people are helped to think about what could be rather that what wasn't. Yes, of course, there must be reflection on the past ('those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' George Santayana) but it is vital, in my view, that people are encouraged to gaze into the future and consider what could and should be.

Finally the last ingredient is the need for authentic dialogue. In the events I have run, one of the things I say (and I try to say as little as possible and essentially just get out of the way as soon as I can) is that everyone has something to say and everyone should be respected. And respecting someone means that it is OK to disagree or agree. There should be courtesy and honest inquiry in bucketfuls. On the otherhand, deference, paternalism, and unctuous patronising conversations where professionals 'listen' carefully to users / customers / citizens and then ignore what they say a day or so later have no place in authentic whole system processes in my view.

In this way 'getting the whole system in the room' can be a hugely powerful motor for change that delivers the kinds of robust results that all the stakeholders want and need.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Virtuous leadership?

‘If a prince wants to maintain his rule, he must learn how not to be virtuous, and how to make the best use if this or not according to need’*

This is one of Machiavelli’s statements that have led to his notoriety. For him, being virtuous, or not, is merely a means to an end.  In this respect there is no virtue.

But, is there a modern and ethical message here? This statement could be interpreted as ‘be deliberate in how you act – you should always be focused on what you are trying to achieve’

Or am I being too charitable to Machiavelli? How would you interpret this statement?

(*Excerpt from * Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961)


The ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’ (6th Edition) defines ‘Machiavellian’ as ‘Deceitful cunning … advocating the use of even unscrupulous means to strengthen the state.’ Machiavelli has had a bad press ever since his book ‘The Prince’ was published in 1513.

But did Machiavelli, instead, have some rather interesting things to say about leadership that may be relevant today?

Have you read his book?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

What is Strategy & Strategic Thinking?

Here are two definitions I work with:

Strategy is a process by which an organisation (or system, or part of an organisation) continues to shape and realise its destiny; in the context of its changing environment; with the aim to enable all of its stakeholders to achieve success

Strategic thinking consists of all the ways in which we can consider the ideas and influences on our strategy and construct robust plans to achieve it

What are your definitions?

Intelligence - and trying things out...

If intelligence is ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’* then leadership should be about growing this ability in your organisation. Good strategic leadership is partly about imagining futures for the organisation. Even though many (if not all) of these futures will never happen – the act of imagining helps people know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

As a leader – how are you involving your colleagues in imagining and managing the future?

How much will this help your organisation be light on its feet?

*Often credited to Piaget

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Teenage Pregnancy & Evidence Based Strategies

I have just read an excellent article published on the Nursing Times website (click here for 'Exploring the evidence on strategies to reduce teenage pregnancy rates' by David Paton, PhD, Chair of Industrial Economics, Nottingham University Business School).

The overall thrust of the article is that the current strategy on teenage pregnancy reduction is just not working. As the conclusion says:
Despite more than £200m being spent on the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, there has been little discernible impact on conception rates, at least at a national level. Although disappointing, these results should not be surprising.
The article is well worth reading in its entirety. You may not have a huge interest in the subject (although I am sure we are all concerned with reducing teenage pregnancy) - but do read it for its analysis and the incisive way in which the author uses an evidence based approach to slice through existing strategies.

I have left a comment at the end saying
This is an excellent and provocative article that I hope makes policy makers and indeed the Teenage Pregnancy Unit sit up and think about their practices and assumptions. I am sure this will not be the end of the story - but the ball is now firmly in the Government's & TPU's court to evidence their continuing strategies. I only wish more Government (at all levels) strategies could undergo such scrutiny - we need more evidence based policy and practice - in every aspect of the public services (not just in health care).
Are your strategies evidence based? How are you evaluating the impact of your strategies?

UPDATE (& EXCELLENT NEWS): 29 October: report shows that restorative justice reduces reoffending - The Prison Reform Trust today publishes Making Amends: restorative youth justice in Northern Ireland, the study reveals that reoffending rates were much lower when offenders were involved in restorative justice schemes. Figures showed four in ten 10 to 17 year-olds committed another crime within a year, compared to 71% of those who had been locked up. (Click here - pdf file)

A great story of how evaluation has shown that a policy has worked - in this case remarkably well!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Customer Journey Mapping & Attendance Allowance

On my other blog - two of the posts that have proved to be more popular than most have been the links to Stoke City Council's work on customer journey mapping. Indeed partly as a result of the interest they have received via my other blog - they are now running workshops about their model. (The links can be found here and here)
I wish them well and look forward to hearing about their workshop which is happening early in November. (I have just found out this morning that the workshop is very nearly full - so I am very happy to have played a small part in this success. Watch this space for a report of the workshop.)
I think the idea of a process to enable and encourage service providers to see their service through the eyes of the user is enormously important. So often (and this is not just with public services of course) when you seek a service you get a response that appears to not only talk a different language to you - but also live in a very different world.
From recent experience of trying to understand how the process of 'Attendance Allowance' works (on behalf of an older relative) - I have been met with what appears to be a Catch 22. The eligibility criteria for obtaining Attendance Allowance say that "your disability must be severe enough for you to need" help with washing, dressing etc. In my dictionary the word 'need' implies that you cannot do without such help. However, Attendance Allowance ostensibly exists (at least in part) to help people with disabilities live independent lives. But how can this be the case because if you needed such help - you would not be able to (albeit possibly struggling to...) live alone.
So I phoned the Department for Work and Pensions helpline yesterday. I had a confidential and non attributable chat with a very helpful adviser. She explained that some people who should receive Attendance Allowance often do not apply because of this issue. She gave the example of a person crawling up their stairs on their hands and knees to get to bed. That person may feel they don't need assistance but they could do with some help. Their lives could be immeasurably better with some help. A person in such circumstances would get Attendance Allowance. However... would that person apply?
This seems to be a clear example of where some 'customer journey mapping' might help to sort out this service / benefits arrangement. Have the DWP ever spoken to people in these circumstances to understand their perspective on all of this?
I do not want to have a cynical view that the DWP has an interest in people not applying for Attendance Allowance - but unless they look again at the language of the legislation and guidance - as given on the relevant page of the website then I may have to revise my view.
So I hope the DWP will show leadership here (and maybe even attend the workshop being run by Stoke City Council) and think about Attendance Allowance from the perspective of the claimant.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Means and ends

