Tag Archives: self justification

I write therefore I am…….


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Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

Tea – the cup that cheers….or WMD?

Ah, the whistle of the kettle, the soothing plop of milk into cup, perhaps the possibility of a nice dunking biscuit on the side. We have a wealth of paraphernalia that goes with brewing up – special pots, cups, saucers with shelves for the bickie, special spoons for precise amounts of sugar, special sugar, sugar spoons – yes, spoons made of sugar! – special biscuits made to dunk and not break off, special biscuits made to dunk and break off……..tea cosies, trivets, pot stands, kettles to boil on the hob, with a plug, over the fire, on the Aga. Northern tea is strong, Southern tea is weak. British tea is milky, Irish tea is something you can stand a spoon up in. Rooibosh or camomile? Earl Grey or Lady Grey? Breakfast or Darjeeling? Every aspect of tea making has been thought through, catered to and created.

But beneath that benign and flavoursome surface, brown and scented, there is a backstory to make the Borgias tremble.

Do you make tea in your office? Do you make tea for everyone in your office? Do you visit each office on your floor, each room in your office, each desk in each room, and ask if anyone wants a brew? Or are you selective? Do you notice who asks whom? Do you spot that Hilda in the HR department always asks the chaps in Business Development if they want a brew, but never ventures as far as Finance? Do you notice that the PA to the CEO makes his tea and tea for the Ops Director but not for the MD? Do you feel offended that Sue takes her tray around to three of the five offices but misses yours, even though you always buy her a drink at the Christmas do? Do you deliberately whip past Jacks office door with the tray so he won’t notice that you are missing him out in your disapproval of his office romance? Or do you make sure he does see you with your tray so that he clocks your disapproval? Do you preen a little when the Finance Director offers you a (rare) cup when he is trying to get a favour from your team? Do you recognise that the woman with the gammy arm never makes tea not because she hates you all, but because she can’t manage the tray, or do you hold firm to your tea-induced prejudice that tells you that anyone making, or not making, tea has an ulterior motive?

The teacup has become a Weapon of Mild Distraction in offices across the country, where staff wait, with bated breath and an offence poised to be taken, to see who pours for whom and who gets the Jaffa Cake and who gets the HobNob. And as for the cakes………..

Tea, the cup that could cheer.  I have an idea: let’s use the teacup in the friendly way it was intended – I will if you will! Pop the kettle on, rattle the tea caddy, rustle that biscuit packet, and let’s raise a cup to friendship (or if not friendship, at least human warmth and a commitment to get along  ) and promise to work together in harmony and peace.  That ritual of preparation has been developed for a reason – to allow us to connect, show affection and warmth, and keep our hands busy. Let’s get brewing! Mine’s a Rooibosh!

The Care Plan for your SOS

We have been looking in the past few blogs at organisations and how they can become sick, tired or past their sell by date. Check it out: is yours a patient? To combat Sick Organisation Syndrome takes skill, experience and chutzpah – if you have decided you, or someone you know, is qualified to revive the patient, it is time to plan ahead!

You have identified the meaning of the Organisation? You have felt its admittedly weak pulse, have found the something that causes its heart to beat, and have understood what it was that gave the reason for all those good people to join it in the first place? If you haven’t done this yet you must set about it immediately, before the patient becomes too clapped out to survive! Without finding the purpose of the organisation you have already failed. If you think the purpose of your organisation is to make money, or to provide services, you are only part way there: those may be some of the aims, but Purpose is different, Purpose is what gives warmth and humanity to an organisation regardless of size. And warmth and humanity cannot be faked or injected, they grow outwards from the people driving the organisation and depend on those qualities being in those people and ready to share. A Company can be successful in terms of P&L,  acquisition, growth, without warmth – although it is far more likely to be more successful with warmth and with empathy. But an Organisation stands or falls on its relationships, its warmth and its human face, which should never ever be confused with chumminess or clubbable relationships, or worse, dependent and sycophantic, often inbred or incestuous, relationships . And people know when it is real, especially in Health and Social Care and Support Organisations where the emotional intelligence is usually high and the Purpose more complex.

