Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Citizens not customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 September 2009

X Factor: 3 Leadership lessons

For those who don't know, X Factor is a UK based (but syndicated in many other countries including the USA) reality TV show where members of the public audition to take part in a live pop singing show. It is a very compelling programme which dominates the weekend schedules for several weeks each year. I will come clean and admit that I am fan - mostly because I am captivated by the journeys that the various contestants go through. See http://xfactor.itv.com/2009/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Saying sorry - an act of leadership

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

When was the last time you said sorry at work?

How did it feel?

Did you mean it?

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

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Change alchemy: well poisoners

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

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

What should you do?

Change alchemy: resistance

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

How much resistance are you meeting?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Trust & leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many people do you know who are like that?

Are you one of them?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Milestones: yey!

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

In this way, everyone’s efforts are applauded.

When is your next opportunity for a celebration?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Why do we have old style conferences anyway?

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

Change alchemy: cynicism

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

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

Change alchemy: friends and enemies

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

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

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

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bankers bonuses - an (OD) view from the Boardroom

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Another consultants' report bites the dust

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

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Change alchemy: recognition

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

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

What is your suggestion scheme like?