Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Humour in a cold climate

In these austere times, despite moments of relief and joy for many, it is very hard to remain positive and act progressively. It is all too easy to retreat into a reactive bubble and just live from day to day, doing only that which is absolutely necessary to keep your head above water. Creativity flounders, working relationships are put under huge strain and leadership can descend into the emaciated hell of just following procedures.

One thing that remains though, despite all this gloom, is humour. Our ability to take a wry slant on the world and grimly laugh at the situation can be majestic. Humour is the warmth that keeps our home fires burning - or at least the embers glowing, ready to spark into flame when more fuel is found. Humour can make even the coldest places seem warmer and more hopeful.

Some years ago, I made a point of collecting a few examples of workplace humour which I share below. I do this for several reasons. Firstly I hope the statements below make you laugh and even if it is only through gritted teeth, I hope the small shot of endorphins helps. Secondly, if you come across any other examples that you would like to share please do so - you can add a comment below or email me. And thirdly, I hope this small smattering of humour helps you stay in touch with your ambitions and assists you in keeping on keeping on in these difficult times.

Some years ago in one senior police managers office, I came across this simple statement, pinned up on his notice board:

The only difference between this place and the Titanic is that 
they, at least, had a band.

Pinned up on a general notice board of a financial services company I once worked with, I saw:

The Management regrets that due to the current economic climate, it has been necessary to make certain economies. Therefore the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice.

In a well known consumer campaigning organisation that I once did some work with, the following posters sprang up overnight like a blanket of bluebells:

Meetings: the practical alternative to work
Are you lonely...?
Do you work on your own...?
Do you hate having to make decisions...?
Then hold a meeting!
You can get to see other people, sleep in peace, off-load decisions, feel important and impress your colleagues.

And then in another organisation, I saw this:

The Curse of the Pyramid
I will never forget the time when we entered the 
final chamber of the biggest pyramid. 
The endless variety of furnishings, the sense of absolute stillness... 
of action long ago abandoned... the incomprehensible symbols 
written for no living person to read...

And I turned to my companion and said "it's just like head office really, isn't it?" 
But he disagreed as he couldn't see a coffee machine.

(For 'head office' insert your own suitable place, of course!)

And finally, I would offer you this to indicate that I can laugh at myself as well:

The Consultants Promise
We may not succeed in answering all of your questions.
Indeed you may feel that we have not answered any of them.
Nonetheless, you can be assured that the answers we do give will only serve to raise a whole new set of questions
And so, in some ways, you may feel as confused as ever.
However, we promise, that you will be confused on a much higher level about far more important things.

Naturally, I would like to thank all the people who penned or posted these pieces of humour. I don't know their names, I am afraid, but I am most grateful to them. And like I say, if you know of any more items that made you laugh, do please share them. Thanks.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Is your leadership compatible with coalition government policy?

Here is a link to a Guardian Public article of mine - just published today:

It is a check list of 20 questions to prompt reflection on whether you are a free, fair and responsible leader...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Heathrow: a breathtaking failure of leadership?

There is an old saying (and some dispute about who coined it first): Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This got me to wondering about leadership. Should leadership be breathtaking or breathless? It seems to me that many managers spend their time trying to be everywhere, support everyone, monitor everything and so forth. This is breathless leadership. Whilst this may give the leader a warm feeling that they are a ‘hands on’ influential leader, the chances are that others will not be as impressed.

I suspect that London Heathrow, which is currently wrapped for Christmas in very sticky snow, is full of breathless leaders right now, all seeking to make something (anything, dammit!) happen and get passengers moving again. This is commendable and necessary given the circumstances. But what were these breathless leaders doing in the Summer? Were they still running around in a similar fashion? (Latest news as I write here)

Perhaps what London Heathrow needs is a lot more breathtaking leadership. This is the kind of leadership that listens, that empowers, that connects, that plans, that waits, that assembles, that includes, that challenges, that invests, that innovates, that focuses... that inspires.

Breathtaking leadership is easy to spot. It is the kind of leadership that we have all felt once in a while when someone says or does something that makes us do a mental or real double take. We hold our breath as we think about what the person has just done. If it’s an exceptional moment of leadership, we may even forget to breathe until our body kicks in and we take short intake of breath.

My challenge for 2011: how can you make your leadership less breathless and more breathtaking?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Seasonal greetings: a time for prosperity

At this is a time of year, a good many people take a moment to remember the riches they have.

These are not the riches that can ever be measured in £ or $ signs. These riches are far, far more valuable than that. These are the riches in the smiles from neighbours, the gleams in the eyes of our children, the kind words of old friends, the courtesies of strangers or the laughs of our family members. These are the riches that make us feel truly warm, solid and human.

Although sadly, not everyone has these riches in abundance, happily we can all take action to spread more of this wealth around. Whilst I do try to do this wealth creation as much as I can, I will admit that during these austere and recessionary times, I have sometimes become just a tad too focused on the lesser (financial) riches. My resolution for 2011 is to remain resolutely focused on building true prosperity.

With this in mind, I have adopted the word 'prosperity' for the next 12 months. (The 'I CAN' charity in association with Collins Dictionaries allows you to adopt words in exchange for funding action to ensure that no child who struggles to communicate is left out or left behind. You can adopt a word yourself by visiting here: And you can see a copy of my adoption certificate below.

So I am sending you my seasonal greetings: I sincerely wish that 2011 will be a truly rich and prosperous year for you, your families, friends and communities.


Followers do not a leader make: relationships count

On twitter, at the time of writing, I have 1452 followers. Does this make me a leader? True, all of those people have actively clicked on my 'follow' button and will (until they choose otherwise) see my 140 character pearls of wisdom and comment. But I don't think this makes me any kind of leader. Just having followers does not make anyone a leader.

Certainly, if you claim to be a leader and no one is following you, then your claim may not stand up to much scrutiny. But just because you can look around and see people following you does not necessarily make you a leader either. You have to wonder, why are these people following me? Are they doing so because they are contractually obliged to, or it is just in their interest to do so, or because someone they do respect has told them to follow you?. Even if they have chosen to follow you - are they doing anything different as a result? And so forth...

The relationships between leaders and their followers are ultimately what count. Do the followers respect and trust the leader, do they want to emulate the leader's actions or beliefs? Does the relationship have an impact at all on how the followers conduct their lives - professionally or personally?

Moreover, do you, as a leader, do things differently because you know that your followers will observe what you do? Does that responsibility inspire or restrict you?

So the next time, you hear someone talk about leaders having followers (I saw a presentation recently which featured this insight just recently), I would urge you to ask them a question or two about the relationship between leaders and their followers.

