Friday, 23 December 2011

Truly inspiring: J K Rowling speaks at Harvard

My friend and colleague Marylou Lousvet recommended this video to me some months ago and I have only got around to watching it now. I should not have waited!

Here are 20 minutes of gems from J K Rowling as she speaks to the graduates of Harvard in 2008 about the importance of failure and imagination.

Truly uplifting.

Go on - treat yourself to 20 minutes of a writer who has inspired millions

(Thanks Marylou)

Leadership 2012

2011 has been a tumultuous year where we have had the Arab Spring (ongoing), Eurozone crisis (ongoing) Fukushima (ongoing), not to mention riots on the streets of several UK cities, the end of several despots and far too many disasters, the impacts of which are still also ongoing*

2012 is likely to be equally challenging. As this is the time of year when people assemble lists - here is my list for what public service and business leaders need to be focussing on over the next 12 months:
  • Innovate, create, do something different
  • Take risks, be bold, encourage others to do likewise
  • Get involved in social media
  • Delight in diversity - in all of its diversity
  • Harness transparency
  • Expect compliance to come from the inside
  • Lead the future
What would be your top seven?

(*And if you want to make a donation to aid people who are affected by the severe drought in East Africa, please click this link).

Thursday, 22 December 2011

New Years Eve: just schmaltz or something deeper?

The first film I saw last night was New Year's Eve. It is a lot (a lot..) better than the comparable film Valentine's Day which was panned a while back. But I can be more positive than that! NYE was a warm pastiche of some delightful moments (especially the speech by the Tess Byrne character) and although very predictable in the main - sometimes predictable is good. But I am an old romantic who can happily watch Love Actually if I stumble across it on ITV4.

But back to the theme of this blog - leadership and change (etc) - are there any lessons for leaders in this film? (I have the beginning of a plan to watch movies in 2012 and critique them from a leadership and organisation development viewpoint... watch this space - and see previous post as well)

I think the film is ultimately about keeping your promises. I don't want to spoil the movie for you - but I would argue that this is a theme which underpins nearly all of the vignettes on show. Whilst the consequences of breaking a promise here or there are shown, the story centres on several characters moving heaven and earth (and eating some very humble pie) to fulfil a promise that they made.

As leaders, we must keep our promises. If we think we will not be able to keep a promise then I would say we should not make it. A long time ago, I worked for a firm which had a very clear set of value statements. One of these was 'do as you say you are going to do'. That has stuck with me every since. It is a principle that guides me.

Good leaders keep their promises. 

Of course people do break their promises and explain why it was necessary. But observers know. We know when an explanation is just a rationalisation. (And we do know when the explanation is authentic too.)

As leaders, we know when we keep our promises. But how do we distinguish an authentic explanation from a rationalisation when we may be driven to break a promise?

How do you know when to make a promise.. and when you must break it? 

Sherlock Holmes: predicting your shadow moves

I treated myself to a couple of movies last night. The second one I saw was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (still showing at a picture house near you I expect). I set myself a challenge: what insight into leadership does this film display?

Firstly I would say it is a cracking film with Guy Ritchie showing off his trade that the public first appreciated in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Game of Shadows was fast moving, mildly humorous and had some edge of the seat moments where I was aware that the whole audience were holding their collective breath. I could say more, of course, but the point of this blog is not to write a review of the film, there are plenty of other people who have done that (here and here for example).

There is no spoiler here, but there are a number of occasions (usually in the fight scenes) in the film where Sherlock runs through his assessment of what is about to happen  in his mind's eye and then maps out how he will be victorious. It is as if he is acting on the basis of premonition or as (as probably the character would contend) deduction from the facts of the situation. And I got to wondering how many organisations or leaders do that successfully? How many strategies are carefully crafted from the known facts and then played out in such a way as to achieve the results needed?

In my experience, and I am being a tad cynical here I know, many (perhaps even most) strategies are derived post hoc. Something is achieved and then people get to be clever in linking that result with a logical interpretation of what was done. Strategies that do not work are carefully forgotten or condemned by an incoming new manager / board / government... It is as if strategies always work.

Of course Mr Holmes' strategies always work in the film. The question for me is how many strategies really work in real life? If they are going to work, I would propose a number of conditions that need to be present. Drawing on the film as a source of inspiration, these are:
  • Clarity about the desired outcome
  • Awareness (perhaps a hyper-awareness) the factors that will hinder and help
  • Non attachment to past ways (what worked then may not work now)
  • Understanding of human behaviour and how that might change the plans
  • Creativity and using resources in very innovative ways
  • Preparedness to risk (almost) all
  • Openness to other ideas but also the confidence to stop listening at times
What else would you add?

(And if you see the film, have I summed up the character's approach adequately?)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What is your perspective on 2012?


Well here we are again! Where did 2011 go? It may well be that I am getting older – but this year has gone by at breakneck speed for me. My theory is that because we are aware now of so much happening (perhaps more is happening or just that technology brings more of it into our vista), it is like being on a train where the near objects whistle past. Objects further away drift past more slowly. But now it seems as if everything is close – and fast –now.