If you are in the centre of a sick organisation you may need some help to see past the infection to the healthy tissue, the Purpose. You may need some fresh eyes. However, we have all been involved in “consultations” which are paper exercises designed to push through the hidden or covert agenda – you know what I mean: those consultations run by bureaucrats or others with their own agenda already decided, rubber stamped and packaged ready to go but who have to conform to an expected or mandatory “inclusion” charade in order to move ahead. They tick the box, they do the job, but they don’t carry the people with them, and in the long term are counter productive as they serve to confirm negative views without providing evidence of positivity or genuine inclusion and run a real risk of patronising those involved. I am sure you recognise some of that if you have been around for any length of time. And what will actually, genuinely, move people forwards inside the organisation, will massage that near-dead heart and get the blood flowing again, is a genuine and warm reach out that values those participating and gives a virtual hug to everyone in the organisation. Not everyone will be first hand participants, so reaching out with that virtual hug across the groups will make that vital difference, and that can only be done if those first hand participants buy into the process and believe the deal. They won’t if the warmth is absent. The warmth will be absent if the people running the show don’t possess it.

So – if you want to get the paddles onto that heart and revive the patient you need not only skill, experience and chutzpah, but warmth and humanity as well. Add integrity and honesty and you may well have a fighting chance! Without them – there’s the door, get your coat.

Next time: what next?

The Cure…….

Ok, following the blog yesterday you have noticed your Sick Organisation Syndrome going on. You have flagged it, got a skilled medic in, decided it is worth trying to save, and are trying to  plan the treatment. What next?

Organisations – rooted. remember, in the word Organic! –  are living breathing creatures with many living and breathing creatures inside them who need them to work. Most of them will be people you care about who need their jobs, and who joined the organisation for a reason – whatever that reason was it is worth remembering that there was, at some point, a reason. We like to be proud of where we work – sure, we need the job, but layered onto that are the other reasons like pride in our achievements, status, opportunities to contribute and be valued, basking in the reflected glory of the organisations reputation, working with people who share some of our ideals, enjoying a particular style of leadership, contributing to a Greater Good. Many people working particularly in the Third Sector have chosen the sector for a mashup of those reasons, chopped up with good intentions and a desire to Do Something Worthwhile, with a side order of self interest. All of those are good motivators and salary is the icing on the cake of incentives.

Saving your organisation can mean a couple of things: stripping away the canker and curing the problem from within, or giving it to someone who can. As I noted in my last piece, the medic administering the cure will have to be someone with outstanding and muscular medical skills or someone who has nothing to lose in the trying. This means it can be someone within who understands the underlying issues and the need for prompt and fearless action, or someone from outside who does not depend on the organisation for survival. If you like, in order to keep the organisation alive you can attempt to cure it yourself or you can give it to another medical team to cure and keep.  Keeping it within means there should be a good understanding of the causes and the potential pathways up, enabling takeover means a fresh start with new injections of cash and ideas and a more objective view of the internal toxins. You pays your money………  Either way there is a need for ruthlessness and skill. Those living breathing people huddled inside the failing organisation need to know they are needed and that there is a motorway out leading towards a better future. Without someone in the driving seat who can inspire, value, encourage creativity and share vision it will continue to fail.

Your organisation, however troubled it is right now, has roots and had meaning. If you can find those roots, assert that meaning, and find the right people to treat the disease you are part way to cure and recovery. Next time we will look at the care plan and recovery programme that will follow the treatment and the cure!

Sick Organisation Syndrome…..or SOS

I have wittered on about integrity, honesty, openness and trust recently, and with good reason. Organisations operate in very specific ways: as businesses, as workplaces, and ideas-incubators and as generators, and unless they incorporate – and I use the word deliberately – all of those qualities and attributes they will inevitably develop Sick Organisation Syndrome. The signs are easy to spot: a haemorrhage of good people, lack of respect for those left behind, fear in the workplace, and lack of trust from other organisations which can lead to a reduction in the pool of potential partners as well as isolation in the sector. These signs and symptoms drip directly from the top – if the top is infected the organisation will also be infected – and other organisations fear the contagion. It is a potentially fatal disease.