As a leader or follower: how are your relationships?  

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Procurement: optimising the contribution to greater efficiency, effectiveness and economy

How do you know if your procurement / purchasing function is doing a better job than (say) this time last year – how do you measure success? How do you know if the service is VFM?

I ask the question because:
  • most procurement processes frustrate me to bits – in recent days, I have even had a friend in the same business tell me that she is losing the will to live after having written x bids over recent weeks. (You may have already read my – hopefully humorous – rant about the excesses of procurement in my field  - click here if you haven’t)
  • I have been offered a complementary place at a forthcoming conference on public sector procurement (see here) for which I am most grateful. The least I thought I could do was do some further thinking about the subject – hence this blog post
  • the influence, scope and size of procurement in the public services is set to grow even further – especially of Sir Philip Green has his way (see here for the main story). Government services must practice excellent: efficient, effective & economic procurement as a consequence.
  • it isn’t just suppliers who lose sleep and hair over procurement so do the clients want to source a particular service. I know of several instances of where a client wants Z but because of the procurement process enforced upon them, they get Y. And from the work I did years ago supporting a firm which developed systems for the Ministry of Defence – I know that the end user (be it frontline member of the armed forces in that case or a citizen / customer in many other cases) just does not get a look in, usually.
So what is to be done? I offer this checklist below as my ‘starter for ten’ attempt at what I would expect to see evidence of in an excellent procurement function. Please feel free to add more points or make the case to tweak or even delete some of my suggestions. I have written this without any reference to any published standards (of which their might be legion!)

For me, an ideal procurement function would: 
  1. Have systems in place to understand and respond to trends in client satisfaction with its services
  2. Have established a productive way of listening to feedback from suppliers / bidders (successful and unsuccessful) involved in the procurement processes they manage
  3. Benchmark their processes with other procurement functions, both inside and outside their industry or sector, to look for ways to improve what they do
  4. Collect the information and be transparent about all the resources spent on procurement processes: by the function themselves, the client who wishes to source a supplier and (radical idea perhaps) all the bidders. (It is a standard clause that clients do not pay for the effort that goes into writing bids. Fair enough. But that resource has to be paid for some how.) This overall data would also be a crude measure of how ‘elegant’ a procurement process is.
  5. Have developed an easy to grasp method for measuring whether the cost benefit analysis of the procurement processes are improving or worsening.
  6. Have practices in place to ensure that the ‘voice of the customer’ – the end user, citizen or frontline person who will be the final recipient of the new service / product being sourced – is evident at every stage of the procurement process and is heard loudly & clearly.
  7. Make efforts to connect people together across the supply chain so that the procurement function does not attain disproportionate power by being the sole knowledge holder and (more crucially) that procurement is done ‘whole system aware’ (see here for further information about this).
  8. Although it is harder, always look for ways to procure on outcomes or overall objectives rather than outputs or processes. (All too often, I see tender documents that specify what I know to be a less than satisfactory ‘going through the motion’ type process which will be lucky to achieve any lasting outcomes. Magic can happen if suppliers are given the scope to propose a process that may be outside the prescribed ‘usual’ way of doing things but which will still achieve the desired for outcomes.)
  9. Run procurement processes in ways that inspire potential suppliers to be innovative and think of ways to achieve the desired outcomes with more efficiency and effectiveness.
  10. Have accrediting procedures which do not involve the uploading of numerous policies and strategies but merely state that the winning bidder will be expected (then) to show that they have these in place.
  11. Have established shrewd ways of sorting the bidders into ‘wheat and chaff’ involving (perhaps radically) asking the bidders to state what questions or measures they would pose to the other bidders to help achieve this result.
  12. Led strategically, mindful of the key purpose of procurement within the overall strategy of the host organisation. 

I probably could go on! 

But what do you think? Do you agree with the points above? Would you add any more? Would you subtract some of the points above?


UPDATE: Just spotted this interesting and related article:

9 November 2009 | Jake Kanter

"Significant weaknesses" in procurement skills are jeopardising value for money on major projects, according to the UK's National Audit Office (NAO). The spending watchdog's latest report, Commercial skills for complex government projects, said the public sector lacked commercial capability in areas including contract management, commissioning and risk management....

(see also my post below on the need for more commercial management)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Commercial leadership

I am struck that in several, perhaps many, parts of the UK public services there has been a shortage of commercial leadership. This is no surprise of course - government is not about commerce - despite some people's efforts to make it so. Government cannot pick and choose who it serves, it must be transparent, open and accountable, and it is about producing social outcomes not just financial ones. So for all these reasons, in my view, public services are not the same as commercial ones.

That said, the public services do enter into commercial arrangements where they have  to negotiate value for money contracts with suppliers. I do worry that sometimes this has not been done as well as it might. In short, I fear that our local and national government have been stuffed by some rather canny operators in the commercial world.

It seems to me that some public service leaders have treated transparent procurement as a proxy to commercial negotiations. But they are not the same. Negotiating a contract with a supplier after they have won the procurement competition is not the same as negotiating with them before...

I know - I am painting things in black and white here - and being deliberately provocative. But I came across a story this morning which left me sad and fed up. I attended a seminar hosted by Civil Service World and sponsored by Hewlett Packard on the 'Digital Dividend'. (It was a very good event - so thanks to the organisers.) In the networking time I spoke to a young chap from a large government department who explained to me he had recently developed a macro for a commonly used spreadsheet in his organisation that would save a lot of people a lot of time. But then he found out that if his department were to use this - they would have to pay the outsourced IT contractor about £15k every time they used it. You see - there was a clause in the contract... So this small innovation (and you know how much I like small creative ideas) was squashed from the outset.

So this got me thinking - how much commercial leadership is there in the public services. Given the current austerity measures - I would propose that we need a lot more of this kind of leadership.

What do you think?

What does commercial leadership mean for you - what skills (apart from negotiating skills of course) need to be well honed?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Research project: Leadership in a cul-de-sac

In the current financial landscape, political, executive and managerial leadership within the public services will have to be very different from that which has been exercised over the last 15 years or so. While there are some parallels to be drawn to leading a corporate organisation during a downturn, public service leaders are facing uncharted and very choppy waters.

The last 15 years have been mostly about steady growth. We are now in a situation of unprecedented reductions where previous non-cashable efficiencies must become cashable. The scale of the reduction would be enough to hole most commercial enterprises below the water line. This is in a time where (unlike commercial organisations), the demand for public services is likely to rise significantly.