And in this flurry and buzzing change – to what do we now have to look forward? Certainly I am thrilled to be living near London where the Olympics are happening next year – even though I will probably watch them through my TV screen. Whilst I am no Royalist, I am looking forward to the diamond jubilee festivities when I hope that communities will come together in celebration and warm friendship. (Why not organise a Big Lunch?)

But on the wider economic stage, this is likely to be a very harsh year. Although someone once said that the reason we have astrologers is to make economists look scientific, I think their gloomy predictions for 2012 could be true. This is not an email in which to get political. I will only say that it is my earnest hope that all those who can, will mitigate the damage that 2012 is likely to inflict upon people, especially those who are already hugely disadvantaged. I genuinely hope it is not as bad as I fear. Maybe when I come to write to you next year, I will be saying ‘there we are – it wasn’t all that bad!’.

So I have been pondering what word to adopt this year. I thought what do we need above all else as we pitch into 2012? I concluded that what we all need is perspective – a belief in a horizon that extends beyond the last few and the next few years. An outlook that will help see these times from a bit further away – a perspective that doesn’t lose sight of the fact that we are brilliant, creative, resourceful and caring people, able to collaborate to achieve remarkable things. No matter how bad things might get, we have the spirit that keeps us moving on, keeps us looking after each other, keeps us... human.

This is my word, my perspective, for 2012. What is yours?

In the meantime, I will hope that you find some good time to be with friends and family over the Christmas period, and that all your dreams and ambitions for the coming year are fulfilled.

My very best wishes


Friday, 21 October 2011

The dangers of spurious data

I was reading an article the other day about how Pfizer now use computer tablets (as opposed to the usual ones they manufacture) to keep track of the conversations their representatives have with physicians. Not only is the partly due to the need to comply with all the legislation around what influence pharmaceutical companies can exert upon doctors, but is also about observing the patterns of interest among their clients.

So all well and good: it is not surprising that Pfizer is investing in clever analytics to carry out its business better.

But the thing that struck me was the senior manager talking about their strategy said (refreshingly I thought) that they were not overly concerned about precision. His view was that since the data is all about helping them manage the future, and the future is fairly fuzzy place, spending endless resources on getting numbers to three decimal points was... pointless.

Also this week, I saw a fascinating graph in the Financial Times which showed just how wrong the Monetary Policy Committee has been about its predictions for the consumer prices index (which stands at 5.2% - near a 20 year high).

All this got me to thinking about precision and spurious data. For me one of the places this often crops up is with 350 feedback tools - where people are told they have scored 3.6 on some competency against an average of 4.1. Naturally people want to know if this is significant or not - and as I know a little about stats - I have to say that I have no idea - as the full data is not there.

So, as a leader, how much spurious data are you forced to read - or indeed how much do you create?

(and yes I have left in the 350 degree feedback just to annoy you...!)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Leadership food (International Blog Action Day 2011)

OK. I have been busy! Hence no blog posts for a month. I am sorry. But I had to write something today as it's Blog Action Day 2011. The theme is food...

And as the BAD2011 website says - there is so much one can say about food: - what you like, don't like, how so many people still don't get enough of it and the huge cultural significance it plays in our societies around the world. But I want to talk about 'leadership food' instead.

By leadership food I mean the stuff that sustains us as leaders - what do leaders have to 'eat' in order to be healthy and successful leaders? Is your diet wholesome or based on comfort food?

Comfort food for a leader are models, tools, techniques - the materials that we can use to ensure we cover the issues that need to be covered when putting together our business plans (for example). These are the checklists, the researched recipes for success, the latest fad in management etc. I don't mean to be dismissive at all - we need this stuff - just as we all crave for the odd late night slice of toast with butter and Marmite (or not...!) But a diet of only these sorts of materials will create leaders that do things by rote or mimicry, in my view.

A wholesome diet includes all these tools, of course, but is also about much more. This diet  has plates of feedback, many spoonfuls of reflective practice, sandwiches filled with unanswered questions and puzzlement, a few pinches of self doubt, bowls of self exploration about where your confidence comes from (and how you can help others gain confidence too) and ladles of careful observation of your impact as a leader.

What is your diet as a leader? What is your leadership food?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

With a mop and a duster...

According to the BBC R4 Today programme this morning, Tesco say that September is the month in which most cleaning products are bought - leading to the idea that we now 'Autumn clean' rather than 'Spring clean'

So with a good duster, mop and broom (and even a micro-fibre cloth) - what would you like to clean out of your organisation in September?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Police Crime Commissioners: what might be in their manifestos

Events of the last few weeks have thrown into relief the issue of police leadership and just how political their job can be at times. Debates have been raging at the highest political levels and widely discussed in the media about accountability and professional practice. In the middle of this maelstrom, the Government has stuck with its plans to introduce politically elected Police Crime Commissioners. Whilst not yet on the statute book, we can probably expect the legislation to be whipped through Parliament as swiftly as possible so that the elections for these new police leaders can happen as planned next May.

All this has prompted me to think about the issues that might be addressed in manifestos of the candidates – and what the electors might be interested to know about, before casting their votes. I would expect the local police officers and staff would have an interest too. 