The first step towards well-being and cure is for the organisation to recognise the symptoms and seek medical help! People in the workplace who are often the first to spot the signs and suffer with them will already be flagging this with their teams and their bosses. They will have seen the haemorrhaging, have heard the fall-away of other organisations (it sounds like a CLANG and there may be some swearing involved!) and will be feeling the fear. More often than not at this stage the bosses will have their fingers in their ears and be singing La La La La La to avoid facing the inevitable – and that is because at this stage some drastic medicine is probably needed. There is a risk of amputation in some areas, and certainly for some the medicine will taste very very bad. Bosses may even try to simply apply sticking plasters to the affected areas and offer placeboes in  order to put off the inevitable need to think clearly and take direct action. It is very likely that those in powerful positions will be contributing to the spread of disease and resisting the cure as they are comfortable with their own sickness and besides, they have health insurance……..

At the point at which the bottom line begins to drop noticeably and the clanging becomes too noisy to ignore the bosses will smell the infection, they will be scenting each other and identifying the source. This is not easy! The source is often a carrier without the fear of infection and hiding in plain sight, with a healthy visage and no visible signs of disease. And the carrier has often, like many bacteria, bonded invisibly to the other bosses, binding them tight with the implied promise of a better smell, a healthier outlook to match their own and a better bottom line. Difficult to resist, especially in the face of all that infection and sickness and despite the fact that the one offering the cure is in fact the source of the disease, hidden in plain sight! There is also the possibility that the carrier knows where another carrier is hiding, out of plain sight, and the risk to that alternative carrier is too high for them to chance breaking cover by exposing the source. Business can be a mucky affair.

There are now a limited group of medications available if this sickness is to be cured properly, lastingly, and with a full recovery. And it will take a person with cojones  – or nothing to lose –  to administer it. This person needs the experience to detect the disease and its source, the knowledge to understand what it needed, and the skill to administer the cure quickly. Too late and the outcome is the inevitable, but possibly prolonged and agonising, death of the organisation. Too timid and the one administering the medicine risks contagion and the same fate. Administering the cure is sometimes best done by a confident and reliable group, who can share the risks and share the fallout, diluting the risk of contagion and offering a wall of strength if the source resists. If you like, one to hold the legs, one to pin the arms down, one to cover the face to reduce the risk of droplet infection and another to jab the cure in. The source will not survive…….

If this happens and is successful, there will need to be a period of rehabilitation and recuperation, some R&R, some integrating of the organisation that remains. The gaps left by the amputated source(s) will necessitate a morphing, will change the shape of the organisation – there will be different strengths, different objectives, better appreciation of what works and what doesn’t, and a newly charged energy and direction with a leadership that is genuinely healthy and has clear vision. Those who remain standing will have a keener appreciation of what they see and will be better able to support the newly minted objectives, to support the healthy and exciting leadership on offer, and to contribute to the recovery.

Do you have a healthy and fit organisation with clear, safe, leadership, shiny objectives and a motivated and fearless workforce? If you have, cherish it and nurture it, reach out to colleagues to keep them well, keep those clearly signposted pathways of communication clear of debris and germs and safe to tread, keep the conversations going so that potential ill health is easier to identify and easier to flag.  Make sure, however well the organisation is now, that you are prepared for sickness, have a medicine cabinet stocked with remedies and a skilled medic on hand just in case.

If you suffer with SOS you have two choices: bail or find a cure. Make sure, though, that you can tell if the situation is curable before you choose an option. Are the doctors listening? Is the source too embedded to be shifted? Is the cure too late? Or is there time to get the emergency services in on time and with the right meds? If you care about the organisation, if it worth saving, get the life support machine cranked up and plugged in and try everything you can to revive it – but be prepared to switch the plug off if needed. Sometimes that is the kindest act of all.

Your Start-up – know yourself and succeed!

When we started our Company we knew it had to be based on values and principles. We are not Richard Branson and don’t want to be, although we admire him tremendously. We started our organisation because we believed in better: better quality, better services, better lives. The advice below is very pertinent for companies of all sizes, and especially for those grounded in health and social empowerment. This is the approach we took. We made deliberate decisions about the kind of work we would take, the kind of factors that would lead our decision making, and the limits we would self impose so that we could better manage our work and our priorities.

Adapted from “Four Things to Get Right When Starting a Company” by Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery: “As a start-up gets off the ground, it has a short-lived opportunity to decide how it wants to do business. With each new hire company culture becomes more entrenched and somewhere after two dozen employees, it tends to cement. Establish a set of genuine values before your start-up gets too complex. Articulate a coherent philosophy about who you are and how you will work. Also be clear about who you aren’t and what you won’t do. This will make decisions easier and ultimately improve results. Rather than analyzing each new decision afresh, you’ll have a common foundation from which to make them. If you don’t do this deliberately when your organization is young, the culture will (often rigidly) form itself.”

