Monday, 24 May 2010

Cutting consultancy spending & improving services at the same time!

Today the government has announced how it plans to reduce public sector spending by more than £6bn. More than a billion of this, will come from savings in 'discretionary' spending on consultancy, travel etc says the BBC news website:

Here are some ideas that I have blogged about in the past about how consultancy budgets can be slashed by taking a radically different perspective on consultancy & organisational improvement: - how not to steal the taxpayers watch by using consultants more shrewdly - small creative ideas blog brimming with ways to improve efficiency & effectiveness in public / third sectors - what goes wrong with consultancy reports and why they often waste money - getting the whole system in the room as a cheaper & better way to make plans - why we need small & creative ideas now more than ever...

Please browse and let me know what you think...!


Why we need 'small creative ideas' now more than ever...

... and how to spend less money on external consultancy:

I run two blogs: this one and my other one which is dedicated to supporting, communicating and celebrating the small and creative ideas that are making a difference in the public and third sectors. Click here for more details. That blog now has well over 300 ideas for how to improve efficiency or effectiveness or flexibility or all three. It has been browsed over 13000 times in the last year and bit. Please visit and please add your ideas to the stock there. And of course feel free to plunder the ideas for use in your own organisations.

Sometimes people ask me why I set up the small creative ideas blog. I guess it is because I am generally fed up with the focus on big initiatives and massive reengineering projects and whole scale restructuring as being the answers to better results. Instead I take the view that within almost all organisations are people with ideas for improvement urgently wanting to be heard. But it seems that these organisations would rather hire expensive consultants / programme managers / high flying executives to come in and do improvement to the organisation. The implicit beliefs underlying this are that we need people from outside (or at the most senior echelon) to have all the big ideas.

However it seems to me that the most important ingredient in success for any organisation - large or small - is motivation. This is not just the motivation to turn up, or indeed the motivation to do good professional job. The kind of motivation I am talking about is the desire to think "how can we do this better?... how can we deliver even more to those we serve?... what do I and my colleagues have to do to achieve even more than yesterday?..." This kind of energy is rare in many organisations. Indeed, many of these organisations do not even know what they are missing.

If organisations focus on bringing in outside "experts" (often at huge costs) - I think this kind of ordinary but rare motivation is neutralised (or at the very least it is not nurtured). At the worst - people are turned off and will maybe even seek to sabotage the organisation or harm it in some way.

I know I am not alone in thinking this - but I and my fellow 'activists' against the "bring in the expensive experts" approach to organisational development are sometimes marginalised. Perhaps this is because many senior people do not allow themselves to really believe in the boundless creative energy of more junior people - despite the oft favoured words of "our people are a greatest asset". Large consultancies, naturally, collude with this view and happily (and expensively) introduce cumbersome systems of performance management, target setting and human resource management strategies (etc.) which weigh down the organisations and squeeze out creativity.

I declare that I have a profoundly optimistic view of people. I believe most people, given the right conditions, default to being creative, clever, enthusiastic and committed. But given the wrong conditions, all of us can become cynical, de-motivated, dull and tedious.

And so this is why I created the small creative ideas blog. I wanted a blog that would celebrate the small ideas - the small ideas (that can easily become the big ideas with great results too) that come from the ordinary people in organisations - the people whose voices and ideas deserve and demand to be heard. I want that blog to be part of the effort to help make this happen - because I believe it is good for business, good for people and good for the world.

Crucially, I am interested in what leaders in these organisations (where these ideas bubble forth like a mountain brook), are doing to create the right context. This for me is critical. Simply exhorting organisations to do more to unleash the small ideas with big results is not enough. I want to hear about and publish here what leaders are doing to make this happen. In this way I hope that other leaders will learn and add to their own practice. These ideas are welcome in this blog or in my other one.

My ultimate aim for the small creative ideas blog is that it will become a self regenerating hub, humming with the small and creative ideas from all over the world that are making the world a healthier, wealthier, happier and sustainable place for us and for future generations. Please contribute & please circulate. Thank you

Friday, 21 May 2010

Making business breakfasts that much more valuable

I was invited to a business breakfast networking event the other day organised by one of the big banks. It was part of their strategy to reach out to small & medium sized enterprises and offer support to their profitability and development. A wholly good thing to be doing in the current economic climate and I applaud their intent.

After a couple of useful conversations with two people over a coffee and croissant, we were invited into a larger room to engage with the main event. But I use the word 'engage' somewhat incorrectly since the meeting became, broadly speaking, anything but.... For more than an hour we were given a series of presentations which were so general that they added very little to my knowledge base. (And I don't think I was the only one.) We were then offered the opportunity to do some further networking which essentially involved visiting a small exhibition of people at the back of the room. I know I am being critical - and I was after all given a free coffee and croissant. But please allow me to look this particular gift horse in the mouth - and suggest some ideas that could make such events far more: 
  • Energising
  • Engaging
  • Business developmental
 ...and as a consequence, a much better advertisement for the sponsoring organisation.