So here is my ‘template’ manifesto for this new kind of political police leader:

There is a huge and complex matter about the distinction between operational & strategic command and political direction and accountability. I would expect that any candidate for the position of one of the PCCs to make very clear just what kind of influence they expect to bring to and exert on the local police service. Some of this of course will be determined by statute, but any candidate worth their salt will be able to describe how they plan to play their part in the leadership of the local police service and not just in times of crisis, but also day to day. 

One of the criticisms of the existing police authorities is that they have not managed to engage with their publics well enough. Some PAs have been better than others of course but the overall level of awareness of their existence and role is not as high as it should be – certainly in the eyes of the Government. Therefore, a candidate for the role of PCC, should be able to articulate just what they will do differently and how their engagement with local communities will be a step change for the better. They will need to state clearly, in my opinion, how they will fairly represent the views of the many diverse communities who will be electing them. 

As we have seen evidence of in recent times, there is the massive issue about deployment of resources. I would expect any candidate for the post of a local Police Crime Commissioner to say what will guide them in influencing how the police service allocates its resources. Again this cannot only be during times of crisis but also (and more importantly) during the everyday job of tackling crime. I would hope that the candidates will address the conundrum already being faced by police services up and down the country: how do you balance resources between areas where people are most at risk of harm (and where people are often less vocal about the need for ‘bobbies on the beat’) with areas where crime is much lower but fear and concern about crime and anti-social behaviour is much higher (and often articulated loudly). 

Crime prevention is often something of a poor cousin in police circles. It might be said by many officers and staff that the needs to respond to calls for help will always be paramount and therefore long term measures to prevent crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime will naturally come second. However I think the issue goes deeper than this and touches on some quite embedded elements of police culture. I would hope that the manifestos of the PCC candidates will tackle this issue head on and say how they plan to boost prevention and work strategically with the police (and many other partner agencies) to do what can be done to create communities that are sustainably infused with the Queen’s Peace.

Finally, there is the matter of professional practice. Unlike many other public professions (and I am thinking here of medicine, teaching, probation, social work and nursing), policing practice is near the beginning of being an evidence based pursuit. Often what police officers do is determined by precedence or custom and practice rather than evidence based research. Just as you would not expect to be offered a treatment by a doctor that had not been reliably tested, it is also the case that police practice should be similarly informed by what works (and what does not). The Neyroud report published earlier this year went into length about the need to establish policing as profession based on evidence based practice. In line with this, surely any candidate for the post of PCC (who will be responsible for the effective, efficient and economic running of local police service) must be able to express a view about the vital matter. I hope that every manifesto published will discuss the importance of building police practice around good research and everyday learning.

No doubt the manifestos will mention many other matters in addition to these – ones that reflect the particular concerns of local people and the crime challenges in the local police area. These could be very interesting political campaigns!

Monday, 1 August 2011

A sabbatical over two half days in Milton Keynes

An Opportunity to Reflect, Imagine & Decide: What next? 
“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” (W H Davies) Why is it that we so rarely, if ever, give ourselves the time to pause and consider our past, present and future? Sometimes through a change put upon us such as redundancy, a business downturn or a family crisis, or just a growing itch, we feel driven to take stock and consider ‘what do I want – what do I really want?’ These two linked workshops offer you the chance to take the initiative, do something different, and give yourself a new outlook.

As you will expect, this is a highly interactive & challenging workshop. The workshop is not for the fainthearted, nor is it for people who have some deep-seated ‘issues’. The day will be productive for you if you are ready to take off your shoes, switch off your phone and remove your watch, and then be prepared to stretch and surprise yourself.

Through a carefully structured process, these two half days have been designed to enable you to:

·         Focus, be safe and allow yourself to pinpoint some of the key things you have learnt from life & work so far, and what you want to learn next
·         Consider the events of your past and what the patterns are
·         Examine the present – the pressures and challenges you face and how you are handling these
·         Imagine a creative and practical future that supports both the parts you want to stick with as well as the ones you now wish to change

A Sabbatical held over two half days - part one on 4/10/11 and part two on 11/10/11.

Price: Members £250 +VAT | Non - Members £300 +VAT
Who Should Attend: Directors, Executives and Business Owners.

Contact Details:

Training Team, World Trade Center @ The Hub
9 Rillaton Walk
Central Milton Keynes

01908 259009
Fax: 01908 246799

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Time to swap the SWOT?

Sometimes it seems that almost everyone has done a SWOT (strengths, opportunities, opportunities and threats) analysis at some point in their business careers. I have no means of measuring this, but I would estimate that SWOT analysis is probably the most common technique used by managers seeking to be (or at least appearing to be) a strategic leader.

The scenario can, however, sometimes go like this: a horseshoe group gathers round a flip chart and launches into brainstorming the four headings in a random order. There is usually a discussion along the lines of “is that an opportunity or a threat?” to which someone else will say “well it could be both – let’s put it in both sections”. And then someone else will say “yes, but, isn’t that one of our weaknesses too?” to which the reply will be “put it there as well”. And then there will be a further ‘off piste’ (i.e. not brainstorming) discussion about that weakness about how it has been around for so long and every time we do one of these SWOT discussions it comes up and nothing changes and how life is ultimately so depressing and why are we bothering with this SWOT brainstorming anyway and can we talk about something else...?