There is a distinct and pervasive zeitgeist that the public services are now seen as a drain on the nation’s wealth rather than an investment in it. The measure of public services now seems to be only about what they are costing rather than any outcomes produced. It has of course always been strikingly difficult to track the links between public sector activity and safer, healthier and wealthier communities.

The public services are challenged with a large number of statutory duties and responsibilities, and political priorities which cannot be avoided but which introduce degrees of inflexibility not faced by corporate entities that are scaling down. The cuts that are to come will subject to fearsome and fierce debates over the coming months. Professional, political, personal and ethical loyalties will be under huge pressure. Public service leaders will be pitched against each other as each do battle over who can wave the biggest shroud. Tensions will erupt over whether decisions made are more in the public or political interests.

Meanwhile the public are unlikely to be passive observers as Facebook campaigns mount, Twitter storms erupt and flash demonstrations convene to hold local and national politicians to account. The celebrity culture may hold great sway as national treasures and pop artists choose to wield their influence. This phenomenon has unpredictable and possibly violent consequences.

And in amongst all this, ordinary local politicians, executives and managers will need to be making significant decisions that will have far reaching effects. This is not just about ‘managing change’ or ‘handling complexity’, this is about leading teams of public service workers in bleak cul-de-sacs.
  1. Do you recognise this context – what would you add or take away? 
  2. Will leadership have to be so different in these circumstances? 
  3. As a leader, what pressures are you feeling most keenly at the moment? 
  4. How do you think your and others’ leadership will have to change over the coming months – what will you need to do (a lot) more of or (a lot) less of... and carry on doing? 
  5. What key skills will be so important that to be unpractised in them will mean seriously poor & inefficient leadership? 
  6. What will you have to do that you have never done before? 
  7. What resources will you draw on to help you get through this? 
I would be fascinated to read your answers to all or any of the above questions. Thanks

The critical leadership role of middle managers in these austere times

Public service middle managers will experience heavy loads of stress as the implications of the austerity measures are rolled out in coming months. They will be the people tasked to deliver the redundancy bad news to staff. They may well have little say in the decisions being taken. These managers will probably see the shape of the services they have helped to build, reshaped and reduced before their eyes. And they too may suffer a redundancy fate at the end of it all.

Throughout all this, these managers may well seek to juggle their deep commitment to the value of the service they manage & the people they serve, their need for ‘survival’ in this employment climate (& not put their heads too far above the parapet) and their desire to keep work & family life in some semblance of balance.

It is a gross understatement to say that this will not be easy.

But this is not an article to plead on their behalf – there are many others who will suffer too, not least the many (often vulnerable) citizens who will be getting lower of levels of critical services in the future. Instead I want to put forward some ideas about how these middle managers might play a critical leadership role as these looming cuts are rolled out.

For me the most important challenge to face in these coming months will be whether the cuts are used to simply reduce / ‘salami slice’ the existing services or whether bold & creative decisions will be taken to mitigate the cuts (as far as possible) by doing things differently. I contend that middle managers are best placed to do the latter while senior managers may well be under huge pressure (from their governance bodies) to do the former.

Middle managers know their services inside out. And whilst they may have a strong attachment to the current ways of doing business, their inside knowledge means that they have the potential to see some fresh green saplings instead of the old big trees. Whether this potential is realised or not will depend upon the leadership role that they adopt.

If the middle managers pursue a compliant style of leadership and seek only to implement the demands for resource cutting, there is little chance of innovation and new ways being found to deliver more with less. These middle managers may gamble on saving their own jobs by being good soldiers. But this will be a gamble. (I once met someone who was instructed to make his whole team of nine people redundant. He spent 10½  hours that day talking with each person, doing what he could to make the ‘brown envelope’ an opportunity and not a curse. Finally at around 7.30pm he returned to his own office to find his own brown envelope, just left squarely on his desk. He set fire to his filing cabinet.)

There is an alternative leadership role. (And from the discussions I have had with middle managers, many are and will be seeking to adopt this approach. I wish them well.) This approach seeks to create the room for manoeuvre to find the new ways of doing business. These might be radical innovations or just simple small changes that can lead to much higher performance, such that services and possibly jobs can be saved. This is not a leadership style for the faint hearted.

This leadership involves: 
  • Being as strategic as the senior managers through understanding the past, present and future of the organisation, grasping the particular pressures which are being faced and having a vision of what could be. 
  • Having the courage and deft footwork to challenge and question decisions from higher up the organisation, in ways that make the people who have made those decisions wriggle, but not squirm. 
  • Being prepared to practise an inspirational & facilitative style of leadership which enables and encourages junior staff to think creatively and express their own bold ideas which will finesse the resources and find superlative efficiency & effectiveness 
  • Deeply knowing what the public want and need, and being able to show clearly how proposals for newly redesigned services will come far closer to meeting their requirements and delivering social outcomes. 
  • Maintaining honesty and transparency throughout, so that even if there is no job at the end, everyone will observe that the manager will still have their integrity. (In the end, that is all any of us have.) 
  • Knowing what questions to ask of all involved that will liberate new ways of doing business. Just asking, for example, the simple question “is there anyone who provides this service far better than us?” can prompt a radical shift in existing methods. (When the first budget airline realised they could cut costs dramatically by keeping their aeroplanes in the air more and on the ground less, they searched for who was doing this extremely well. They learnt a huge amount from a Formula One team who showed them how do a pit stop in 9 seconds.) 
  • Having the skills (and being able to share these) to redesign a service so that fewer resources are spent on ‘fire-fighting’ and more priority is given to prevention and systemic fixes that can head off the expensive mistakes.
Sometimes dramatic improvements are staring us in the face and when we finally see them we wonder how we could not have seen them before. One council I was working with had experienced something like this when they looked at how they repaired street lights. The original method involved taking a call from a member of the public that a street light was not working. An engineer was dispatched (at dusk?) to check that indeed the light was not working. If (as was invariably the case) it was not, a second engineer was then sent out to fix it. All this took a while and involved two journeys. They then changed their assumption from ‘we cannot believe the public’ to ‘we can believe the public’. As a consequence only one engineer is now despatched to fix a street light that has been reported as faulty.

This leads me on to declaring what I think is the most important attribute of this more progressive middle management leadership: 
  • Having the capability to learn from the past (and possibly even chuckle about it) but not be attached to tradition. True, this is very hard to do in any organisation that is wracked with fear, blame and a belief that changing old ways necessarily involves a loss of face. But I believe (I have to believe) this is still possible, even in such organisations. Certainly if not now, then when? If this is not a time to let go of old & inefficient practises, when will it be?
If you are a politician or senior manager reading this, my challenge to you is what can you do to allow, enable and support your middle managers to act in these ways?