Do the ends always justify the means?

If the end is a valued and valuable social and/or financial result – are the means always justifiable?

  • If not – why not?

How have your boundaries on what is and is not justifiable changed over the years?

  • How come?

Change alchemy: Posters

I am really very unsure of the glossy posters that sometime spring up around a change programme. They seem to invariably create an air of cynicism. I am thinking here of posters which say things like ‘there is no ‘I’ in team’ etc. Others seem to offer mindless advice such as ‘mind how you go’.

A while ago, I learnt that the best poster campaigns:

  • Are targeted
  • Are positioned shrewdly
  • Give clear information – that is informative!
  • Avoid stating the ‘blindingly obvious’

How are you using – or planning to use – posters to get messages across?

Change Alchemy: Symbolise

Outside of one HQ was a set of flag poles – it made the car park look like a parade ground. This would be fine if it was military establishment – but it was not – it was the HQ of an ambulance service. The new Chief Executive wanted to impress upon all his staff that the organisation was about healthcare not about parading in uniforms. One night he and friend cut down the flag poles with a chain saw.

A radical act perhaps – but it certainly provoked much debate and was a visible symbol of the changes that the new Chief Exec was seeking to put in place.

How have you symbolised the changes you are putting in?

What other ways might there be?

Change alchemy: Tools

If things have to change – do people have the tools, the frameworks, the guidance, the power, the authority to make the changes?

What can you do to facilitate these changes – to give people the tools to make the change happen?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

MPs Expenses: an OD perspective

I would like take an Organisation Development slant on the issue of MPs expenses which has resurfaced in recent days. Obviously it is an crucial matter that that all party leaders and the vast majority of MPs are still actively seeking to resolve. Whilst I have some thoughts about the issue itself – more importantly I would like to describe a process for resolving this – that might be a way out of this morass that is damaging politics on all sides.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a long time advocate (and practitioner) of using an approach to conferences and meetings called ‘Open Space’. It was invented by Harrison Owen and has been used worldwide over 200,000 times to help (often very large and often conflicting) groups of people find and agree ways forward. There is much information available on the net about the process ( There are also you-tube links that explain it too (e.g. interview with Harrison 1.57 minutes I have more links if you want them - please email me - or you can search on open space on the you-tube site.)

My suggestion towards finally kicking this expenses issue into touch would be get all the main protagonists in a room together – for a day – to sort the issue. By protagonists, I include front bench and back bench MPs (all parties of course), external observers including lobby correspondents and other journalists, key civil servants, others by dint of their expertise, gravitas, experience and wisdom (whoever those might be – but probably a few members of the House of Lords), some ‘ordinary’ members of the public, a few notable bloggers such as Iain Dale... and anyone else who might have some worthwhile things to contribute. The task would be sort out the issue of the expenses, for once and for all. The process would be Open Space – which would mean that all that people who wish (and have a passion for) to talk about – could be talked about. The agenda would emerge - with no order papers, whipping or catching the eye of the Speaker.

Why am I proposing this? It seems to be that this issue has become so corrosive to public confidence that action needs to be taken quickly to arrive at a broad consensus. I know of no better way to achieve consensus than through Open Space – as it is a totally transparent, creative and sublimely simple and elegant process. Whilst Sir Thomas Legg has made an good start - his actions clearly has left a good deal of rumblings behind and there is some way to go. An Open Space process could slice through all of this and be emblematic of the kind of new politics of which I believe many in the Houses of Parliament and in the country wish to see more.

I do know about politics and how decisions are often made, the deals are usually done, positions taken and resolutions driven through by majorities. Whilst politics is, always has been, and probably will continue to be about interests clashing and change often being bullied through – I know I (and maybe many other members of the public too) want something different this time about this issue in particular. Perhaps a new type of politics could rise from the ashes of this issue - but only if it is handled well - with a good process.

OD 3.0

(This is a blog post in progress!) Please watch this space - over the next few days - I plan to record some thoughts about the origins of organisation development, where I think it went off the rails, and where I hope the discipline (although I am not sure if that is the right word...) is now going. I think the time has come (although it has been coming a long time...) to reclaim OD as something that is done intensively and interactively with people, organisations & systems rather than to them.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Authentic leadership: who are you today?