Have you been in one of those discussions?

One of the reasons, I suspect, why the approach has been often misused is that the original source has been lost. Albert Humphrey of Stanford University is often credited with inventing the term (see but others suggest that there is “no documented history of SWOT – that is the answer!” ( Whatever is the case, the net and literature are full of ‘how to’ methods for conducting a SWOT analysis ( and for example).

I happen to think that because SWOT has been badly used for so long by so many people that we are in danger of overlooking just how useful a SWOT analysis can be. Perhaps it is time to straighten out the screwdriver that you once used to open a can of paint – and use this tool well. At risk of creating yet another ‘how to’ blog on the use of SWOT analysis, here are some guidelines that should help you to make the most of this tool:
  • Recognise that a good SWOT analysis requires careful deliberation and is not something to squeeze in as a good ‘filler’ before the real highlight of the away day (i.e. lunch). If you want to make the most of a SWOT analysis, start with being in the right frame of mind and give it enough time. 
  • Make sure you have the best possible mix of people present: people with insight, concern and authority in varying mixtures usually works well. 
  • Define your scope carefully at the beginning. Describe and delineate the project / team / organisation (p/t/o) about which you are conducting the SWOT so that everyone knows what is ‘internal’ and what is ‘external’. Also remind people of the objectives of the project / team / organisation so that all are starting with the same song sheet. 
  • Define your terms rigorously at the beginning as well. Here are mine: 
    • an opportunity is an external factor or force that is or has the potential to assist or enable the p/t/o achieve its objectives
    • a threat is an external factor or force that is or has the potential to hinder or disable the p/t/o achieve its objectives
    • a weakness is an internal feature of the p/t/o that is either inhibiting the p/t/o from making the most of the external opportunities or mitigating the external threats
    • a strength is an internal feature of the p/t/o that is either allowing the p/t/o to make the most of the external opportunities or to mitigate the external threats 
  • Note that strengths and weaknesses are defined relative to the external opportunities and threats. The implication of this is in a SWOT analysis, is that you start ‘out there’ with opportunities and threats. Then you identify the strengths and weaknesses in this context. Something might be strength one year and bit a weakness the next because the context has changed. This point, in my view, is critical in understanding how to make the most of SWOT analyses. This is why some people call them TOWS analyses (although I prefer OTSW as jars more and is therefore remembered more, perhaps). 
  • Good analysis starts with a good brainstorm, in my experience. This means allowing people, with all of the above in mind, to freewheel, connect, say whatever comes into their heads, not critique or discuss, and get out a large volume of ideas. (I think sticky notelets can be useful as you can move them around later.) 
  • One shape on which to place the ideas, which emphasises the points above is this: 
  • Using the ‘STEEPLE’ mnemonic may help with stimulating ideas for the outer ring (social / sociological, technical / technological, economic, environmental, political / Political, legal and ethical) and McKinsey’s 7S model to consider the inner one (strategy, structure, systems, skills, style, staff & shared values) 
If these guidelines are new to you, please try them out and let me know how they work.

What other guidelines would you suggest (or delete)?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Investment opportunity! Online learning how to ride a bike.

In line with the huge and growing interest in e-learning because of its cost effectiveness and overall brilliance, I have decided to create a course on ‘how to ride a bike, online’. I am looking for co-investors in this enterprise.

I expect a lot of interest from parents of young children, who just do not have the time these days to teach their offspring how to ride a bike ‘in the real world’. I also know there must be a many adults out there who need to brush up on their bike riding skills but do not currently have a bike to use and/or the time to use it. Indeed, I will shortly be commissioning research to show that ‘online biking’ will enable people to ‘shed the pounds’ in advance of their summer holiday. (Ironically, of course, I hope to gain a few pounds of the other kind, from the creation of this e-learning course.)

Would you like to make an investment?

The course will be available 24 hours a day and will feature all the knowledge you need: the history of biking around the world, how bikes work, their mechanics, where they need to be lubricated and how to fix a puncture. This knowledge will be the essential foundation for the core skill of ‘riding’. This will be demonstrated in a series of streamed videos, diagrams and sophisticated power point presentations: all designed to show you how to start, stop, go round corners and fall off safely. There will also be iPhone & Android apps which will employ the inbuilt motion sensors so that you can learn how to balance really, really well. There will be advanced courses for people who wish to ride tandems, go downhill really fast, or how to get off and walk up hills briskly and proudly.

This is the investment of a lifetime!

So please email me if you wish to be part of this new initiative and I will let you know about the forthcoming webinars where you can hear me ‘free wheel’ about the massive investment opportunity that this is.

Other courses to come include ‘how to lead people, really well’, ‘how to run the economy as if it were a housekeeping budget’ and ‘how to make shed loads of money out of running care homes for older people’. All these courses will be delivered online at a fraction of the cost of ‘real life’ courses that require you to interact with other people and learn 'real' skills.