Putting the politics aside about whether now is the right time to be implementing extensive and deep reductions in public expenditure (I leave that to the politicians and economists to debate), it is always the right time for any manager to be putting in place radical improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. As Machiavelli said “a common failing of mankind [is] never to anticipate a storm when the sea is calm. A wise prince … must never take things easy in times of peace”.

Now that the storm has arrived, many people I fear are rushing to construct the world of public services as one large spreadsheet with lots of compartmentalised budget cells to slice and dice. I hope that the progressive middle managers will have the courage to practice leadership that calmly but dynamically acts in the interests of all of our futures.

But it won’t be easy!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Transparency: Some hopes and fears, new words and ideas

I write as a tax payer and a citizen who wants a world which is more ambitious, creative and fair. I also write as someone who has been working in and around public service organisations for the last 30 years as a civil servant, an adviser, a challenger, a listener and facilitator. I would like to talk about my hopes for what transparency should lead towards. I also have a couple of fears too.

It is my earnest hope that these new transparency arrangements will mean that citizens and taxpayers become more confident that their money is being spent wisely on the projects and services that make a difference. In other words that there will be a greater sense of ownership and accountability about what councils, central government departments etc. do and achieve. To coin a phrase, that we will have ‘transpocracy’ – where transparency is adding to (and not subtracting from) democracy. 

I also hope that we get ‘transporency’ too, such that the information that is published under the transparency guidelines seeds ideas, actions and initiatives by all concerned (politicians, providers, service users and media observers) that helps all to build the Big Society that our government is committed to developing. I believe we already have a big (hearted) society where everyday millions of people do something for a friend, neighbour or family member. But we can have an even bigger society if transparency helps a thousand flowers bloom.

I am concerned though that all this transparency could feed a growing number of cynical armchair voyeurs. To coin another word – I fear we may be at risk of creating ‘transpruriency’ where a legion of self proclaimed ‘auditors’ and ‘researchers’ are only interested in the costs of public services and not in their value.

In my more cynical moments, I also fear that the sheer volume of the data which is being published and the ways it is being uploaded onto the internet will bamboozle & overload far more than it will enlighten and inform. In other words (and this is my final ‘new’ word) that we will get a great deal of ‘transapparency’ where a semblance of transparency is created but which is actually nothing of the kind. There will be a lot of ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’.

So, how can we ensure that we get plenty of transpocracy and transporency, whilst ensuring that we keep transpruriency and transapparency in check? For me there is a simple one word answer to this question: strategy.

In this context, I speak as an organisation development and change facilitator who has seen lots of public services lurch into policy implementation without considering what they want to achieve other than baseline compliance. So my challenge is this – what do you want to achieve with transparency and how will you evaluate whether you are getting closer to (or further from) your goals?

Transparency could achieve so much. I hope it will help reconnect people with their public services and make those services more accountable. It can and should help boost value for money and spread wise spending practices from one public agency to another. It must not become bureaucratic, opaque or inaccessible.

In my view, how each council (or other public agency) develops their transparency strategy will help it to be successful or not. If the strategy is developed by just a few accountants and IT people sitting in a darkened room, I think it won’t work very well.

It is not that I have anything against accountants and IT people, I hasten to add. It is simply that if transparency is for the public then I think the public need to be involved in shaping the strategy and designing how transparency is rolled out for them. I know that some councils have done this – but have they all? (I note that the website guidance: Local Spending Data Guidance does cover items such as ‘file formats’ and ‘data content’ well but makes no mention of involving the public...)

How are you developing your transparency strategy?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Leadership: into the tunnel

This evening my mind is turning to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Tomorrow, the Government will announce just where budgets will be cut and by how much. Frustratingly, the announcements probably won't include much detail as that will emerge over the coming months. But the broad sweep of which Departmental budgets have come off better or worse will be known. I wonder how the people affected by these budget reductions will react - be they front line staff, managers at all levels and, of course, the people & organisations who are current beneficiaries. This will be a bleak day for many as the rhetoric, leaks, promises (broken or otherwise) and hints of the past six months will be turned into reality.

And then I wonder how our public service leaders - beginning with the Prime Minister but ending with every single front line supervisor - will now lead as we enter this dark tunnel? 
  • Will this courageous leadership akin to the Charge or the Light Brigade or the D-Day landings?
  • Will this be steadfast leadership like Churchill's or King Canute's?
  • Will this be the visionary leadership that Nelson Mandela or Ghengis Khan had?
When David Cameron announced the outcomes of the Bloody Sunday Report, he was widely acclaimed as having struck just the right tone.

Tomorrow will also be such an opportunity for him and the rest of the Government to evidence the kind of leadership that will be necessary to implement the budget reductions in ways that do no more harm (to people and the economy) than is absolutely necessary. 

Friday, 15 October 2010

Leadership is like water

The best are like water.
Water benefits all things and does not compete with them.
It flows to the lowest level that people disdain.
In this it comes near to the Way

In their dwellings, they love the earth.
In their hearts, they love what is profound.
In their friendship, they love humanity.
In their words, they love sincerity.
In government, they love peace.
In business, they love ability.
In their actions, they love timeliness.
It is because they do not compete
that there is no resentment

From the Dao de Jing which is attributed to Lao-zi (there is a copy here: )

In part, my interpretation of these two stanzas is that true leadership does not compete or even try. The endeavour of a true leader is to be simply present and through that presence help bring forth the achievement of dreams and ambitions for all concerned.

What do the stanzas mean to you?

I have quoted this part of the Dao de Jing today as my contribution to World Blog Action day - which is today. The aim of the day this year is to inspire people to take action on the fact that right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted. Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us. 

You can take action by signing the petition, top right on this blog. You can make a donation to Water Aid or indeed any other charity working in the developing world.

Or if you are lucky enough to live in a part of the world where you can just get yourself a glass of clean water easily - do so and drink it slowly. Please savour the knowledge that this is basic human need that all should be able to share. Also, I hope you enjoy this fresh gift from the sky!  

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The bureaucrats guide to procurement

Just a note to say that Conservative Home have republished my article on procurement below on their website here. And they have been tweeting about it also:

I am looking forward now to more elegant and less bureaucratic procurement from all Conservative councils - if not all councils - if not (drawing on Sir Philip Green's recent report) all government procurement!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

New generation leadership

One of the hardest jobs for any leader is going off in a different direction. This may only be a small change of direction, but it may be enough for existing followers to stop following. Those followers may somehow feel betrayed by this altered course. “After all that I have done, and now we are doing this?!”

Cutting a fresh path is both harder and easier for a new leader.