Authentic: "authoritative," from O.Fr. autentique (13c.), from M.L. authenticus, from Gk. authentikos "original, genuine, principal," from authentes "one acting on one's own authority," from autos "self" + hentes "doer, being." Sense of "entitled to acceptance as factual" is first recorded 1369. Authentic implies that the contents of the thing in question correspond to the facts and are not fictitious; genuine implies that the reputed author is the real one. Authentication is recorded from 1788. Authenticity dates to 1657 (in form authentity). (Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary for this)

On this basis - authentic leadership means being the author of one's own life and being true to oneself.

Many years ago I read a book by Warren Bennis "On Becoming a Leader" and one of his key themes was authenticity. To lift a quote (and thanks to the Amazon site for making this easy!): First and foremost, find out what it is you're about, and be that. Be what you are and don't lose it...It's very hard to be who we are because it doesn't seem to be what anyone wants.

I sometimes wonder in this age of competency models and evidential assessment whether sometimes people end up believing that leadership is some kind of puzzle to solve - a bit like one of those spot the difference competitions. If I can just tick enough of the boxes on the leadership framework, I too can become a senior manager, a director, a chief...

Warren Bennis and I (& no doubt many other people) say something different: first and foremost, being leader is about being yourself and being true to yourself. It is about knowing who you are and relaxing into being you.

How are you today?

Who are you today?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Change alchemy: Broadcast wins

In any change process, some aspects will go well and some aspects will not. It is in the nature of human communication (aka gossip) that the negatives will be discussed far more.

An effective change leader understands this and seeks to counter balance by ensuring the good news is broadcast as well. This will also help people see a connection between their efforts and the results being achieved.

How well do you broadcast the good news?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Change alchemy: change leadership?

Can change be managed or should it, indeed, be led?

Readers of this blog will know that I have titled several posts as 'Change Alchemy' with the first one explaining why I used this term. Making change stick still seems to me to be a 'daunting mixture of alchemy, tenacity and luck'. On this blog I have sought to outline what are some of the critical ingredients that need to be added to the crucible.

Certainly there are many elements of change leadership that might be reasonably called change management. There are various tasks that need to be manipulated and sequenced, and critical decisions need to be made. But all this seems to be to be more like the project management of change. So change management is a subset of change leadership. The question is, what are the extra ingredients?

I am reminded of an apocryphal comment on someone's professional development review 'not a born leader, yet'. I am pondering whether the ingredients that make change leadership different to change management can be learnt? I hope and believe so - since I am about to craft a workshop entitled 'change leadership'! Here is my starter for ten (and the beginnings of the workshop agenda) of the three most critical ingredients:

Number one for me is passion. Change leaders have and express a passion for where they want to go. This passion is sufficiently infectious and sincere to inspire others to take the journey as well. Change leaders are comfortable with creating visions of the future that are compelling both logically and emotionally. However this passion is not rigid or brittle like cast iron. This passion is strong like an old tree, able to bend in the wind and adapt whilst standing firm.

This heralds a second critical ingredient which must be resilience. Change leadership is rarely easy. I recommend reading 'The Prince' by Niccolò Machaivelli. This quote come comes from the Penguin 1961 edition translated by George Bull:

‘It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience.’

The Change leader needs to know how to handle resistance and finesse the power of the resistors so that the goal is still achieved.

Thirdly comes being able to make change thrilling but safe. Change is a scary and threatening thing for both leader and those who are on the same journey. Change is always a process of letting go, not just of the past, but also the future. We can allow our past and present to hold us back from trying something new. We can have a fixed idea of the future we think we are going to have. However, ultimately change is about casting off and setting sail to another country. We may look back and think of the years we spent doing 'x' and feel driven to justify it. We may have hunkered down in a cosy image of our future...

But then a change leader comes along with something very different that challenges what we have done (in all good faith) and what we thought we were intent on doing in the future. The change leader will only be successful in these circumstances if they make it safe to change. Recriminations, blame and threats (whether intended or not) have no place in good change leadership. Instead the process of leading change is to create just enough discomfort with the status quo to make people want to change but not so much that fear of the future or justifications of the present way of doing things are provoked to emerge. Not only must the leader make it OK to change, they need to find the balance between comfort and risk.

Perhaps the job of being a change leader is about designing and then operating a rollercoaster!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Citizens not customers

There is much discussion and indeed mission statements in the public sector about the need to focus on customers. However, I don't think the public services have customers in the same way that say Pizza Hut has customers. I think the public services are there to serve & engage citizens whilst being accountable - through politicians - to taxpayers/citizens. This makes the whole relationship a far more complex one.

I think saying that the public services have customers simplifies and indeed commodifies the relationship. For example if I want a pizza, I buy a pizza: the transaction has ended. However, if I, as a police officer (say), wish to serve and help my community become a safer place to live and work, I have to work with the local citizenry to achieve that. I cannot do it alone. There is no simple one way transaction there.

Yes, all public service workers should give good customer service to the citizens / service users / public that they are there to support and help. That almost goes without saying in my view. But that is but one small part of a much richer relationship.

The role of public service workers is to be transformational not merely transactional. The job of the public services is to generate sustainable social outcomes, not merely perform a series of one way transactions.

Sadly, the use of the word customer has become all to common in the public services. People may defend its use as reasonable shorthand. I take a very different view. If there is a shorthand to use, it should be 'citizen' not customer.

For me the biggest danger in this use of the word 'customer' is that it shapes (consciously or unconsciously) the business of providing care, education, community safety (etc.) into being a commercial enterprise. It is not. It is more subtle, more complex, indeed more important than that!