Friday, 22 July 2011

As a leader: are you painter or a sculptor?

Near where I live there is delightful wooded walk into town. About half way there is a green man sculpted into a tree stump, calmly staring at you as you walk on by. It struck me the other day that often sculptors have to work in reverse. In other words they make their art by what they leave behind rather than what they add (like a painter).

And I got to thinking whether good leadership is a little like that. Many leaders spend their time coming up with new visions, new procedures and new ways to manage change (etc). Their art is expressed by what they add...

But perhaps other leaders (better leaders?) express their art by focusing on what they can take away or what obstacles they can remove. In other words the art is allowed to emerge rather than being applied like paint. I have heard sculptors talk about how the forms they create are already in the stone they work with – and it is their job to unwrap these hidden shapes.

So as a leader – are you painter or a sculptor? Or are you both – in which case when do you choose to paint and when do you elect to sculpt instead?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Where is your plan?

One police station I visited had their 10 point plan displayed on all the notice boards – straightforward, no padding and clearly sketched out for the year. 

I have been to other places and when you ask for the plan – it is ‘somewhere’ in the filing cabinet.

But in other places, I have known leaders dig out dog eared copies from their briefcases

Where is you current plan?

It's not too late!

I am still looking for contributors to the book I am compiling.

‘Everyday Leadership Inspiration’ is the working title of a book I am putting together and I wonder if you would like to contribute?

It will be a book written by everyday leaders for everyday leaders. The idea is that each leader describes what book (or film, or poem, or story from their life, or quote... etc) has inspired their leadership and then (in about 300 – 500 words) to write about why and how it does.

A brief giving more detail is available here. If you would like to contribute please send it to me at

Thank you.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Positive action on creating ‘SME friendly’ procurement processes

In the process of moving towards a Government procurement programme that is more open to bids from small and medium sized private companies (and other entities); it is likely that existing procedures will need some radical overhaul. Much of this has been underway with the project to design leaner commissioning and procurement processes.

However, there is likely to still be a pervasive and resilient culture that naturally favours buying products and services from larger corporations. As the PM stated on 11/2/11, there is still a culture of ‘nobody gets sacked for buying an IBM’. This culture is probably still so embedded as to mean that many of those involved in Government procurement will not easily make the transition to an ‘SME friendly’ culture. See here for further information: & my blog about the meeting in February

Whilst competition law, the need for VfM and the Civil Service Code mean that there must be no positive discrimination in favour of SME supply, there can perhaps be positive action.

This document sets out some questions designed to challenge those involved in Government procurement to manage tendering processes in ways that positively highlight the value and importance of SME provision.

Ten questions for procurement executives, advisers, officers and specialists to address in order to assure an ‘SME friendly’ procurement process and which has no implicit bias in favour of larger organisation bidders:

  1. Within our overall commissioning strategy & plan or this specific procurement exercise, have we ‘chunked’ our requirements into optimally scoped portions such that suppliers of all sizes would be able to bid? 
  2. Within the bidding process, have we made available documentation & information from past / existing contracts (including materials produced by suppliers that we now own the IPR to plus our detailed evaluations of past delivery) to ensure that all bidders (which may include past / existing suppliers) are competing on a level playing field? 
  3. In our efforts to ascertain whether bidders have the necessary skills & track record of performance that we require, have we a process for establishing whether the claimed experience still exists within the supplier organisations (and not merely part of a company back catalogue, the agents of which have since left the company, for example)? 
  4. Have we specified our requirements in such a way as to allow bidders to propose innovative solutions which may look (very) different to the delivery model we had in mind (or are used to) but which may well nonetheless achieve the outcomes we are seeking with greater efficiency, effectiveness and economy? 
  5. Have we created a set of communication mechanisms between us and potential bidders that blends and balances the need for transparency with the need for a carefully controlled confidential channel so that some bidders can request to explore certain innovative ideas which (if revealed to all) would significantly damage their advantage? 
  6. If we are using a framework or PQQ process (and acknowledging that such methods are now seen as counter to the direction of Ministerial intentions and Government policy), are we confident that these processes do not have any inbuilt bias towards larger organisations through (e.g.) requiring voluminous (and often largely irrelevant) policies on sustainability, health & safety or international supplier QA? 
  7. Have we requested details of financial or economic standing that are either disproportionate to the actual risk associated with that which we are procuring or indeed plainly irrelevant, and which may yield a real or psychological bias in favour of larger organisations (asking for ‘audited accounts’ for instance)? 
  8. Within the process leading up to the publication of the tender documents or PQQ, have we ensured that the voice of the end user / customer (such as the battlefield soldier or the older person needing support) has been woven irrevocably into the very fabric of our statement of requirements so that we can be sure that bidders will shape their proposals around what these final users need and not what they (or indeed any other intermediaries) ‘think’ should be delivered? 
  9. Whilst keeping the whole commissioning and procurements processes clean and lean, have we built in an opportunity for an independent “SME advocate” to challenge and scrutinise us so that we can be sure that the overall tender procedure contains no hidden biases in favour of larger organisations? 
  10. Have we put in place an evaluation framework so that we can independently verify that the best bidder was eventually chosen from amongst all those who showed an initial interest and (possibly, though this would be hard to achieve) those who might have bid but for their being generally put off by the scope of Government procurement, without being tautologically attached to believing that our bidding processes always identifies the best bid? 
This is meant to be a live document. There is nothing magical about there being 10 questions. You may wish to add an eleventh or more. You may also wish to suggest a deletion or tweak to one of the questions above. Indeed, you may wish to challenge this whole approach.