It is easier because there is no baggage to jettison, no inconsistency to defend and no loyalty to the past to retain for retention’s sake. And there can be plenty of quoting of George Santayana about ‘those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’ and so forth. The new leader is at liberty to both praise the old warriors and then, almost in the same sentence, make a virtue of departing from their strategies.

But it is also far harder because there is no guarantee that a new leader will bring the followers of the old leader with them. The new direction may just be too novel and be seen as too much of a break with the past. Existing bonds of friendship and trust will have to be rebuilt by the new leader, as they are now the leader and the world has changed.

The critical judgement comes in how bold to make the new direction. Will it just be ‘new’ in name only? Or will the new leader ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’? How will the new leader judge how bold to be, not just at the start of the new leadership journey but as it continues?

The best leaders have people that they can rely upon and trust to give them independent, full and frank feedback about whether their ‘boldness quotient’ is on the money or not.

How is your ‘BQ’ right now?

(How do you know?)

How will you stay ‘bold’ and avoid the ‘new’ becoming the ‘new old’

(How will you know?)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Diversity: Embracing the Tension

Great post on the Harvard Business Review blog - well worth a read. Marshall Goldsmith highlights the value of 'diversity tension' and offers a checklist to assess your own workplace / leadership.

Do have a read!

The article is here.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Maybe do...?

Are you a 'glass half full' or a 'glass half empty' kind of person? How do you know?

Whichever you are, we all experience barriers to what we are seeking to achieve. Sometimes these barriers may be clearly real and concrete, and other times we know the barriers are broadly of our making: arising from a lack of confidence or understanding.

But what about the barriers in between? Sometimes concrete obstacles are imaginary, and sometimes our bouncy confidence may prevent us from seeing the reality of hurdle we have to overcome.

When you meet a barrier, how do you test it to know which kind of barrier it is? Are you better at doing this nowadays than previously?

How come?  

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ten ways to keep the peace

Major restructuring of the police appears inevitable and is creating a plenty of debate in political and media circles. Consultant Jon Harvey weighs in with his own points of order. There are many ways to respond to the looming 25% to 40% cuts in resources that are coming to a police station near you...

Full article in Guardian Public

Monday, 13 September 2010


I am part of a small team which is planning a guerilla conference on a make do and mend approach to using IT in public services. The aim is to create an event that will enable people to exchange ideas and develop new ones on how to make the most of existing IT. Specifically, we hope the (free) event will be a celebration and dissemination of all that can be achieved without purchasing new kit / software / contractor time / bells / whistles etc. (This event will be an antidote to the burgeoning number of other events which are still promising huge cost reductions by paying for just that one more piece of ("waffer thin mint?") IT investment

Please watch this space - there is more to follow - including what we mean by a guerilla conference! (Well - you have heard of guerilla gardening... try thinking along similar lines...!) The date will be towards the end of the year - possibly early into the next.

But meanwhile... do you have examples of where you have spotted or even initiated a change or achieved a result with a deft (and zero or very low cost) use of an existing IT system?

Please post these examples below as a comment or email me if you wish. With your permission - I will also upload these to my small creative ideas news blog as well.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

E-books: now more easily available

When this blog reached 10,000 uploads I turned into an e-book. You can now access and download if you wish, this off Google Docs by going here.

For your information my other blog (Small Creative Ideas) is also available in e-book form as well (produced when it hit 15,000 uploads) from here.

Austerity plans & budgets: who has the ideas?

In anticipation of the Comprehensive Spending Review outcomes, nearly all public service budget holders will now be taking a long hard look at where the money gets spent and what is achieved. I can almost hear the distant clicks of numerous hatches being battened down.

Less money, probably a lot less money is going to be spent on not only on the 'frippery' of change management, organisational development and public engagement (etc.), but also on the wages of people providing direct services to some very vulnerable citizens.

Whilst there may well be very limited room for manoeuvre with the amount by which budgets will have to be reduced in these austere times, I am wondering just how much scope there is in just how budgets are reshaped.

Who has the ideas? Who needs to be involved? How will those people be involved?

I am concerned that many managers will feel driven to retreat behind closed doors, perhaps with a tame accountant, to craft the changes to be made. This is not an unreasonable course of action, of course. If people's jobs & indeed livelihoods are being questioned, if services to people in severe need are being scrutinised or if some critical priorities are being examined then confidentiality is to be expected.

The stakes are so high and the interests so potentially in great conflict, as to prevent anyone else (staff member, other connected departments & agencies, the wider public & service users) being involved in a more open & transparent discussion... would be the argument from many people, I suspect.

I have argued previously on this blog for 'Austerity Charters' (see below) and I stand by this.

But, am I alone in thinking that there is much to be gained from having more inclusive approaches to deciding just where and how budgets should be cut? I take the view, that given the right context, the right leadership and the right information, many more people could contribute constructively to building these new austere budgets. Yes, there will be conflict and yes, people will seek to express and protect their interests. But also, I think, people could earnestly, collaboratively and creatively find many more ways to do more with less than a manager (with tame accountant) is able to achieve on their own.

Or am I living in some fairytale world a million miles away from the grinding & crushing reality of austerity budgets where the only 'involvement' of staff, colleagues and citizens must only be during the titular 'consultation' periods?  

Improving performance: who has all the ideas?

Some years ago, while being shown round a car manufacturing plant, I was told a story about the importance of workforce involvement. Part of the plant had to shut down for a refurbishment which meant that one car model had to use the paint shop normally used for another model. The manager in charge was prevailed upon by a company improvement facilitator to have a meeting with the staff involved to plan what needed to be done. The manager was unconvinced that he had anything more to discuss but dutifully went along with the idea.

The meeting was held.  The staff came forward with several ideas which the manager publicly noted but inwardly was ticking off all the ideas that he had already had. "What a waste of time", he thought. Right at the end, one person who had said nothing until then asked about what would happen with the estate models.

The manager paused and realised that was an issue he had not considered. The rest of the meeting was spent resolving what to do. From that day, that manager was convinced of the value of staff involvement.

How convinced are you?

How do you put your belief into action?

Or is this just a trite story with no relevance to the complex challenges you face as a manager..?

Friday, 27 August 2010

2012 WOSONOS London: Breaking News! ~ UPDATE

I attended the World Open Space on Open Space in Berlin earlier this year (the book of proceedings is here - warning this is a large pdf file) and it was decided there that London would host the 2012 annual WOSONOS. (Next year's event is in Santiago, Chile).

The Improbable Theatre Company, with support from Romy Shovelton and myself, are making the invitation. We are now at the point where we are inviting others to get involved in planning for the event. Here is the letter from Matilda at Improbable describing what is happening next:


Opening space in the UK for WOSONOS 2012 London
How will we make it happen? Do you want to be part of it?

