Category Archives: Organisations

Audit, Inspection and Scrutiny: the three ugly sisters?

This popped into my inbox today:

“The need to drive up the quality of care for patients, whilst delivering efficiency and productivity, is a key principle for the NHS. As pressure on NHS finances continues to build, UKAS accreditation is increasingly being used as an effective way for purchasers and commissioners to demonstrate that they can achieve ‘more for less’.”

I felt a stirring of irritation. This blog is the result……….

I know organisations have to behave commercially and tick boxes in order to thrive. I spend part of my working life encouraging and supporting charities and NFPs to do exactly that, but without losing their heart and soul to it. It is possible. But as an old nurse (registered about a century ago) and vehement supporter of the NHS original principles of free at the point of need and paid for by the entire community I am increasingly dismayed by the passionless, sterile performance of the people tasked with – and paid handsomely for – managing “public” health services. I have seen patients become the enemy, clinical standards side-lined in favour of improvement on the balance sheet, kindness become irrelevant, and buzzwords and trends take the place of clinical and compassionate behaviour. Health and social services are scrutinised, inspected, audited, governed, examined, professionalised more than ever before and we still have Winterbourne, elder abuse, Southern Health (pauses to spit), frequent reports of casual abuse and cruelty (that we know of), and we will all know those “care” homes with a good CQC rating which pong and employ people you would not want to sit next to on the bus. We will all know of supported living services that are little more than one person institutions with little or no meaningful activity and engagement – or to put it another way, that warehouse people in units of one, creating the illusion of choice and a Life but deliver isolation and fear. We have seen Southern Health reduce victims and loving families to statistics and irrelevancies, destroying people in order to prop up a system that sucks and protect the very people who allowed and encouraged the system that killed people and fixed the blame on others, with lies, obfuscation and bluster.

Some inspection agencies, several tiers of consultancy and management and many more are too often yet another layer of “approval” or box ticking to chuck at organisations. Along with services like 111 –  a dangerous irrelevance that often removes much needed funding from frontline services for the return of reduced standards and increased risk –  they also create a cash cow for canny providers without delivering any improvement in clinical outcomes, or supporting real people with the very real challenges of everyday ill health. We seem to simply carry on increasing layers of approval, fresh hoops to leap through (some with fire) rather than examine very basic factors. Often the people creating those hoops are not clinical and have little understanding of how  things actually work in the real world. I keep hearing that we need more funding for this that and the other – I keep seeing a variety of groups being blamed for an ever increasing number of failures and deficits: currently GPs are getting a hammering despite being possibly the last group of professionals who should be blamed and who, along with dedicated skilled nurses have kept things going against the odds. Commissioning services is clunky, inappropriately targeted, poorly contracted and badly managed, which is a criticism of the process –  again often created by people who do not understand the real workings – and not the people who have to work with it. The competition itself reduces the capacity to develop and really grow health and social care support services because contracts are not only badly drawn and managed but are up for renewal so frequently it is impossible to invest in services and also make that holy grail of profit. Profit is not going to be the first thing to go.

I firmly believe in a skilled and educated workforce well managed and led and supported with career choices and pathways. I also firmly believe in holding organisations and individuals to account. I believe those can be delivered without the huge self-propagating self- perpetuating roundabout of new mandatory qualifications and accreditations, incompetent inspections, and without the workshops, consultancies, projects, papers, enquiries, processes, requirements and bottom feeding organisations that have sprung up around services that are actually intended to protect, care for and nurture us.

There comes a time when the volcano erupts, the boil is lanced, the pus drains and healing can take place. We need to recognise that the privatisation experiment which was trumpeted as the way to increase choice and competition which were equally being promoted as in our interests – I am pausing for the laugh here –  is a failure, delivering little more than profits for largely incompetent organisations and draining the body of the NHS of resources and talent. Choice is not what sick people want, overall – they want skilled professional care, close to home, delivered kindly by people they trust and with their involvement in the process. And answers if something goes wrong, with a meaningful apology attached. Dividing professionals and organisations with “competition”, asking for innovation when compassion is good enough, blaming good people for systemic failures and expecting mountains of assessments, graphs, justifications, and hounding good people for honest mistakes does not result in decent health and social support.

Have a look at this: Laugh and then weep.

Brexit. Trump. Strictly. No, don’t click me away! Bear with.

Cards on the table, I don’t much like the tellybox. I watch, occasionally, stuff like Railway Journeys with Portillo, or that wonderful Canal programme with Timothy and Prue, but on the whole most of it passes me by. Most of what I do see is caught accidentally when the rest of the family are watching and I stumble into the room on my way somewhere else. However, I have become surprisingly interested in Strictly Come Dancing this last couple of series – maybe it’s because I remember watching the original all those years ago, usually with an altered state of mind which helped.

