Wednesday, 30 December 2009

When would you say 'no' to authority?

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

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

It is worth a read!

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

How about you?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Leadership in three words?

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

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

Please add your comments below. Thanks!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The fun principle...

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

How do you use fun as part of your leadership?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Seasonal greetings!

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

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

With warm regards & seasonal cheer


Thursday, 17 December 2009

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

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

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

Harmony and symphony

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

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

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Superb service - when you don't expect it

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you get superlative service when you least expect it.

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

Monday, 7 December 2009

Police collaboration: Creating the conditions for success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 December 2009

What does good consultation mean to you?

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