So here are my nine suggestions: 
  1. Stop talking at people, ditch the power points and instead talk with people (and certainly avoid having any speakers who say of their slides "I didn't write this by the way!")
  2. Assume that the people attending already know a great deal about business and inquire into this - people might have some excellent ideas or lessons learnt to share
  3. Invite questions from the people attending and indeed ask questions of them too so that an interactive event is created
  4. Allow people to know who else is in the room - perhaps by having a business card display and swapping scheme
  5. Leave out any hard sell and instead focus on what interests the people coming along - you can ask them beforehand as to what subjects might be discussed
  6. Arrange the chairs in cabaret style to encourage interaction between people
  7. Have a 'wants and offers' notice board to facilitate people finding each other during the event
  8. Be clear about what success will look like - from the viewpoint of the sponsor, but also from the viewpoint of the participant
  9. Use the internet to allow the conversations to continue afterwards - either via the sponsoring organisation's website or some platform like LinkedIn
And this is just the start. I think there is a myriad of ways to make small events and conferences such as these of much greater value to all concerned. And we need fresh & effective ways of interacting, connecting, learning and sharing like we have never needed them before!

EVENT: UK Employee Engagement Network meeting 28 June, 12.30, Russell Square, London

Through a ning on employee engagement ( a bunch of UK people thought it would be a good idea to get together to discuss practice in this field. We have set up this date for this. (28 June 2010) 

There is a modest fee of £30 to cover food and room hire. It is happening in central London. 

Anyone with an interest in employee engagement - particularly as how everyone's hearts and minds can be harnessed to tackle the fiscal pressures on public services (which is one of my keen interests) - you are most welcome! 

You can register here: Please register soon as we are trying to get an idea of numbers. 

We will be using Open Space to set the agenda - so anything that needs to be talked about - can be talked about!

I hope to see you there!

Coalition: a opportunity for more radical innovation?

I tweeted earlier on today:

Will the gaps in our coalition be a source of strength not weakness: as spaces for innovation & experiments?

It seems to me (at the moment) that having a coalition government opens up many more possibilities for how public services can be delivered. This is partly because this situation is pushing many politicians well outside their comfort zone and they are having to entertain uncertainty, negotiation and consensus building to a degree that many of them have not had to do so before. Or at least they are now having to do this under public gaze. In my experience many politicians like to give the appearance that there are 'right' and 'wrong' answers to the pressing challenges of the day.

Perhaps this coalition will mean that politicians, locally and nationally, will be more prepared to wrestle with complexity and engage with public service leaders, professionals, third sector and citizens in a collaborative inquiry into radical innovation. In these increasingly stringent times, we will need to challenge our core beliefs & assumptions if we are to achieve that goal of delivering more (or at least no less) with a great deal less. (See my blog post for a 'legs eleven' set of ideas on this)

A slightly wobbly coalition could be providing a very supportive context for imagination, bold thinking and a big blooming panoply of small creative ideas!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Political leadership & the Prisoners' Dilemma

The prisoners' dilemma is well known and well used scenario from game theory which seeks to explain why sometimes two people, even though they could easily act in support of each other, will often end up taking an action that hurts them both.

It is based on the idea that if two suspects to a crime are both arrested, they each have the option to turn 'Queen's Evidence' or to stay quiet. If they both stay quiet, the police have enough evidence to put them away for only 6 months each. If they both give evidence - they will both get 5 years in gaol. But if one stays quiet and the other gives evidence - they will go down for 10 years and be let off respectively.

What would you do?

Often people choose to shop the other person - even though that means 5 years in gaol. The resolution of the game all hinges upon trust. If you cannot trust the other person, then your only 'sensible' course of action is give evidence and shop them. (A far longer article if this interests you can be found here:'s_dilemma)

I was reminded of this dilemma as we imagine what might happen come Friday morning, the 7th May 2010 when the opinion polls are suggesting that the UK Parliament may well be 'hung'. In other words that no single political party will have an overall majority. This is extremely unusual in British politics. It would be a situation that the vast majority of the current generation of politicians will not have had to deal with before at national level. So I was wondering how they will handle it.

If this situation happens (and it may well not of course) - the pressure will be on the political leaders to trust each other. And I don't think this will be just about policies - it will be about whether the leaders involved are able to personally reach some common ground and make some lasting deals in the interest of the country (rather than their own political skins or party interests). It will be a serious test of leadership and political leadership. And it won't be easy.

The media may well wish to paint the picture of it all being about 'horse trading' various policies and whether any of their manifesto commitments are deal makers or deal breakers. I take a different view. It will be about those policies of course. But it will also be crucially about whether the people who have to forge a coalition will be able to look each other in the eye and know there is sufficient trust to make a coalition last.

While the stakes are different, leaders in organisations and partnerships have to do this all the time. Whenever a leader is leading, they will only be able to do this with the trust of those who are following. Building this trust can take months or years. It can also be lost in a few seconds.

How do you, as a leader, build and sustain trust with those whom you lead?

Moreover - how do you build trust with your enemies..?

(Next weekend could be very, very interesting...)