Bear with…….

This year has been in interesting year for anyone with half an eye on politics. We have, allegedly, seen a rise in the proletariat offering a bit of a slap to the people who have seeped and dribbled into offices of power and decided they know best. Not only that they know best but that the proles know nothing and need to be kept in their place. Our place. To that end, arguably, Education and Health, and to a large extent the Criminal Justice System and Housing, have been morphing in recent decades, leaving behind much of the social construct and responsibility that most of us value and developing a profit motive that no longer has to try to hide. Priorities in socially important organisations changed of necessity – it was do or die –  and in part that has been supported passively by people still believing that someone with a lot of money and a private education knows better than them. Pair that with the desperate need of many to simply keep body and soul together leaving little time to be involved in much else and a consistent lowering of expectations and we have a perfect storm of passivity and fatigue that allows people who do have the time and money (and the networks developed at school and Uni and by family connections) to buy a pathway into power. I mention no names…….

And then came 2016. Hands up who approached 2016 thinking “Thank Goodness 2015 is over, what a year, it can only get better”…..? Yes, well that went well, didn’t it? Apart from lots of lovely people dying who had created my history and the musical and artistic backdrop to my youth, we also had Brexit and Trump. Divisions created deliberately by the powerful to conquer the masses led to the very public murder of one woman, an increase in the confidence of people with shameful attitudes, a legitimising of all kinds of isms from ageism (the older generation have spoiled things for the young/the young don’t understand the issues) through racism (go back to where you came from/who will you blow up next) and a general atmosphere of mistrust and hatred. Conversation was replaced by brick throwing and chanting, voting was seen as an act of defiance rather than an inalienable right and duty and more people voted for Brexit than at any General Election for years. Public dissatisfaction with politicians who fiddle expenses and despise their electorate was having some practical results. Trump had already hopped onto the bandwagon and shamelessly – alongside some of his opponents and supporters – traded insults and lies rather than debate and detail, whipping up his gang to hatred of others, violence, intolerance and a lack of facts. Taking mansplaining to a whole new level, and behaving publicly in a way that many parents would justifiably have slapped their children for, he set new and deeply unattractive guidelines for public debate and demeanour. In both of these events we witnessed the powerless grasping onto something over which they believed they had some control, a new experience for many. In reality the power and control remained exactly where they already were but the illusion of influence was conferred, more expertly in some areas than in others. That precious vote, hard won by ordinary people over the years, wrestled from the wealthy and powerful and certainly not given freely by them, was being manipulated to support the very people who stood to gain most. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is politics in the 21st Century. Ordinary people are encouraged to think they have had enough of the elite – by some of the elite – in order to get them to vote for the elite.

But something did happen. The idea of sticking it to the elite has taken hold. The concept that perhaps people can make choices, sometimes dangerous or wrong choices, and define their own reality and outcomes and live with the consequences is becoming clearer. And so we arrive at Strictly. I told you to bear with. Ed Balls joined the Strictly dancers and immediately gained the publics support for dancing badly, but with charm and warmth. The pubic enjoyed his efforts and his ineptitude, his determination to do his best and move forward – they liked it much better than some of the other dancers who danced better but were less appealingly human and had less distance to go to dance well. Someone who until recently appeared as part of the elite was shown to be Like Us. Not only Like Us, but likeable and funny. He charmed. The judges were ghastly to Ed and that just increased his popularity – they gurned when he danced, were outright discourteous, were way less encouraging to him than the other “better” dancers and generally behaved like, well, like the elite. Clearly they are the experts, clearly they are dancers, but their unpleasant behaviour rendered that immaterial – we liked Ed because he wasn’t an expert and wasn’t elite. We didn’t like the judges being smug and telling us what to like and what not to like. We Brexited them. We Trumped them. We voted in droves for the Little Man. Apparently. Well, job done. Ed is rehabilitated and the People have spoken. He has worked hard and redefined his place in the public eye.

Quite a few of The Elite are chums of mine. Quite a few of The People are chums of mine. I like them all – I think there is a little bit of fabulous about everyone, without exception. Their politics are not what I admire about them – if they charm me and make me laugh, if they have a brain and a heart, are kind, and hold a conversation well that is what I admire. What they do in the ballot box is not my business. What is my business is what happens when the votes are counted and policy decisions are being made. As someone who has worked for years in health, justice and social care and across all the sectors, and as a school governor, I have seen how public policy impacts actual people. Left and Right are almost irrelevant as long as socially important organisations and services remain at the whim of people many of whom will say and do almost anything to sit in a seat of power, many of whom have no meaningful experience of the departments they lead ( I am sure you know what I mean and who I mean……), and who potentially change direction regularly every few years. When there is actually a direction to change and not just a dogma to follow.  While we have no available Intensive Care beds for children anywhere in the country, while nearly 9,000 people slept on the streets in London alone in 2015/16 – and that is only the recorded figure – and 57,750 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ in the same year, a six percent rise on the previous year, while mental health services are randomly delivered and under-funded and a false economy as so many people bounce around the expensive system, while almost as many people leave prison unable to read as entered it (this is changing, thank goodness, thanks to some fabbo people, but so slowly), while people with a criminal record are routinely excluded from jobs and housing denying them the opportunity to desist, while all of these things and more are happening Left and Right can argue until blue/red/green/yellow/purple in the face but it will remain a disgrace and the responsibility of all of them. And all of us.