If you have any contributions, please either email me ( or post a comment below. I would be interested in the dialogue. Thank you

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What is your strategic secret?

Michael Porter famously said the “essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” However far too many plans and strategies appear to glory in being long on both analysis and actions.

The question is not how much do you need to do to achieve the goals you are seeking, but how little you have to do.

How do you go about selecting the few actions that will make the most amount of difference?

What is your secret?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Bean sprouts and complexity

Some recent news stories (ranging from Haringey to Germany to Bristol..) and couple of tweets have got me thinking about accountability and responsibility: as in what do we really mean when we say a person should be 'held accountable' or that someone 'was responsible'...? The media like to talk about who was to blame and the courts seek to apportion responsibility. Compensation is demanded, heads must roll and politicians will be held to account.

It all seems very puzzling to me. Avoiding the debates around Sharon Shoesmith and Winterbourne View, I will stick with talking about E.Coli in Germany instead as it is a subject I know very little about and it is a somewhat less heated subject here in the UK (whilst not overlooking the fact that several people have died). It is useful to explore, a little, I think.

Firstly, when I began writing this article, the German authorities still did not know the source of the outbreak. I say 'still' because there is a bit of me that thinks they should have discovered some days ago. I mean, how hard can it be? Well evidently, very hard (I did say I do not know much about this subject). But this does not stop people (especially some journalists and politicians) from expressing the view that 'something must be done', and the guilty party should be held to account. But who is the 'guilty' party here? Not the Spanish cucumber farmers it would seem. It now (10/6/11) does seem to have been the North German bean sprout cultivator (alfalfa or moong bean - I need to know?) Or maybe not: the evidence so far is not completely cut and dried.

Maybe this just happened.

Whilst it will probably be definitively discovered eventually where this killer bug came from, my guessing is that it will be found to have been a complex interplay of a number of coincidental occurrences that combined to make it happen. No single person will be 'responsible'. But will this prevent the hunt for someone to be held to account and hung out to dry. Sadly, probably not. Whilst the German Government looks set to compensate the Spanish Farmers, they will in turn probably look for someone else to blame - to shift that lump of responsibility onwards (and, in all likelihood, downwards).

But isn't accountability and responsibility a bit like a handful of alafalfa sprouts: a convoluted mesh of interwoven strands. If you pull it apart to discover how it holds together, the strands will break and the pattern that you seek will disappear. Isn't accountability a bit like that - not clean, clinical and linear but irregular, fuzzy and connected in complex ways? 
  • As a manager, how do you 'performance manage' people when the reasons for their successes or failures are difficult to discern? 
  • As a citizen, how do you hold politicians to account for their decisions? 
  • As a politician, how do you distinguish between what you will claim success for and what you will say was nothing to do with you? 
  • In sum, how does complexity impact on your leadership?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Free tickets: employee engagement event

David Zinger who runs a very successful ning on employee engagement ( is over in the UK offering a free half day workshop:
ENGAGE -Think Different Inside Our Hives: How to Achieve Exceptional Employee Engagement (5 July 2011)

There are only 25 tickets left... Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Players not pawns in the commissioning process

These are some thoughts about the application of whole system approaches to commissioning within the public services. My aim in writing this is to persuade you that such methods would be hugely beneficial to all the stakeholders involved. Moreover, it is my view that without such methods, the ambitions for commissioning within the public services will never be fully achieved.

I start with a commonly accepted definition: Commissioning is the process of specifying, securing and monitoring services to meet people’s needs at a strategic level. This applies to all services, whether they are provided by the local authority, NHS, other public agencies, or by the private and voluntary sectors. (Making Ends Meet, Social Services Inspectorate / Audit Commission 2003)

Within such an approach is an inherent complexity arising from not only the subtlety of the needs mentioned but also from the interaction of those needs which will often pull in opposing directions: what a particular user needs will not be same as nor necessarily compatible with the needs of the wider community (for example). A robust and effective approach to commissioning therefore needs to have the capability to ‘hold’ this complexity and work within it to make effective decisions about provision, procurement, and performance management etc. (There is much additional complexity in the provision of effective and efficient services as well, of course.)

Meeting all these needs and generating sustainable social outcomes requires ‘ownership’ from many key stakeholders, not least the supplier agencies. They will need to invest large amounts of their time in designing and maintaining structures, systems and practices to meet these needs within a very tight resource base. While the system will just about work if these actors feel ‘done to’, it will not work very effectively or efficiently as more resource will have to be invested by the commissioning bodies in monitoring compliance and performance. Likewise without the communities and politicians authorising the direction of travel, there is the risk that precious resources will need to be spent on ‘selling’ the plans made. With all these points in mind, I argue that stakeholder commitment is a vital ingredient in assembling and running effective and efficient commissioning processes.