Dear All,

In May of this year, at the close of the Berlin WOSONOS, we made an invitation, which was accepted for WOSONOS 2012 to take place in London, for the first time. It will be the 20th World Open Space on Open Space since they first started in the States back in 1982.

While it was Matilda that made the actual invite, it came on behalf of the whole of Improbable, and with the support of the other U.K. facilitators present – Romy Shovelton and Jon Harvey.

First a brief bit about Improbable, for those of you that don’t know:

Improbable create theatre, opera, site-specific work and since 2005, Open Space events for the arts community and others, both in the UK and throughout Europe and the States. The company’s research into and application of Open Space has broadened our reach and purpose, developing an approach to grappling with complex issues that has not only caught the imagination of the arts community but has also had a huge and very significant influence on Improbable’s working practices as a whole. We now use Open Space to run our company meetings and to create our theatre shows. You can look at other Improbable things at

After the Berlin WOSONOS, Matilda and Phelim (from Improbable) met with Jon and Romy, and together we decided we wanted to use Open Space to help us facilitate the coming together of a UK WOSONOS 2012 host team. We want to ensure that anyone in the UK that wants to participate is able to do so. We see this is as a fantastic opportunity for UK OS facilitators, practitioners and participants to meet one another and connect.

There are many different areas to be considered in hosting a WOSONOS and so numerous different kinds of skills and roles are required: websites to be designed and run; venues and accommodation to be found; food to be planned; social events to be cooked up, and more…Please come and contribute your ideas, passions, thoughts, concerns, dreams, questions. All are welcome.

We will meet on the weekend of November 6th and 7th to open space for a day and a half on our question: WOSONOS 2012 London UK: How will we make it happen? Do you want to be part of it?

As yet we do not have a venue confirmed but please save the date and the full details of place, time and Saturday night social will follow ASAP. On Saturday the day will run from 11am till 6pm, and on Sunday from 10am to 1pm.

We very much look forward to seeing you there.

From all at Improbable together with Jon and Romy


So - would you like to come along and take part? For the moment, all you need to do is make the date in your diary. More information will be forthcoming soon. If you wish, you can email me and I will send you further information when it is available. See you there...?


Full details with venue and evening entertainment have now been posted by the Improbable team here. Hope you can make it!!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Who are the 'ultra shrinking violets' in your organisation?

There is a great discussion on the IDeA website (do subscribe if you have not already done so: about what are the characteristics of a 'systems thinker'. Robert Park of Edinburgh City Council introduced the idea of the 'shrinking violets' who often get marginalised, an idea which was picked up by various people deeper into the discussion. My last contribution to the thread included:
I prefer to think not in terms of training people to be systems thinkers but instead of helping people to reconnect and widen their systems thinking capabilities. The question for me is how come we have created organisations / society / politics where systems thinking is beaten out of people. I suspect that has far more to do with greed and power. On this basis, I think the systems thinkers that we see (as opposed to the people who have the unseen inner potential &/or quietly working in the background in a systems thinking "ultra shrinking violet" way (?)) tend to be people who are centred, grounded and inwardly powerful - to the degree that they have no need or desire to have power over others... The ultra shrinking violets are probably very centred too!
So my questions to you: are you an ultra shrinking violet working undercover, as it were, quietly trying to subvert the organisation you are in towards one that takes greater account of whole systems? Or indeed are you a leader who supports these people or do you overlook them? Or worse do you banish them?

Who are the ultra shrinking violets in your organisation?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Change alchemy: using pictures & photographs

Leaders create strategy. Or rather, perhaps, they create the conditions whereby good strategies are generated and followed through into actions and results.

A good strategy says not only what will be done but also what will be achieved. 

Pictures can help to motivate change and also create a vision of the future.

It is said that when Turner painted “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhon coming on" he was assisting the abolitionist cause.

What pictures are helping you implement your strategies? What other pictures might help more?

Friday, 9 July 2010

A small milestone

Just to note that over 10,000 pages from this blog have been uploaded over the last 14 months. To celebrate this, I have created a PDF of all the pages from this blog. If you would like a copy, please email me and I would be happy to send one to you.

Please keep reading & browsing!

Thank you.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Big Society: report on the network meeting

OK – so I am reflecting on the Big Society network meeting (see below) at the Department of Communities and Local Government that happened last night (6/7/10). All in all, I am very glad I went. As always a great networking opportunity and I met some lovely people with whom I plan to keep in touch. It was also helpful to hear a little more about how the plans for the Big Society are shaping up – although everything is very much in an early stage of development as was stressed to us by Paul Twivy yesterday. The format used did allow some shaping of the agenda from the floor – which was a healthy innovation for a meeting in a government building.

I could be very picky about the process used (it was NOT open space technology in my view and it concerns me that some people will have left last night thinking that it was) but I recognise the constraints that the organisers were working under. The room size for the numbers present and air con were severe limiting factors for sure. There was some tweeting and talking about the (minimal) visible diversity present in the room and indeed amongst the people who got up to nominate discussion sessions. And so I am left feeling that several opportunities were missed to join people up and indeed allow those collected the chance to help shape the future agenda. Much more could have been achieved with a little more space, time, design and cool air.

Where next? I am hoping this is just a beginning and over the course of the next few months, there will be more scope to develop this idea of a Big Society. Some questions are buzzing in my head (and I am grateful to the meeting yesteday for helping to stimulate these thoughts):
  • Can you get ‘owt for nowt?’ (Energising, coordinating, developing volunteering in the UK won’t happen without some considerable investment in a range of structures designed to do this. This was a point made several times last night)
  • What local leadership will help the Big Society come to life? (There are already many volunteers in local government at all tiers already, including several thousand unpaid community / town councillors. Moreover there are many district, unitary and county councillors too. Beyond this there must be many thousands of treasurers, chairs, secretaries of thousands of local voluntary groups. All these people have a leadership role and will be helping, or not, draw more people in. What is now needed to support the leadership that will help do this?)
  • Just what levers can be pulled to grow the legions of voluntary workers still more? (Some people seemed to believe it was an absence of information about opportunities that was a significant barrier to more people getting involved. Others wondered whether just be inviting people, that in itself would bring more on board. Others, including me, wondered if a key factor was confidence in that a person needs this to be prepared to volunteer. There were many more factors explored such as the use of technology. My hope is that evidence and research, as well as more ruminating, will help identify what interventions will achieve the most gain  and guide action from here.)
  • How do you engage the unengaged or even the ‘don’t want to be engaged’? (If the Big Society is to really take off, many more people will need be involved. How will some people, particularly those who may feel they have nothing to offer, be attracted to join in?)
  • What wheels need to be reinvented and which existing one, with a bit of oil perhaps, could work far better? (For example, Paul Twivy spoke yesterday about the idea of a new mutual financial institution that could provide low cost indemnity insurance to volunteers etc. I was left wondering don’t we already have a people’s financial institution called the Post Office? I am worried that in the rush to produce some shiny new ‘Big Society’ some existing structures, such as local libraries, may just be overlooked. Equally there may be some bodies that have served their purpose and something new is required. These decisions need to be made carefully, I think.)
So as always, more questions than answers – but let’s keep the dialogue going!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Why we need 'Austerity Charters'