There are some properly decent people in and around government and in and around some of the organisations that develop and deliver services, people who actually want to make a difference and not a fortune. I insist on feeling hopeful that the vote for Brexit – and Strictly – is an indication of the start of increased popular involvement in government. Whether or not I agree with outcomes upon which people vote does not matter – it is up to me to make a case for my view and debate properly. If votes go a different way to the one I would like I still rejoice that democracy has taken place. We have become a tad complacent in recent years, the freedoms and opportunities that have taken so long and so much painful sacrifice to attain are at risk. That complacency has allowed bad practices to slip under the wire – without some darn good journalism the expenses scandals would have remained unknown, for example, or at the least unremarked. Our inexplicable faith in people in positions of power, supported by the anaesthesia of media dependence, has let us take our collective eyes off the collective ball. My optimism tells me that people are perhaps willing to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the things that will affect their lives and less tribal in their allegiances. Brexit and Strictly both cut across most demographics…….

So, vote for Strictly! Vote in your local and general elections! Talk to your MP, find out what she or he actually thinks and don’t take it on face value – challenge, probe, question, scrutinise. And crucially, tell her or him what you think and what you expect of them. Own outcomes. Learn to Salsa and wear some fancy clothes. Dance and vote like no-one is watching.  And remember that T Blair is creating a global organisation to combat populism  – that’s you and me – and promote globalism – the thing that fills his pockets. We must be becoming dangerous……….

Look at me

I saw a few posts on social media this week about people who ignore their children in order to check their phones and messages…..you know the sort of thing, a picture of a fed up child and a parent staring at a screen. In my study (I am on the fourth floor and commonly known as the Mad Woman In The Attic, not without some justification) I watch parents taking their children to school and some parents even have earphones in – blocking out not only the wonderful sounds of the morning, birdsong and breezes, but also their children, who stump along next to them glumly, often trotting to keep up as the uncomprehending parent  marches ahead in order to get that task out of the way and get on to other important things such as staring at a screen and drinking coffee. It makes me feel sad…..

It also makes me angry that we are still at this point in our evolution. For the past thirty-plus years I have been attempting to inject humanity into health and social services on different levels, since the horror of student nursing (about a hundred and fifty years ago….)  when, on my first mental health ward for elders (the clue was in the shorthand title: PsychoGerries) I trotted along for my first day to discover a shabby-coated and smoking staff nurse standing – slouching – in the centre of a semi circle of commodes on each of which there was a naked elder. Both men and women were lined up together for ritual and casual humiliation. After a brief pause to get my breath as I stared at him I sent him home (well, there were a few well chosen and short words as well) and along with some chums set about restoring a little dignity. At every stage, for years, I have seen that same ritual and casual disrespect and humiliation handed out to all and any people using services by people who, if you met them elsewhere would probably seem like decent human beings. From elders having crap food shovelled into their mouths by smoking and grubby “carers” to people with learning disabilities ignored and belittled for being who they are, not even allowed to choose their own bedtime, their own food, the people with whom they will spend their days – their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some brilliant support people, some fabulous organisations who strive to be good, to deliver humanity in their services and campaign for change. I know, and have worked with, many fab people who actually care and understand what that means (ie that it isn’t just about smiling a lot and nodding, but it is about taking risks, liking and respecting the people around you and understanding that each of us is individual – and encouraging that). But in the grand scheme of things these people are too few, and the others are tolerated because of where we are in our evolution. Which takes me back to where I started.

Being with people – supporting people, caring, whatever word you use, and the words matter because you will behave in a way that the words expect – IS the point. The things we do, taking children to school, supporting someone to eat, going to a gig with someone, supporting someone to put their clothes on, shopping with someone, they are all component parts, each as important as the other, as important in how we do them as well as that we do them at all. Those grubby “carers” shovelling food into someones mouth are indeed performing the task in their job description but their main task – of being with someone and having that relationship with someones humanity, their person-ness – has been lost. How much more time and effort would it cost to look at the person in front of them and see their person-ness and be kind? But that kindness is by and large not factored into how we commission, deliver, train for, reward and recruit to support services. Our task oriented focus takes us from task to task, KPI to KPI, box to box and target to target. When was the last time you saw the word “kind” in a job description……?