Monday, 28 September 2009

X Factor: 3 Leadership lessons

For those who don't know, X Factor is a UK based (but syndicated in many other countries including the USA) reality TV show where members of the public audition to take part in a live pop singing show. It is a very compelling programme which dominates the weekend schedules for several weeks each year. I will come clean and admit that I am fan - mostly because I am captivated by the journeys that the various contestants go through. See

But watching the programmes over the weekend - I got to thinking - what does this show say about leadership? (OK - it is mostly about entertainment - and leadership is probably not high on its agenda but...)

Firstly I recall a video by Tom Peters from many years ago - where he was talking to a large group of managers in the Albert Hall (I think). To paraphrase - he said "if you don't like people - don't become a manager! You have to really delight in seeing people grow and develop to be a good leader".

I think this is partly what makes Simon Cowell a good leader. Yes, of course, the cynic in me says that all is ever in his mind is a stream of pound notes and dollar bills. However, looking carefully at him when people perform (or don't perform) - I see a gleeful twinkle when anyone excels. Moreover, he smiles even more, when people appear to have been on a journey of development and discovery. I think this is what marks him out as a good leader. (For the record I would put Cheryl in the same category - but I am not sure about Louis and Danii...)

So leadership lesson one is: delight in reflection, growth and development and show it - your followers will aim for even higher things as a result

What Simon is also excellent at - is giving feedback. Yes, he plays to the crowd sometimes and can be quite cutting. If he is ever harsh (and some might say cruel) - he does it with a clear purpose designed to either get the person to give up on hoping to become a celebrated singer or to get the person to improve. His criticisms are never just extraneous. He is also honest and direct.

Leadership lesson two: give feedback purposefully and helpfully - say what you believe and believe what you say. Of course in a work context, giving developmental feedback needs to be more than the one liner from a reality TV show - but the principles are not that dissimilar.

One of the themes that Simon and other judges often return to is self belief. Comments such as 'she is really beginning to believe in herself now' pepper the show. I think one of the most important attributes of a good leader is the ability that they have to inspire true and deep self confidence in the people that they lead. I suspect that singing coaches, also know this - and whilst there are undoubtedly techniques and tricks to learn - I am guessing that the most important aspect of a good singer is confidence. Leaders and coaches need to act on this.

Leadership lesson three: Do all that you can to build confidence among the people you lead - indeed, look to create the leaders of the future.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Saying sorry - an act of leadership

Everyone gets things wrong sometimes. Some people seem less inclined to own up to when thing go wrong.
A good sorry almost certainly involves
  • Being clear about what you are sorry for
  • Being aware of and recognising the hurt caused by your action
  • Taking responsibility for what you did and not blaming someone or something else
  • Saying the word ‘sorry’ and asking for some kind of forgiveness
  • Saying and meaning that you intend never to do what you did again
  • Offering to help or recompense to the person in some way

When was the last time you said sorry at work?

How did it feel?

Did you mean it?

UPDATE: Great article in Nursing Times about this too:
A sincere apology that expresses regret and acknowledges shortcomings can help patients come to terms with something that has gone wrong - and can also help nurses
 Click here for the full article

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Change alchemy: well poisoners

There are some people who know that by being explicitly against a change that this will neutralise their position. These are the ‘seasoned’ change resistors who sneak out at night and put poison into the well. No one quite knows who they are.

Continuing the metaphor – what is a leader to do? Post sentries on the well.? Give antidotes to everyone else.? Find out who they are?

What should you do?

Change alchemy: resistance

If the change you are putting in is not creating some resistance – you are probably doing something wrong. Debate and dissent are essential to finding the best ways forward.

How much resistance are you meeting?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Trust & leadership

Just stumbled across a great article about the manufacturing company of W.L. Gore & Associates. Do read the whole article - it is well worth it. Click here: Small Groups, Big Ideas for the link.

I really liked the quote "The way you become a manager is by finding people who want to work for you. In a certain sense, you’re elected rather than appointed. It’s a democratic structure inside a business organization." cited in the piece (by Thomas Malone, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and the author of The Future of Work)

This (together with the heralded special on 'Trust' to be broadcast on 'You & Yours' on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow) got me thinking about trust - and what leaders must do to earn it and indeed keep it.

Googling 'trust meaning' comes up with an array of definitions. However, I would define trust in the context of leadership as 'your confidence that the person has the future interests of the organisation, the world and you & your colleagues in mind when making decisions based upon past integrity, transparency, honesty, evidence, empathy and passion'.

With recent events including a range of financial crises, stories about shabby greed amongst our leaders & elections which have far more to do with corruption than fairness, it is very easy to become cynical, frightened & despairing. Where are the leaders whom we can trust? Where are the people taking epic, heroic and inspirational actions? My hunch is that there are still many of those leaders around, quietly getting on with business and getting some hard jobs done.

Clearly there are some of these people in W.L. Gore & Associates. There are probably some in the organisation where you work. And you will have some neighbours too who continue to make a huge difference to families and communities. Maybe there are fewer to be found in the media spotlight, or on the stages of the political conferences over the next few weeks than there used to be. But if you look carefully - perhaps out of the corners of your eyes - you will see many, many people who are earning trust and being good leaders - up, down & sideways in organisations and our communities. I see such people all the time, taking the lead with honesty, tenacity, integrity & verve - resolutely refusing to be 'cynicised' into inaction. These are the people who will:

  • Look for the positives
  • Take a wide variety of views into account
  • Say what they mean and mean what they say
  • Think about the balance of benefits from a course of action
  • Think of the future & the long term and avoid being ground down by just reacting all the time
  • Listen to people - really listen
  • Use humour, energy and passion
  • Evaluate what they have done and seek feedback
  • Have fun (and at no expense to anyone)
  • Work from the common ground rather than self interest

How many people do you know who are like that?