A few weeks ago I was talking with some civil servants about the implications of the budgetary cuts to come. One matter that was concerning them was the impact on staff discipline. As one person put it succinctly "why should I seek to sack an underperforming member of my team, when I know that if I do, the then vacant post will be frozen. It is better to have 50% of one person than 100% of nobody".

Another possible result of the current circumstances will be that just when you need everyone to be thinking about how to innovate and do more with less, people will be more inclined to keep their heads down and play 'safe'. (I have blogged about this already here.)

There are probably many more examples of perverse & unfortunate consequences of the current resource regime in public service organisations. The question is: can anything be done about this? My proposal is that every public service organisation should develop and approve what I will label an 'Austerity Charter'

The purpose of these charters will be to make crystal clear the principles, policies and values that will underpin how decisions will be made about where and how the large reductions in expenditure being considered will be implemented. For example, one point might cover the issue above such that posts vacated as a result of disciplinary action will not necessarily remain frozen, might go some way towards alleviating the problems that might emerge otherwise. Another part of the charter might seek to clarify that decisions about job losses will not be influenced by what action a person takes to innovate better ways of providing a service.

I don't really know what would go in such an Austerity Charter. But I do know that it up to the organisations themselves to resolve and that this will be best done in as open and inclusive a way as possible. Trade unions and staff associations clearly have a role to play, as do other stakeholders. (You will not be surprised to know that I would favour a whole system approach to the development of such charters.)

Such charters probably already exist but in the various fragmented & suspicious minds of all those who are affected, be they people who are likely to be made redundant or those will have the task of making such decisions. Nobody will find this easy, and some will find the process over the coming months distressing and life changing.

With reference to transactional analysis, will the leaders of the organisations be 'adult' enough to agree, focus and make explicit how these austere measures will be implemented? Or are we moving into a time where not only will the decisions be made behind closed doors, but the way of making the decisions will also be kept secret and implicit? I believe the latter approach is likely to lead to more staff distress, more harm to citizen/customer service, more distraction, less innovation and, probably, more procrastination and sabotage.

What do you think?

Or has your organisation already produced an 'Austerity Charter'?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Big Society with a big Open Space

In anticipation of a meeting I am going to next week:
The Big Society Network is an organisation to exists to help people achieve change in their local area. Our aim is to create a new relationship between Citizens and Government in which both are genuine partners in getting things done: real democracy using all the human and technological tools we now have available. This partnership will also add a third and fourth leg to its sturdy chair by involving business and the voluntary sector.... On the afternoon of the 6 July we plan to bring a cross section of people from across civil society into a conversation with the Big Society team. (
I thought I would post three excellent videos about Open Space in action and how the process helps to nurture engagement and responsibility - themes that will no doubt be picked up by those present next week. (The event is still open for anyone who wants to go...)

I am very excited by the fact that the meeting next week will be "facilitated using open space technology which will enable all participants to shape the agenda". It will be most pleasurable to be part of an Open Space that somebody else is facilitating! I will let you know how it went... watch this space.

And many thanks to Brendan McKeague of the Life School (Perth, Australia) for these youtube links. And thanks to Ingrid Koehler of the IDeA who alerted me to the event.

Cost reduction in a cold climate

Barry Toogood from Mentis - has just sent me a link to an excellent paper which will stimulate your thinking around the subject of how to move forwards in these austere times. It contains some useful mnemonics & frameworks for thinking. Do have a read and I am sure that Barry would be interested in your thoughts. (Copy me in too - thanks!)

Here is the link to the paper:

Sunday, 27 June 2010

What is your cutting angle?

In many organisations there is a great deal of what I call ‘quick fix’ (QF) activity. You can recognise QF by the fire-fighting loop that many parts of an organisation get caught up in going round and round. People come to work and work hard – “bloomin’ hard!” And, every now and then, something goes wrong and there is a mistake. And as we all know, often from a very early age, “you can’t win ’em all!” To err is human, near enough is good enough. But the mistake has to be fixed, using up more time and resources. This only adds to the work load and probably increases the chances that more mistakes happen.

Stay fix (SF) on the other hand takes a subtly but radically different approach. When the mistake happens the ‘stay fixer’ will wonder “why?” In other words they will wonder what elements of the system (the whole system) made it likely that that particular mistake would occur... They are thinking about prevention. The mistake still has to dealt with of course but at this point, the stay fixer spins out and seeks to fix the system and put in place changes that reduce the chances that a similar mistake will happen in the future. At this point prevention is done (not just considered) and so work becomes easier and indeed people begin to work smarter not harder.

In any organisation, activity can be classified as QF, SF or Doing the Business (DTB) where the service / process happens as it should do with no mistakes occurring. Hence an audit of QF/SF/DTB can be conducted. When organisations have done this, they often find that vast amounts of money, time and stress are expended on a combination of QF and SF – sometimes up to 20% or even 40% of the overall budget.

But a choice then emerges. Do you want to carry on spending vast amounts of resource on this ‘cost of failure’ or do you want to invest in SF in order to bring down the costs of QF. Ultimately if you do this well, there can be massive savings in QF costs, even SF costs which in turn bring down the overall cost to the organisation. Not only is the organisation more efficient, it is more effective, economic and indeed elastic (since good SF builds in versatility to changing contexts too). And if SF is done ‘with’ the whole system, rather than ‘to’ it, more energy and commitment is released as well.

However there are a couple of big(ish) problems. The reductions in QF take time to come to fruition. Also investing in SF is a bit like stoking a steam train engine, it takes a while to gather speed. As a consequence, the overall cost to the organisation goes up before it can come down. This is always the case. QF savings do not magically appear without some effort. There is no easy solution to this but the only one which can work, in my experience, is prioritisation of the SF activity. For example avoid trying to reengineer all of your processes in one go – instead select a couple where some early gains are possible which then gives you some commitment and slack to move onto the next and the next and so on. This is why strategic planning is so very important as it helps an organisation select where to invest its SF activity.