I remember – and I wish I could forget – watching a “carer” stand up, walk over to an elderly woman with dementia, and without a word roughly haul her up and out of her chair because it was “toileting time”. I sent a nurse home one night years ago because as we were nursing a comatose dying woman in her bed the other nurse leant over her – right over her – and said quite audibly to me “I don’t know why we are doing this she will be dead by the morning.” Casual cruelty, thoughtless indignity, the view of people as lumps of meat to whom we have to do things in order to earn a pay packet. Hauling ourselves and the people we support from task to task as quickly as possible…..for what? That task is a means to an end, a conduit through which we can nourish and nurture the relationship – it is the means, not the end.

It is that corporate and individual refusal to see people as human, as individuals, that allows learning disabled people to die in hospitals they should never have been in far away from the people who love them and allows the people who allow it to happen to bear no meaningful consequences.  It allows elders to be warehoused in buildings from which they will never leave until they die, who will never again feel the breeze on their faces, hear the birdsong or the sea, have someone look them in the face and hear what they are saying, be useful, be heard. Be a person. Have fun. If we are not having a little fun along the way what is the point?

Please take some time to look at the links here. Stay Up Late is a brilliant grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives. That it is needed at all is telling.

The more difficult read is the piece about assessment and treatment centres. Read it and weep. And then sign up to the 7 days of action. Please

And please read about Connor Sparrowhawk and his phenomenal circle of support. Even after his avoidable death the people responsible have had little or no consequences, even after compounding the pain by denying wrongdoing, doing a bang up job of saving their own skins, and reducing the humanity of everyone involved. Shameful. Painful. And his Mother has responded with dignity and energy – I listened to her on the radio a few months ago while I was driving and I had to pull over and stop because I was weeping too much to continue driving.

Home

https://theatuscandal.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/natural-causes/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/clare-sambrook/on-connor-sparrowhawk-s-avoidable-death

The “care” industry is regulated more now than it has ever been – there are audits, documents, inspections, investigations, inspectors, investigators, commissions, boxes to tick, all manner of things supposed to keep us safe. And yet the abuse is still there, as open and filthy as ever. Safety is not guaranteed – and anyway, is safety the most important thing in life? Isn’t fun –  and autonomy, and independence, and risk, and loving and laughing, making mistakes, and pain and heartbreak  – as important? Aren’t those things the things that make us human? Those safeguards will never take the place of kindness and humanity, of seeing the person in front of us and respecting them just for being themselves. Let’s try that – and owning it when we get it wrong – for a while and see what happens………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A criminal waste, a disabled society. Unlock Your Future.

Easter is a time for reflection. I have been reflecting on the many people it has been my privilege to meet over the years. Many of the people I have worked with are people that the Jesus that I like to imagine would recognize: vulnerable, damaged, disenfranchised, hostile, broken, pathetic, lost, abused. I like them.

Disability is a strange concept, and many of the people with disabilities who I know would strongly suggest that it is not them with the disability but society, culture, which is disabled or which provides the disability. We build streets fit for the able bodied, buildings that exclude all but the well and the fit, work that suits only the driven and the straight and “normal”.  We see “work” as a means for economic growth and acquisition, and ignore the very real other benefits work can bring such as purpose, esteem, quality of life, respect. We patronise the successful disabled and express astonishment at their success. We create targets and drivers that take no account of alternative talents and aspirations, that fail to value otherness, indeed in a tabloid sense disability is so often viewed simply as a problem, a drain, a fiscal error.

If you look for the word “disability” online these are some of the words you get:

handicapafflictiondisorderdefectimpairment, disablement, infirmity  incapacityweaknessinability • Disability can make extra demands on financial resources.

Transfer those words to our environment and see what happens. Our shops have defects and will not allow wheelchairs in, our streets are afflicted with high kerbs and a lack of ramps, many work environments lack the capacity to value a range of people and talents and are, as a result, weak and impaired. Recruitment is afflicted by a set of rules and processes that despite legislation and encouragement still often excludes too many and that handicaps the workforce.

I would go further and suggest that people with a criminal history have been handicapped or disabled by society. Their forensic history effectively cripples their employment potential and afflicts their family life. If we suppose that it is indeed society and our culture that creates disability, in effect cripples its citizens, it follows that society can redress that. Some legislation attempts to do that by supporting “equal opportunities”, but equal ops can only happen if we view all candidates with an equal eye and the work environment is capable of accepting all candidates equally.