Are you one of them?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Milestones: yey!

In any piece of work – good leaders find reasons to celebrate. A milestone is reached and it is an excuse for a pizza, or a box of chocolates, or handwritten thank-you note to all the team...

In this way, everyone’s efforts are applauded.

When is your next opportunity for a celebration?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Why do we have old style conferences anyway?

Browsing through an old copy of The Psychologist journal (December 2008) which I get as a member of the British Psychological Society, I came across an interview with Emeritus Professor John Sloboda (from Keele University).
He was asked for 'one moment that changed the course of your career'. This is what he said:
Meeting the late Michael J. Howe (of Exeter University) quite by chance at a conference we both found boring. We sloped off to the pub, and by the end of the conference had made decisions that led to the most productive and long-standing research collaboration of my academic life.
I find this thrilling as it shows, yet again, how people given the space can make profound connections and decisions without the need for too much structure - or even any structure at all.
Why do people persist in arranging conferences and events which are dominated by 'expert' speakers whilst the experts in the audience are left to sit passively wondering about what conversations they could be having otherwise? Instead people hope that the busy networking in the coffee breaks and lunchtimes will suffice.
Clearly in Prof. John Sloboda's case it did - fortuitously. But I am left wondering how many conversations have never happened for want of some more (open) space in which they could have occurred. How many opportunities for collaboration, understanding, rapprochement and exploration have been missed over the years by the starchy, constrained and over controlled (but looking very worthy) conferences?
Why not use Open Space instead? Not only is everyone empowered, supported and enabled to have whatever conversations they wish to have - but everyone else gets to know what everyone else is talking about too.
So much more efficient and effective!

Change alchemy: cynicism

In any change there are the people who will say “we have done this before – it didn’t work then – it won’t work now” or variations on that theme. In my experience, cynics are often enthusiasts who have been put on the sideline.

How will you channel both the enthusiasts and the cynics in pursuit of your goals? Is there some way to include them all in shaping the future?

Change alchemy: friends and enemies

Some people will benefit from changes you put in whilst others may feel they are losing something very important to them. Indeed they may experience an actual loss. Part of good change leadership is knowing who your friends and allies will be, and knowing who may be intent on disrupting your plans.

Having plans to harness the support from your allies is critical. But it is also critical to have plans to persuade, neutralise or even isolate those who will be working against you. How much time and effort you put into these various plans will depend on the influence and power that they have.

How is your ‘friends and enemies’ plan shaping up?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bankers bonuses - an (OD) view from the Boardroom

I have a new friend who when he revealed to me that he was a banker, he said it in hushed tones. In recent months we have all learned not to like bankers and indeed despise the huge bonuses they have received. Reading some articles about this whole debacle of the credit crunch, you might be forgiven for believing that had bonuses not existed, then none of the recent events would have happened and the world's economy would still be merrily expanding as fast as the Arctic ice is melting. But I wonder - can we blame it all on bonuses? Are they the difference that made the difference between financial services which made huge tax contributions and financial services that needed huge dollops of public cash to keep them afloat (and which we will be spending years to pay off). The short answer for me, as a non-economist, is I don't know. Certainly I do not intend to get into the political / ethical debate about bonuses here.

But, as an organisation development consultant, I do have a view about bonuses as a means of achieving organisational improvement and good results. And so while I pumped away for my 30 minutes of aerobic exercise this morning, I got to thinking about what questions and challenges I would be contributing if I happened to be in a boardroom of a large bank - perhaps as their non-executive OD adviser. Here is what I came up with:

  • What evaluation has been done on the bonus scheme - what is it there to achieve and how well does the scheme do against this purpose?
  • When the scheme was introduced, what was the evidence base (from organisational / occupational psychology) that guided its design?
  • Indeed what were the principles that guided the design?
  • How are the bonus levels set - who have we benchmarked our scheme with?
  • If our bonus scheme is all about motivation to make good profit for the company, how do we motivate those who don't get a bonus (or does everyone get one)?
  • How much of our recent success / failure (delete as applicable) has been down to the people who have been getting bonuses?
  • Given that our organisation is an intricate web of connected processes, how was it worked out who would get rewarded & by how much when a success was achieved (or is it easy to know who is responsible)?
  • Considering our recruitment strategy, do we hire people who are motivated only by bonuses? If not, what sort of people do we hire?
  • What would happen if we did not have a bonus scheme but paid our staff a flat (but competitive) wage instead?
  • What would happen if we rewarded people with shares or share options instead?
  • What has been our turnover of bonused staff in the last two years - and what has the analysis of their exit interviews evidenced?
  • Indeed, what do we know about the people who join us - why have come to us rather than another bank?
  • When was the last time we reviewed our bonus strategy?
  • Over the last two years, what have we learnt about how bonuses affect how we do business - and what do we now know about the impact that they have on our medium to long term profitability?
  • Do I get a bonus for asking these questions?(!)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Another consultants' report bites the dust

The government says it has rejected advice from management consultants to cut the NHS workforce in England by 10% over the next five years... Sir Gerry Robinson, the businessman who presented a BBC series about the NHS, said he saw an "enormous amount of waste" and jobs should go. He added he was "infuriated" by yet another report, which cost a lot of money and "tells you the obvious".
Many years ago, I read a book by Edgar Schein (Process Consultation Volume 2: Lessons for managers and consultants - which is still available) and it changed my approach to consultancy. In it he describes three models of consultancy: The purchase of information or expertise, the doctor-patient model and process consultation.