Einstein once defined insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result to be different. On this basis, there has been quite a lot of insanity in the UK public services in the past. Commissioning offers a good deal of hope for reforming how public services delivered so that new (and better) ways are found to deliver these services that will lead to better outcomes for all concerned. The regimens that commissioning requires of both suppliers and commissioners should help to yield innovation in how citizens are served, and thence helped to live more fulfilling lives. It should, but will it? Does it? There is an inherent risk in commissioning that unless the right conditions are built in, the key actors involved may well end up ‘playing safe’. The latter day version of ‘nobody got sacked for buying an IBM’ comes into operation, as it were. If the processes for implementing commissioning fail to foster creativity and innovation, a significant opportunity will have been lost.

In summary, my position is that for commissioning to work smoothly, we need decision making methodologies that can hold complexity, develop commitment and foster creativity. Of course most approaches to public service commissioning (as seen in the NHS and local government) aim to have these three ingredients in place. However, I would contend that the approaches used to install these three ingredients often fall short of the full potential.

For example the approach to complexity is often interpreted and conducted as detailed needs analyses where seemingly endless iterations of surveys, focus groups, research and expert input are channelled into large and turgid reports written by small project teams. Complexity is synthesised into a single executive summary where the rich diversity of perspectives is more or less left to one side. Attempts are made to manufacture commitment through road shows and glossy vision statements. While the need for creativity is proclaimed, the whole process is so ‘left brained’ & paper based that very little creativity sees the light of day.

This is where whole system approaches come in as they are designed to create the optimal conditions for handling complexity, developing commitment and fostering creativity. The essence of all WS approaches is that all they focus on enabling authentic conversations that lead to collaboration not fragmentation. They use methods that tap into people’s imagination and analytical functions so that both right and left brains are engaged. These approaches spend most time looking forward to the future so that heads lift up and energy is found to develop new solutions rather than pick apart what has not worked well in the past. And, critically, they aim to get the ‘whole system in the room’ so that everyone has he opportunity to meet the other players in the system and appreciate their perspectives. Such approaches would nurture the sense that commissioning is there to be harnessed actively by all involved to shape better futures, rather than succumb to them. 

There are several ‘versions’ of such approaches (which have also been called ‘large group interventions’) and which have been used extensively in the NHS commissioning for example. These versions include:
  • Open Negotiation (where the key issues to be resolved are identified before a whole system event and then a process is created that enables these issues to be addressed in open forum between the key players)
  • World CafĂ© (where an ambient atmosphere assists people in focussing on a series of predetermined and emergent questions to identify a particular way forward for the matter in question)
  • Open Space (where key players are brought together by an overarching theme and discussions are organised from the floor up around what needs to get discussed and sorted)
  • Future Search (where stakeholders spend time identifying key learning from the past, clarifying the current pressures and shaping a new future for the system they represent)
  • Open Simulation (where a new way of working is tested in a model situation by the people who will have to make it work in reality so that glitches and advantages can be identified before the ‘go live’ date)
Each of these approaches involves preparation where four key ‘P’s are investigated and balanced:
  • What is the main purpose?
  • What therefore should be the process?
  • Which people need to be there?
  • What arrangements need to be made regarding the place?
Each event (or summit) is designed bespoke to the key question that needs to be answered at key stages of the commissioning process. The event(s) may well focus upon:
  • What needs and demands need to be built into our commissioning cycle?
  • As commissioners, what services do we need to source?
  • As providers, what services do we need to offer?
  • How should we monitor and manage the performance within this system?
And so forth... Naturally, events could be geographically based (eg the NW region), provision based (eg high security prisons only) or user based (eg women aged 18 to 25).

In addition to boosting creativity, commitment and the capacity to hold complexity, using these approaches would bring a range of significant benefits that are particularly needed at this time in the development of commissioning in the current climate:
  • These approaches will assist in building trust both between the agencies involved and in the commissioning approach itself.
  • By engaging a diverse mix of stakeholders in these approaches this will reduce the need to spend resources on educating about and ‘selling’ commissioning to people who need to be up-skilled or persuaded of the approach
  • These approaches will help make a break with the past and introduce some fresh flare into the delivery of public services where needed
  • Unlike more traditional ‘left brain only’ approaches, these WS methods will help to increase the sense amongst the stakeholders in the mixed economy of the ‘Big Society’ that they are players not pawns in shaping the future of the services involved.
In summary, I contend that whole system approaches have much to offer commissioning. These approaches will ensure the overall process delivers more effective, more efficient, more robust and more flexible services that will lead to dramatically improved outcomes for all concerned.

See related links:
Just spotted this story in the Guardian about commissioning children's services - makes for interesting reading:

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The government procurement conundrum: a possible solution

Governments are duty bound to spend their taxpayers' money wisely. This means that procurement processes must be sufficiently fair, open, clever and conducted with due probity to ensure that only most competitive and competent suppliers win tenders. This is right and entirely understandable.