If you look for the word “criminal” online these are some of the words you get:

unlawfulillicitlawlesswrongillegalcorruptcrookedviciousimmoralwicked, culpable, disgracefulridiculousfoolishsenselessscandalouspreposterousdeplorable

I notice that none of those characteristics is irreversible. They are a description of how it is at the moment, not how it will be in the future. If we continue to exclude people from employment, to ignore the many benefits a varied and experienced workforce can bring, to expect jobless hopeless futureless people to suddenly somehow behave like employed, hopeful people with aspirations on release from prison, we set ourselves up to fail, and we fail our communities.

I don’t suggest for a moment that we employ anyone and everyone into any vacancy without safeguards and safety nets. I don’t do soft and fluffy. I do however suggest that we create those safeguards and safety nets and take the trouble to include the excluded and create a properly integrated and cohered environment in which everyone is valued, has the space to grow, and has their aspirations valued. Not because it is soft and fluffy, but because it reduces the risks of offending, of disaffection, and increases the chances of people buying into their communities and making the effort to support their futures and crucially it means we reduce the risk of missing out on some serious talent. Back in the day when social and health care services were even more rigid in their outlook than they are now, I employed an ex-offender who had done time for murder. I employed him in elder care. This was not universally welcomed…….But I ran the checks, created the risk assessment, spoke to the people I needed to speak to and importantly offered him a mentor and some effective support to re-adjust. It was a success.

No-one would suggest  there is an easy answer or that it is a simple matter. But that is not a good enough reason not to try.

No Offence CiC is a social enterprise  and I am lucky enough to be on the Board. We are not driven by private profit and we facilitate open access to crime and justice information. By challenging barriers to positive change and influencing future policy, our objective is simple: to make a difference. My own organisation, Mayall Management Ltd, is proud to support the Unlock Your Future project that No Offence is driving.

http://www.no-offence.org/

Unlock your Future

‘Breaking down barriers to employment for people with convictions’

This project will focus on identifying and breaking down the barriers to employment for people with convictions, to bring employers and employees together.

A simple key discreetly placed on a job advert will indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit and not their past.

Many employers have a skills shortage and would benefit from an increased pool of suitable candidates from which to recruit.

Unfilled vacancies can have an economic impact on any business and increase pressure on other employees attempting to make up the resourcing short fall.

We need a network of champions to raise awareness of this project and support employers to use the key either on their own website and/or on our jobs board and spread the word to those people looking for a job and also recruit other champions. Could you help us?

Employment provides us with a significant opportunity to break the cycle of reoffending. If you are an employer please join our network and we will send you the key to use free of charge.

http://www.no-offence.org/static-page/unlock-your-future/

 

Food Glorious Food?

Sharing meals allows us to come together and spend quality time with each other. It increases communication and understanding.  How many of us had our first experience of another culture through food? And coming together to prepare and eat food is part of many rituals and traditions. Food plays a big part in faith and in worship. When one shares in the Eucharist, it is said to be a  sharing of Christ’s body and blood, and worshippers are reminded of their responsibility to share all our meals with others. As St John Chrysostom once said, “You have tasted the blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognise your brother…You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.” Most faiths and religions have food rituals, most cultures have food rituals and norms. Food is significant. Food rituals – cutlery or lack of, how the food is produced (is it Halal? Organic? Vegan? Kosher?), how it is presented, how it is eaten – matter deeply to us all. The only people for whom those things no longer matter are the hungry, and even then I have known seriously hungry people refuse non-kosher or non-vegan food. So it is quite simply that important.

So…..

How many times recently have we heard about nurses now being expected to “feed and wash” patients for a year before they train? How many times do support workers and health professionals refer to “feeding” their patients or clients? The act of eating is reduced, for some, to the passive “feeding” offered by “carers”. It is reduced, for the care-givers, to a task to be got out of the way before the serious business of training, the important job of “nursing”, can be carried out. This simple attitude reduces human and humane care giving to the status of animal welfare. Now, let us acknowledge that there are similarities between the two, and animal welfare is very important. But in offering to care for and support other human beings we need to respect and acknowledge their humanity, and one of the few things that identifies humans as distinct from other animals is the development of specific and identifiable social rituals, especially around food, and the food rituals often define what we are as people: they indicate and specify how we live, what we believe, what matters to us.

The attitude that accepts us saying we are going to “feed” people when what we should  mean is that we are going to help them to eat or support them to eat is the same attitude that allows nurses and care givers to say things like “I have done Mrs Brown” when they mean they have helped or supported Mrs Brown to wash, or dress, or change her colostomy bag, or any of the other deeply personal, uncomfortable and intimate things carers do for us.  Those words, casually used and casually accepted, reduce our collective humanity, remove our independence. They remove the respect for our humanity that we properly expect our nurses and carers to demonstrate. They allow the casual neglect – and even the active cruelty – that we have seen in Winterbourne and at Stafford, and the many other places that have not yet hit the headlines. How can we pretend to be surprised by those events when we use the words that support the attitude of neglect and cruelty?