I am increasingly worried that clients purchase either of the first two models when in fact they would find far greater value for money from procuring the third. As a consequence far too much of our money (as taxpayers or customers) is wasted on generating fat consultants' reports. This McKinsey report is yet another (high profile) example.

Allow me to explain.

Schein defines the first model as when "the client has made up his mind on what the problem is, what kind of help is needed and to whom to go to for this help". He cites "extreme" examples as when a lawyer is hired to assess some legal implications or hiring a systems analyst to write a computer programme. He also includes "less extreme" examples such as researching how a range of consumers feel about a service. Schein argues that psychologically the message to the consultants is "please take this problem off my shoulders and bring me back a solution". And if the solution does not work then "consultant can be easily blamed".

For Schein, this model only works if:
  • The client has correctly diagnosed the problem
  • The client has correctly identified the consultant's capabilities to provide the expertise
  • The client has correctly communicated the problem and nature of the expertise or information that is to be purchased
  • The client has thought through and accepted the potential consquences of obtaining the information or the service
As Schein points out, the "irony of this model is that the expertise is attributed to the consultant , but in fact a tremendous load falls on the client to do things correctly for the problem to be solved".

In other words when the problem is so complex, or so contentious, or too difficult to diagnose such that these success factors cannot be fulfilled, then the client will often resort to the second and sometimes the third model. (Although they often do not resulting in a waste of money.)

The 'doctor-patient' model is a variant on the model above and "gives the consultant the additional power to make a diagnosis and recommend what kind of information and expertise will solve the problem". The consultant is called in to "find out what is wrong and recommend how to fix it". This model is also fraught with elephant traps not least of which is handing over diagnosis and solution to the external consultant. This fosters dependency and allows the client to relax as someone else has taken over their problem.

As with the previous model, a number of conditions have to be present for this model to work effectively:
  • The diagnostic process itself will be seen as helpful. (In other words the client has to be comfortable will allowing the consultant to 'stir the pond' and ask some very difficult questions.)
  • The client has correctly interpreted the organisation's symptoms and has located the sick area. (The client may point the consultant to the wrong place and the consultant will naturally collude in an effort to be helpful and keep getting paid.)
  • The person or group defined as 'sick' will reveal the pertinent information necessary to make a valid diagnosis; that is they will neither hide data nor exaggerate symptoms. (This is where this model is often stretched to far since when we go to see a doctor we are inclined to tell them all of our symptoms because we want to get better. In an organisational context, different interests are in operation.)
  • The client will understand and correctly interpret the diagnosis provided by the consultant, and will implement whatever prescription is offered. (All too often consultants can be obscure in their diagnosis or even provide solutions that fit with their service offers - IT companies find IT solutions etc. Moreover, the client may discover that the recommended solution does not fit for a whole number of previously not revealed reasons.)
  • The client can remain healthy after the consultant leaves. (As highlighted above, this model can all to easily result in dependency on the consultant.)
With the complications and poor results that can arise from the inappropriate application of these two models, Schein is an advocate of the third model - process consultancy.

As Schein declares "the most central premise of of process consulting is that the client owns the problem and continues to own it throughout the consultation process". The consultant can help the client deal with the problem but never takes the problem onto his/her shoulders.

My short hand way of saying this to clients is that I am only ever seeing a few frames in their long running movie and so I cannot possibly diagnose what is wrong and what needs to be done about the problem. Although, that said, I am not sure if all my clients fully grasp what I saying. Too many people have grown accustomed to the expert led or doctor-patient type of consultancy.

Schein goes onto to describe process consultancy in some detail - it is, after all, what the whole book is about. (But I would recommend reading pages 29 to 35 of this book, in particular). Schein goes on to outline the conditions that make the process consultancy model successful:
  • The client is hurting somehow but does not know the source of the pain or what to do about it. (After some exploration by the process consultant, the client can often discover that the problem is, as yet, not fully revealed.)
  • The client does not know what kind of help may be available and which consultant can provide that help. (Process consulting can help the client identify the most appropriate expert - in a way that procurement processes can so often fail dismally - in my view! See my piece on this here.)
  • The nature of the problem is such that the client not only needs help in figuring out what is wrong but would benefit from participation in the process of making a diagnosis. (The essence of good process consulting is that it is a collaborative process whereby the client is enabled to uncover the complexity of what is wrong as it is often deeply embedded in the system & culture)
  • The client has 'constructive intent', is motivated by goals and values that the consultant can accept and has some capacity to enter into a helping relationship. (The cards must all be on the table for process consultancy to work.)
  • The client is ultimately the only one who knows what form of intervention will work in the situation. (Whilst the consultant can offer alternatives and prompt new ways of thinking about old problems, in the end, the clients owns the problem and the solution.)
  • The client is capable of learning how to diagnose and solve his/her own organisational problems. (The process consultant is there to support independency not nurture dependency - the task is assist the client learn how to learn, and develop capacity and capability.)
Schein had a great influence upon me. His work provoked me to learn how to practice as a process consultant - and I am still learning. I remain convinced of the need for consultants to be crystal clear in their practice - in most cases you are there to help the client solve their own problems not attempt to do it for them.
And so when I read stories like the one this morning about another consultant's report biting the dust, I am exasperated and hopeful. Exasperated because yet again a whole bundle of (my) money has been wasted on this consultancy report. But hopeful in that perhaps this instance will be yet another nail in the coffin of inappropriate consultancy practice - where the model did not fit the circumstances.
My ambition is that clients will increasingly procure forms of consultancy and help that will yield much greater value for money in the short, medium and long terms. This consultancy will fit the circumstances and leave the client better able to manage the future than before.