We knew we wanted to be small, in control, and able to choose who to support, and who to challenge. The rest takes care of itself, once you understand your own drivers and the context of your start-up.

Good Luck with your venture. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Add some integrity and stir…….

I ambled around the idea of being selfish in the last blog, mainly because I had been, and I was doing a bit of self-justification. But it set me off on a canter about integrity – I was selfish, and left a project, because I wanted to maintain my integrity. It had taken considerable reflection and planning, and was not a whim or a fancy, and I had done my best to reinvigorate the role in the first place when I realised it, or maybe I, was going off the boil,  and to put in place all I could put in place to reduce the risks of me leaving, but it was still a rigorous decision making process not without its pain. And I did my usual agonising thing about it before and after, although after was easier because the decision was made, and it was a good one. But I was leaving behind some great people and had had some real fun and achievement out of it.

So…….integrity. What is it? And why is it powerful enough to make me lose sleep?!

“Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.  The state of being wholesome; unimpaired.  The quality or condition of being complete, pure.”  That was what the dictionary said.

“Reduced risk of compromising moral or ethical ideals, a need to move on before effectiveness is crucially impaired” is what my head said.

I will not claim to be pure, wholesome, or even complete, but I do claim to have some moral integrity and a bit of an ethical code motoring around in my aura.

My company has the tag line “Henry Ford said: quality means doing it right even when no-one is looking. We agree.” When we started the company we started out with ideals which are still as fresh as the day we started: we have a sincere and genuine commitment to people, to human rights, parity of services and equality of opportunity. We believe that everyone, regardless of all the usual suspects like race, (dis)ability, religion, gender, sexuality, forensic history and so on has a right to a Normal Existence and the support to create that. We have been around a long long long time most of which has been spent in and around different kinds of  health and social services and have seen it all – as it says on our website (www.mayallmanagement.co.uk) we have seen the Good the Bad and the Ugly. And our experiences drove us to want to influence and improve – to make sure that, wherever possible, we made things better for people, with people.

S0……… we have Integrity, dammit, and sometimes that means we have to take difficult decisions.

I have made the decision, a number of times, not to take a piece of work because I am not confident that the prospective client actually wants to improve rather than just meet compliance. We are not interested in simply or solely meeting compliance targets, although that matters very much indeed. It is my belief that in order to continue to reach people who need to be reached we have to reach compliance targets as a given before moving into the work that makes a difference. But that is only the first step, the loosening of the stabilisers on the pushbike before taking off and getting the yellow jersey. If an organisation or group – or even a single service – wants to make things better and actually make a real difference to the people using and working in their services, then  I am there, will go the extra mile or ten, will work with them as hard as it takes to make that difference. If I don’t see that commitment and understanding then I will walk away. And that sometimes costs us money!!!!! But some things are more important. We are good at what we do and can  make that genuine difference, but not if the organisation hiring us has different goals or is looking for a different set of results. I can cut your costs, but  won’t do it at the expense of quality. I can reduce your  staffing but I won’t do that if it leaves people at risk. But I can cut your costs and improve your quality if you don’t think throwing money at services improves them but rather it is about leadership and direction. I can reduce your staffing if you can think creatively about what you do and what the people using your services actually want rather than what you think you can or should provide.

So, I think what I am leading to is that my integrity caused me to take what could be seen as a perverse decision: I walked away from a project before completion because I knew that I could not, if I was to understand my own motivation, remain in place as effectively as I had been given the changed circumstances. I would, to put it simply, not have performed. Not have wanted to perform might be nearer the truth. I would not have done the best that I could for the client hiring me, or for the people using and working in their services. So integrity meant that I moved on. Integrity also meant that I did everything possible to mitigate that before moving on, as well.

I like my integrity – it walks with me and reminds me why I do what I do and that it isn’t all about me. It does sometimes give me a hard time and a sleepless night, but I forgive it because it has also meant that I have met an infinite number of great people and had opportunities to make a difference and have had a real ball along the way. And it continues! I am having another great time with some fab people even as we speak, and if my integrity had not pushed me away from my last project I would not be in my current project and loving every minute of it. Thank you, Integrity! You may join my bad knee in the list of Unexpected Things That Have Improved My Life………

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