The words we use define how we behave, demonstrate how we think.  Let us challenge the use of words that encourage patient-passivity such as “feeding”, let us encourage the words that support active care such as “supporting, or assisting, to eat”. The former gives us a picture of food being shovelled into a patients mouth as a “carers” task, the latter gives us a picture of  someone in control of their food, being helped to perform their own task.  Notice the difference between “bathing” someone and “helping someone to bathe”.

When we become vulnerable through age, illness, disability or other reasons we often lose the option of privacy or dignity only because of the attitudes of the people tasked with supporting and assisting us. There are many discussions about why care can be poor, and often the poor wages are cited. And that is a factor – pay peanuts and you get chimps, and low wages do not reflect the importance of the job – but there is never, at any price, wage or  reward any excuse for reducing another persons humanity, for dragging away another human beings respect and trampling on their dignity. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and we should expect people recruited to care and support to behave properly – but the modelling of those good behaviours will flow from the leadership. If the people leading the services and the organisations do not demonstrate the crucial behaviours that indicate respect, humanity and the support of autonomy and independence for all then the people following those leaders will have no incentive to do so.

If you offer someone care and support, please, feed your dog but support your patient to eat.

Christmas inc

Around this time of the year I start to think about Santa Claus. Nothing unusual about that, I guess.  Nice senior guy, dressed for the part, managing his resources, sorting out his PR…….

Yes, being me I inevitably start dwelling on Father Christmas’ exceptional management skills……..

Mr Claus runs a vast empire, employing many (small) people, manufacturing, packaging and delivering an enormous quantity of goods, all done with a personal touch and in a timely and unique way with a really effective PR to back it up.

  • The goods are tailored specifically to each customer because he has taken the trouble to ask them what they want, remembers what they have had, and has kept an eye on their developments over the past year, even asking their bosses about their behaviours and trends.
  • He makes sure that his little customers know he is keeping an eye, and always asks for written requests where possible so that they have to think about it and write to him personally, so they remember him.
  • He has a very special and unique memorable image
  • Other organisations buy into his image because it also reflects well on them – this gives him even more publicity and opens up interactive relationships
  • Those little customers will continue to buy into him even when they are much much older, because his image and the warmth associated with him lingers on and is stimulated over and over again by the images he posts and the warmth he emanates, and the use of his image by those other organisations.
  • His enthusiasm and good natured chivvying keeps his army of employees motivated and busy
  • His reminders to them of the consequences of their activity keeps them focussed – how could they resist his smiling descriptions of the customers happy young faces when they open the goods?
  • And the need to get the job done on time is always clear, with the date writ large in their minds, and those of their little customers, so there is no confusion or debate about the timeline.
  • His descriptions of the consequences of NOT getting the job done are equally motivating……….those poor little disappointed faces…….
  • He ensures plenty of exercise and good hearty food for his workforce to keep up their energy and spirits
  • He make sure everyone knows what their own special job is, and that it is indeed special
  • He makes sure the Reindeer are well fed and happy
  • He takes a personal interest in the progress of the work, the arrangements for packaging and
  • Personally delivers every single one of the goods himself.
  • He also makes sure that his customers know he has visited and delivered personally by using specific feedback tools – in our house he always eats the carrot and drinks the whisky so we know it was him, because that was what he asked for.
  • He is the one that will be blamed and carry the can if anything goes wrong because he is the visible face – he “owns” the outcomes.
  • AND – his appearance always heralds a celebration and some good feelings for his customers.

In short, he has promoted himself and his organisation throughout the year with images and emotions that people will enjoy and remember; he has connected with his customers personally and uniquely; he reminds them that he knows them and cares about them; he looks after his workforce and motivates them with positive images but also makes sure they understand what they are doing and why and what will happen if they don’t complete; there is a clear timeline and action plan; he makes sure his workforce know that what they do matters; he lets his customers know about his personal interest in a fun and memorable way. And we all associate him and his organisation with fun and pleasure!!

I guess we could all use a little Father Christmas management style from time to time.

One last thing: if he is the Boss, he must sometimes have to do some of those things that make us mortals less popular, like sacking people, disciplining people, correcting work. But we never see that – it is done somewhere else out of sight, without showing people up, and without bringing down the mood of the workforce. There is a lesson there for some of us…………

Happy Christmas!!!

Similar but Different

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. George S. Patton

I was just pondering about my last post about birds and swooping and teams and flight and so many things, prompted by a glance out at the birds in the snow! One of the great things about those flocks of birds is that they appear the same on first glance, but they really aren’t. Look at the pigeons, for example,  in your local town – pigeons: birds, lots of them, wings, legs, feathers, tiny bright eyes and puffy chests. But all different. And all after your sandwiches if you eat in the Square…….