I yearn for a time when I will see fewer invitation to tenders which say (more of less) "we are not quite sure of the problem, although we have some ideas, so come and talk to a bunch of us separately and then assemble the ideas into one your magic, fat & glossy reports so that we can say we had an expert tell us how to go forward - which we may then ignore, of course"!

For all these reasons, I often look at ITTs and think would it not be ideal if we simply got all the stakeholders together and had a full & frank debate about what is happening and what actions now need to occur to create a better future. There are more posts about this approach below, here and here.)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Change alchemy: recognition

I once asked a deputy chief executive as to what he attributed the lively culture of continuous improvement in his organisation. He said, without hesitation, the suggestions scheme. His scheme, unlike others I have seen had several critical ingredients:

  • He was in charge of it – and responded personally to almost all the suggestions made
  • The emphasis was on a rapid response – the people heard back about their suggestion in a day or two
  • There were no complex forms to complete – it was made as easy as possible to submit an idea
  • The emphasis was on praise and recognition rather than financial reward
  • It was fair: each suggestion was treated on its merits no matter from whom it came
  • It was straight: there was no hint of paternalism or fobbing people off

What is your suggestion scheme like?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Building and sustaining a new executive team

Team building is a circular process: the team learns, events happen, new members join and so onwards.

A linear process with a beginning middle and end does not match the reality of most executive team building.

I developed this model in response to a tender - and so I thought it would helpful to post it here.

It centres on asking a series of questions at each stage:

Weaving the history:

  • Where have we each been until now & what past events have shaped who we are?
  • What events and trends have shaped the organisation & wider context in which the team sits?
  • How does the combined immediate past change anything in the team?

Assembling the learning

  • What have we learnt about who we are and what we bring to teams?
  • How has our organisation and wider context learnt how to behave towards our team?
  • What theories about team work have we acquired?

Understanding the present

  • What are the external challenges in the organisation and wider context we face as a team?
  • What are the internal challenges we face as a team?
  • What do we need to do to ensure our team is robust enough to manage the present?

Shaping the future

  • What do we want our organisation to achieve?
  • What kind of team will we need to build in order to nurture these achievements?
  • What constant principles do we all need to work to as a team?

Making the future history

  • What ways of working together do we need to establish to make the future happen?
  • How do we negotiate our relationship with the organisation and wider context?
  • What actions will make our chosen future historical

Thursday, 27 August 2009


What a fabulous sculpture!

Dream: Jaume Plensa's landmark sculpture on the former Sutton Manor Colliery in St.Helens, Northwest England

I like the idea of a sculpture to encourage people to dream. It certainly is

a triumph, a stunning visual feast, and a spectacular object lesson in the "art of the possible", demonstrating what can be achieved when committed people with a shared vision work together towards a common goal.

In my view - the core purpose of the public services is to assist people to dream, have ambitions and realise these - either through providing the tools to enable this (such as education) or remove the barriers to their achievement (tackling ill health and crime). I hope this beautiful sculpture inspires people both as citizens and as service providers - to make more dreams possible.

Congratulations to St Helens!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Project management: building a bridge

I have been in many organisations where there appear to be two ‘camps’. There are the people who just adore the structure of project management, who do Gantt charts like others do crosswords. And there are the others who see the project management protocols as bureaucratic rituals that get in the way of good management and which offer solace only to the obsessive compulsives in the organisation.

Do you identify with either of these camps?

Do you know others who do?

What can you do, as a leader, to build a bridge between these groups?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Watch this space...

Cornwall and then Tunisia beckons - so this blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. Thanks to everyone who has visited over the last few months - so far there have been over 1300 page impressions.

Whether you are a regular visitor here (and there is a growing number) or you have wandered in by accident or just come here for the first time - you are most welcome. Please browse. I hope you find the blog posts of interest.

Do please email me with any feedback if you would like.