There is another significant problem too. Thinking of the QF and SF loops, there is a small tunnel from thinking about prevention back into “you can’t win ‘em all”. People often go through this tunnel when they say things like “I am so busy right now, I don’t have time to think about the wider system, I will do the prevention task a couple of years from now, when I am not busy...”

Blocking off this tunnel requires leadership. This leadership must:
  • Role model SF practice (which is hard for the leaders who have been promoted on the strength of QF ability)
  • Provide structures, tools and techniques to educate, enable, empower, support and inspire people to work in a SF way (such that QF becomes the work equivalent of leaving home without brushing you teeth!)
Organisations are far more complex than this, but I have found over the years that people find this model helpful in making sense of why continuous improvement is difficult but also what can be done to design a way forward that is doable.

In these current times when resources are going to get ever tighter, the need for investing in SF to bring down the costs of QF has never been greater. However, one can imagine the costs of an organisation laid out as three blocks: DTB, SF and QF. The shrewd leaders and managers will identify where the QF costs are and tackle them one by one. The less shrewd leaders who are in a hurry to sacrifice the future for the price of today will cut horizontally as it were and slice through DTB and SF as well as portion of QF. This will damage the short and long term capability of the organisation as well give up the opportunities to be had from investing in SF. It will also cost more in the long term.

Perhaps one key measure of how shrewd & strategic a leader is, in this current context, will be the angle of the cut: somewhere between horizontal and vertical.

What is your angle?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Cutting without bleeding

Advice to senior leaders on how implement cost savings in the public services

The public services are facing an unprecedented challenge to reduce costs by upwards of 25% whilst maintaining frontline services. There are some who would say this is impossible and that, after years of efficiency savings, there is simply no more ‘fat’ left to trim. This article says the opposite and offers you 10 progressive ideas to assist you in making these cuts without doing any long term damage to the social and physical fabric of this country, or indeed the public services we have grown to depend upon. 
  1. In all of your communications about your strategy to implement these cuts make sure that you only discuss the costs of services, never the benefits. For example when you come to publish expenditure on the web, as progressive councils are already doing, do not outline what the money was spent on. Staff and public alike are only interested in what cash (their cash of course) is going out and not on what has been purchased or provided.
  2. Beyond telling the public and staff what you are doing (mostly, of course, to avoid Freedom of Information enquiries and comply with statutory consultation requirements), do not seek to involve or engage them in ‘thinking’ about how the resource challenge might be met. They will only bleat on about ‘saving jobs’ or ‘saving services’ and offer no constructive ideas whatsoever. They are not paid enough to be creative. You, however, are paid enough to have all the ideas, take action and be a decisive leader.
  3. Make sure you hire a team of expensive, but valuable, consultants to do most of the unpopular leg work for you. Many of them are very bright economics graduates who will have spent all of 8 months or so learning their consultancy craft and gaining experience of the ‘real world’. They will get to understand your organisation inside out in a matter of hours. Do not worry that the partners who sold you the consultancy assignment now seem to have disappeared as they are there in the background closely ‘supervising’ the team that are now working with you.
  4. Absolutely do not let smooth talking ‘process consultants’ lure you into thinking that the public services can be ‘reshaped’, ‘redesigned’ or indeed ‘re’ anything. They may even try to suggest that if you work in partnership with other public service providers that ‘things can be done differently and more cheaply’. This is a distraction from the main task of reducing your budget and your budget alone. You did not get to where you are without being fiercely parochial! Be on guard against any talk of ‘whole systems’, ‘total place’ or members of the public ‘living joined up lives’. Dismiss all talk of 'radical efficiency' as well, as this is full of daft ideas like 'empowering consumers'.
  5. Sometimes you may get to hear of ministerial announcements or emails from central Government Departments advocating ‘collaboration’. This is a clever ruse to persuade you to give up some power and control. This is to be resisted at all costs. After all, since when did Whitehall Departments ‘collaborate’? Never of course! So their attempts to get you to do it, is clearly designed to weaken you and strengthen them.
  6. The best way of achieving cuts, of course, is to demand that every budget holder makes a similar percentage cut no matter what their department, unit or function does or achieves. Although you may be aware (or not) that some functions provide more vital services to the public than others, and indeed some units have already been cut within the last 12 months, this is no consequence. A uniform ‘salami slice’ taken off everyone is the only fair and responsible approach. There are several accountants who will support this strategy.
  7. This is not say of course that you do not have a few favoured functions who have shown over the years to be of huge value, who may have invited you to open a new facility or indeed have asked you to speak at their ‘team away days’ etc. The heads of these functions will have shown themselves to be of particular value for money in that they have never challenged any of your decisions. These value for money functions should of course be allowed to cut their services by slightly less than the others. But this should not be widely known until after the event.
  8. Whilst you may talk about accountability and empowerment (always very good words to use during downsizing) and that you will ‘leave it up to the budget holders to make their own decisions’ about how to implement their contribution (another very good word) towards the cost reductions, do make sure that you put in place a few ‘no go’ areas. Yes of course it may be cheaper and perhaps better to empty bins once a fortnight, you will know that this is not popular with certain parts of the news media. There are other examples too. Therefore it is your leadership responsibility to make sure these ‘no go’ changes are clear to all concerned. Some managers may moan about having ‘no room for manoeuvre’ but dismiss these people as ‘troublemakers’ who do not really understand what empowerment is all about.
  9. Although it might seem like a soft target, one function that must not be cut more than the very minimum is ‘public relations’. These are the people you must rely upon to get your message across to a sceptical public and staff. Money spent on glossy publications and road shows explaining how frontline services are not (really) being cut and only the ‘chaps and chapesses in the jolly old backroom are having their belts tightened’ is money very well spent.
  10. Above all, whatever you do, do not let anyone including even your most trusted lieutenants suggest that your assumptions should be examined. You are a senior leader and therefore all that you believe and say must be correct, if not enlightened. 500 years ago Machiavelli may indeed have suggested that true leaders need people around to tell them the truth. But he was clearly wrong as evidenced by the fact that he died a long time ago. Be certain, be sure and be confident: the strategy that you are implementing is unavoidable. (You may wish to write this last statement out and place it on your bathroom mirror.)

On 26/6/10 this post was mentioned by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government who tweeted "Without endorsement, I loved this" ( Thank you Mr Pickles!

And today I noted that this blog is now listed on McArthur's Rant - Human Resources, Organisations and HR 2.0 as one of a number of blogs that rant!! I am tickled! Thank you Scott McArthur!