I have experienced the most joyful and gripping team meetings in recent months in one workplace, with a team made up of inexperience, experience, energy, calm, noise and quiet, naivety and worldliness, enthusiasm and doggedness. These meetings have become longer to accommodate more happening, and the danger was always that they would dry up. No fear!!! The sheer vibrancy created by the wonderful mix of talents and experiences in the group has seen to that. It makes me value all over again the diversity we have to draw on – like those lovely birds swooping and diving together. I can’t help reflecting again that  the values and principles we use to improve our services and our lives are not unique – they have their roots in human nature and natural science – not rocket science. There is very little in our lives that will not be improved with reference to nature, and that doesn’t exclude our professional lives. In this group it is their enthusiasm and adaptability, among other things, that has led to a massive upward swing in performance and outcomes, reputation and credibility. And that didn’t happen by accident – it is the result of people working together as one cohesive group respecting each others very different talents and characters – like the birds. Like any great group.

George S Patton had it about right: it’s when we all seem to think the same that we should worry – that level of cohesion spells trouble and stagnation! Glorious diversity is what makes us great.

Like a flock of birds………

Caught in a traffic jam in Essex I watched the shifting, stunning sky made up of the most beautiful majestic purples, pinks, lilacs and golds. The light was drifting away from Dover, my goal, and I hoped to escape. The birds were swooping and dipping, scooping up great patches of the purple and settling like disturbed dust on some of the flat, fat fields. I watched them – it gradually occurred to me that they were like a team of people I know: they were moving together, making the same sort of gestures, there was a degree of flapping, some swooping, a bit of squawking, and I saw a few arguments taking place often settled by some wing-play and a bit of noise but with a good heart and with the best interests of the group in the frame.

They had a lot of different but similar ways of getting where they were going, but they shared the goal, the aim and the destination. They had a leader, but the leader changed depending on which direction they took; they flapped their wings but in different beats and in different places in the group, and that rhythm also changed; they made different shapes and different sounds, but stayed together as an identifiable entity with shared characteristics; the ones at the front never flew too far ahead of the ones behind so no-one ever got lost, but they kept up the pace and kept the group moving forwards, together, showing the way; the ones at the back were clearly making the effort to keep up, and when the direction changed they followed it as swiftly as the faster ones and kept the shape of the group even when that shape changed.

Those birds, in their flock, were together and separate, driven by shared expectations and needs, with shared but various talents and gifts. They made beautiful and recognisable shapes in the sky, and those shapes kept changing to accommodate the changing directions. If one of them left there would be a gap, but another bird would soon move over and maintain the shape and direction with a different rhythm and a new outlook.

I watched those birds with respect and awe. I learned a lot from them as well as enjoying their beauty and grace. By the time I reached the Dartford Crossing (pauses to spit) I realised that the values and principles we use to improve our services and our lives are not unique – they have their roots in human nature and natural science – not rocket science. The co-operation and warmth I see in the team I know are vital assets and attributes essential to the wellbeing and development of the individuals, the team, and the services we deliver. Those individuals are brilliant – as a team they are awesome.

Being a good boss, being a good team member

Good Bosses are Good Leaders, and they all have three things in common: they all care about their team, they all care about quality, and they all care about their customers/punters/people using their services or products. Because of those three things they all also provide three things in common: Vision, Systems, and Cherishing. I will explain!

A Good Boss has the bigger picture at the front of her mind. She thinks, listens, plans, analyses, and brings the parts into the whole. This isn’t simple: it takes time, skill, the ability to see past the stats to the reality, and to see how that reality impacts on the Big Plan and the direction the team needs to take to make sure the Big Plan happens, and indeed what the Big Plan needs to be. It means factoring in the even bigger picture, political, economic, and social; factoring in the individual talents of the team so that they work to the benefit of the whole and she provides opportunities for people to develop the skills they have and grow skills they didn’t know they had. She takes the rap and acknowledges that The Buck Stops Here. She keeps her head slightly above the other heads in the team so that she can see further ahead and spot the icebergs.

A Good Boss makes sure that, once the direction is set, as above, the pathways are clear. This involves putting systems into place, the pathways that make sure stuff happens at the right time, in the right way, and that it can be demonstrated, monitored and maintained . She doesn’t have to service the systems, she just needs to make sure the right systems are in  place and people know how to use them. The systems should free her up to do the other things a Boss needs to do. She will be making sure that Quality Happens.

A Good Boss cherishes her team. This isn’t all cuddly and fluffy, it is more about motivating and developing people, maximising their abilities and making sure that even their hidden talents are revealed and developed and that they know that their talents and qualities are valued and appreciated . This can mean all kinds of things from coaching individually, developing team events and forums, increasing peoples responsibilities to encourage their growth and confidence, devolving projects to people, maybe just talking and listening and being credible.