Very best wishes to all.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

The nail machine - a story of pain & learning

Many years ago I was doing some work with a nail factory in Cardiff. The company, along with its sister steel companies, have, sadly, long since gone to the wall. I met and got to know some great people. This assignment was one of my first as a consultant - working then on Total Quality Management.
In the course of my work I talked about improvement and learning with a wide range of people in the firm. One man I worked with was the shop steward who had a wisdom and gentleness that I remember to this day.
He once told me story about the six inch nail machine. There was only one and it was a big machine, not surprisingly. Indeed the operator had a small raised platform on which to stand and keep the machine going. The task involved ensuring that the feed of steel rods into one end of machine was kept going smoothly while nails emerged from the other end. (My engineering knowledge is limited!) At various points during this process a button had to pressed near the hopper where the nails emerged and were collected. This button could not be reached from the raised platform. So several times each shift (perhaps even 50 to 60 times), the operator had to walk down the steps from his platform, walk around the machine and press the button. He then returned to his platform. It was a tedious part of the job. The man who operated the machine was a friend of the shop steward and had worked on that machine for over 20 years. He knew it well.
There was an occasion for the shop steward to work the night shift - something he very rarely did. On this occasion he happened to walk past the six inch nail machine and observed the night operator making it work. Everything was the same except at the point when the button needed to be pressed. Instead of walking down the steps and around the machine, the night operator picked a slighly odd shaped pole and used it to hit the button and the machine carried on operating. The shop steward looked on intrigued.
When he was next on the day shift, he went over to see his friend operating the six inch nail machine. He saw him working as normal. There came a moment when the button needed to be pressed and he said "stop" to his friend. The shop steward climbed the steps and asked his friend what the pole was for. His friend said something like:
"I don't know - it came with the machine when they delivered it way back" and shrugged his shoulders.
The shop steward showed him what the pole could be used for, having seen this on the night shift.
At this point, the shop steward observed (so he told me later) a dawning and excruciating realisation pass across the face of his friend as he mentally counted the times he had walked up and down the steps over the last 20 years or so. The learning was painful...
There are many lessons in here for me including communication, assured systems of work, induction & training etc etc. But what I want to focus upon is the idea that learning can yield huge amounts of pain.
If we learn something new - that upsets what we thought was reliable & true - there can be pain to be experienced. I am left wondering if we sometimes know this (perhaps subconsciously) and so we avoid learning - despite all the evidence and arguments to the contrary. We resolutely hold onto the past, because even though we know that there is a better way, it would mean experiencing such excruciating pain, that we would rather live in ignorance.
What do you think?
Letting go of old ideas & practises can be very, very difficult.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Trees and organisational structure

Some trees look perfectly formed from a distance and close up. Many others though are random networks of twigs and branches. But the messy ones seem to survive as well as the symmetrical ones.

I wonder whether leaders can put too much effort into designing elegant and ‘symmetrical’ organisational structures, believing that strength will come from this order. Perhaps we should allow the innate strength of the twigs, the branches and indeed the ‘idea’ of the tree be what holds everything together?

If your organisational structure was a tree – what kind of tree would it be?

How flexible is the structure?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Building successful public service mergers – the organisational development implications

Some key questions to consider for those managing the change
  1. Who are the key stakeholders – groups and individuals – and what is their position and power over the merger process?
  2. How much spare capacity is there to manage the change process and how can I/we harness it well in pursuit of a successful merger?
  3. What is my/our vision of the new organisation and what will I have to do to make it a collective vision that will help to guide all merger efforts and the new organisation once it exists?
  4. What are the pressures for merger and how might these helpfully or adversely affect the merger process?
  5. What are my/our actionable next steps – over the next month / next six months / next 18 months?
  6. What principles will need to underpin the design of the management and decision making structures in the new organisation – and how do these principles differ from the component existing organisations?
  7. Of the various organisations coming together – what do they think of themselves and what do they think of the others?
  8. What elements of the component organisational cultures will need to form part of the new organisation, which elements will have to go and what new elements of culture are needed – how will this cultural transformation be managed?
  9. What are likely to be the emotional implications for the stakeholders (internal and external) involved in the process of change – how will these need to be understood and managed?
  10. How is the strategic context of the new organisation likely to change in the future – what will I/we need to do to ensure the new organisation is future proofed?
  11. How will I/we need to manage information and knowledge in the transition?
  12. What do I/we need to do to ensure that any transitional management / project teams remain in touch with the wider organisation(s) and avoid becoming insular and disconnected?
  13. What HR functions need to be done especially well (and what do I/we need to do to make this happen) to ensure that morale and performance do not dip and that we keep the best people during the process of transition?
  14. How will I/we engage and communicate with stakeholders (internal and external) in the transitional process to ensure that we have sufficient levels of awareness, understanding, involvement and commitment to build a new organisation successfully?
  15. How will I/we create sufficient discomfort with the current range of organisations so as to encourage people to commit to the new organisation without going so far as to suggest any criticism of past deeds and achievements?
  16. How will I/we make it safe to change so that people will not fear losing face by engaging in new ways of doing things in the new organisation?
  17. What aspects of the existing organisations such as various financial, planning, IT & HR systems, traditional ways of doing things such as promoting managers, making decisions and engaging with governance structures might work against the process of change? How will these be neutralised or overcome?
  18. What might I/we do to ensure that natural links and new networks begin to form between members of the component organisations?
  19. What should be the overall strategy with people who resist the change and look for ways to keep the organisations separate or remain inappropriately or ineffectively loyal to the previous organisations?
  20. How will I/we value, thank and recognise the efforts put in by people to create the new organisation?
  21. What do we need in the way of external communication – what image and information do we want to project to the external world?
  22. What new managerial tools, guidance and skills will be required by managers involved in the transition to make it work well?
  23. How much effort will I/we need to put in to internal communication to ensure that staff are kept sufficiently appraised of progress and successes?
  24. How will I/we measure and evaluate the transition progress and what systems of feedback do we need to ensure we keep heading in the right direction?
  25. How will I/we make the transitional process a learning process?
  26. How will we symbolise the new organisation and change towards it? – what totems need to be knocked down and what totems need to be constructed?
  27. What words and concepts do I/we want the new organisation to use?
INQUIRY: Are you from Vienna? This particular blog posting has been looked at every couple of days over the last few months by someone from Vienna. May I ask why? I am intrigued. Please email me... Thanks.