A Good Boss works towards being redundant: if she does all of the above the project/team/service will run itself, at least for a while. Once all the above is in place and working properly a Boss could take a few weeks off, could run another project, without her absence being noticed. After a few weeks her vision and clarity might be needed again to re-set the process, but it should maintain itself  for a short period just on its own momentum.

A Good Team values this. There are people who think, because a Boss doesn’t and shouldn’t have to dash about Doing Stuff because she is is internally busy thinking stuff, understanding stuff and planning stuff, she isn’t “doing anything”. Some team members fail to understand that that is their job, and that the Good Boss is freeing them up to do their jobs and to develop their roles. There are team members who get this and value it, and make full use of the Good Boss resource available to them, and they may get to develop themselves into Good Bosses eventually. And enjoy the journey on the way!!

A Good Team works hard at being a Good Team, uses the Good Team muscles that the Good Boss has enabled them to exercise and bulk up and a Good Team  practices and rehearses the ballet that a Good Team performs in order to work together.  But as with all ballet performances, just one shabby dancer can cause chaos. More than one means the dance is chaotic, not a dance, more of a shambles. All the performers need to be able to rely on all the others to play their own parts and all parts might be different, to be in the right place at the right time, move in the right way, and catch the others when they leap or fall. A Good Team identifies the vulnerable spots, the members who are for one reason or another not playing their parts well enough, and the Good Team and Good Boss work together to help that member re-learn their moves. That can only happen when the dancer is willing to learn, willing to rehearse and practice and understand which bits of her dance were not working and trust her colleagues to support her and be honest enough to tell her what she needs to do. The Good Team with a Bad Dancer is a temporarily Less Good Team! But because it is fundamentally a Good Team it has the capacity to carry the weak dancer while she learns the moves.  The weak dancer is not always the same person – the Team is made up of individuals, all of whom have A Life and all of whom will function at different levels at different times. Just because a dancer sprains an ankle and is the weak partner for a while doesn’t mean that dancer is always going to be the weak link – the sprain heals, the dancer re-learns the steps, and the dance goes on. The team bends and shifts and adapts to accommodate that and the boss respects it.

A Good Boss deserves a Good Team, and a Good Team inevitably has a Good Boss. What sort of team do you belong to? How can you improve it? Are you the Weakest Link………? Are your colleagues up to the job of carrying you for a while, and are you up to the job of re-learning your steps? And will your boss take the risk of allowing that to happen?

Message me, email me, and let me know about your team and your boss!!

What we can learn from Cats………

I stood on my cat this morning. Not as a hobby or for fun, you understand, it wasn’t on my To Do list (…brush teeth, make toast, stand on cat…), but because my cat had for some feline reason decided to sleep on the pedestal mat in my bathroom, for the first time ever, and it is dark when I get up. It was an interesting experience for both of us………..there was an instant in which we both held our breath and our silence before the joint yelling and the tearing sounds (that would have been my flesh being scythed out of the way so that the cat could leave the bathroom) woke the people sleeping in the country adjacent to ours.

Cats have much to teach us, especially about managing. Have you tried to manage a cat? Managing dogs, piece of cake. You can make entire teams of dogs pull sleds and beg for food. You can’t make a cat walk in a straight line if it chooses not to. One of my cats was in serious need of a vet – for his own good, mind you – a few years ago. To get him there we had to wrap him in a towel like a Mummy -well, two towels as he soon slashed his way partially through the fabric. The vet was a large, confident and cheerful soul with hands like shovels and I almost felt sorry for him when he told us it would be ok and just to let Thomas out of the towels, he would handle him – despite our protests.  Thomas opened a wound on the vet from ear to elbow and did a wall of death stunt around the walls of the room for at least five minutes, ears flat, eyes wide and black, before collapsing, exhausted, as indeed we all were, onto the table with a “whump” as he landed. We moved soon after that………

I have managed some fabulous people, really bright, determined, intuitive and caring people. I have also managed some horrors: lazy, shiftless, unpleasant  and lacking in the basics such as courtesy, insight  and a personality. Some people are, despite all the management skills and techniques in the world, impossible to manage unless it is to manage them out. One of the greatest tricks to learn, as a manager, is to know when you are defeated. Give it your best shot, have a plan, a timescale, aims and objectives, a sunny exterior while you die inside each time this persons fizzog hoves into view, a secret desire to invite this person on a day trip to Calais and push them into the English Channel, and of course a Plan B. Plan B will usually be the pathway to waving this person goodbye, the options having been manfully and womanfully tried, but receding and failing.   It is kinder in the long run – they are clearly in the wrong job (no, it isn’t you) and a menace to the team, the organisation, and your sanity.

Good luck with managing your Horrors. Remember – execution is the last resort, getting the paperwork right is the best option.

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