However, this appears to have led to an exponential growth in the procedures used to achieve these goals. Pre qualification questionnaires, framework contracts and tenders themselves are becoming so extensive that only large organisations (with the capacity to employ specialist bid staff) or small / medium sized organisations (which hire in specialist bid writers or who can 'spare the time' to fill in the huge forms) are bidding.

This is skewing the market and is, I would argue, putting in place inflationary pressures. The result is often, despite the best & most worthy intentions of government procurement staff, the purchasers are often either paying over the odds or contracting with sub optimal providers, or both. (There is also a growing body of evidence that the thresholds and requirements being placed upon bidders, such as having disproportionate levels of indemnity insurance, is compounding matters, and skewing the market even further.)

I have blogged about this in several places before such as here and here. And now it seems we have a government that has woken up to this conundrum and wants to do something about it. (See report of a meeting with the PM and Francis Maude here). Hurrah!

But... what is to be done?

There is much talk of doing away with PQQs and Frameworks - and opening all tenders to all bidders. Aside from the likelihood that this will take some time to achieve (and can the economy wait while this happens?) - is this goal even possible?

The danger is that government bodies seeking to procure a new service will put out an open tender and then be inundated with bids. This will slow decision making down and stretch procurement resources to breaking point. Also the providers will spend possibly even more time writing these bids.

A possible solution:

When the government body has clarified its requirement in terms of what service or change it is seeking assistance with achieving, it should publish four documents:

  1. A clear statement of the requirement (with some information about the context)
  2. An outline budget for how much they wish to spend (this would seriously help bidders do quick calcs and work out if this job is for them or not)
  3. A statement of what the successful bidder will be expected to have or be (eg 'sufficient' indemnity insurance rather than specifying a particular level, 'good health and safety practice', rather than requesting an 'off the shelf' H&S policy etc) 
  4. An invitation to bidders to submit no more than two sides of A4 as to why they should be invited to submit a fuller bid

This will keep the process of assessing bidders down to a minimum for the government agency. It will make it very clear to all the potential bidders whether they should or should not bid. Whilst it will be tricky to boil their outline bid down to two pages, the best providers will be able to do this, I would contend.

What do you think - would this work? Would such an approach match the needs of all those involved and create a more level playing field where the real winner will be the taxpayer?

Would anyone like to test this method through some sort of controlled trial? (Ben Goldacre has written an excellent piece about the critical importance of such trials in today's Guardian: click here.) As I have said before - the whole field of procurement seems distinguished by its lack of any evidence based practice. (But in the spirit of the scientific method, I would be more than happy to have my theory disproved...)

And if you do use this method already (or something very similar) - I would love to hear the details about well it works. Please share.

And... if this is a new method, and it works well, please just remember you read about it first here... Thanks.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Creative justice?

Just came across this story:

"A US man who helped persuade an English man and a Canadian woman to commit suicide after finding them online has been given a jail term in Minnesota..."

So what is interesting about this...?

The detail that caught my eye was the later point:

"The judge ordered him to spend an initial 320 days in prison and then for the next 10 years return to jail on the anniversaries of his victims' deaths." [my highlight]

For a whole heap of reasons, I think there is something poignantly just about this part of the sentence: that for two days each year, the offender will have the 'inconvenience' of being made to go to gaol and think about the crime he has committed.

This got me thinking about what other crimes this might suit - dangerous driving comes to mind - certainly where someone was injured or even killed. What do you think?

But then I got to thinking about creativity in not just the criminal justice system but in the broader public services: what conditions need to be in place that would allow for such creativity and innovation?

So - what conditions do you think need to be either boosted or established - so that we can continue to have such creative thinking (and more) in the delivery of public services - including community justice?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

If PQQs were the answer, what was the question?

Recently, I was invited to a meeting at the Treasury as a follow up to the earlier larger meeting hosted by the PM and Francis Maude (see my report of this meeting below at this link). This was a small meeting designed to assist the team who are tackling the whole issue of how to go about making Government procurement more SME friendly (as I describe it). Despite the people present being from quite a wide range of industries, I was struck by the similarity of our experiences of procurement.

In a nutshell, it would appear, that more and more SME people (me included) are simply giving up the will to live (almost!) when confronted by the increasingly convoluted Pre Qualification Questionnaire processes that are being used to sift, select and short list suppliers for the next phase of procurement processes. 

It is not my job to record the outputs and proceedings of the meeting - but I did want to share the questions that I took along with me to the meeting to record some of my thinking on this subject: 
  • What evidence is there that PQQs really work? 
  • What do PQQs set out to achieve - and what do they actually achieve? 
  • How do PQQs skew the market place - and do they skew in the direction of better value for the taxpayer or not? 
  • Who are the best a) Government and b) Private sector procurers? 
  • What can we learn from these organisations (assuming we know how to identify 'best')? 
  • What does good procurement look like? (I had my stab at this before - see here
  • As a method of managing the scale of the task (of identifying the few key suppliers who can do an effective and economic job) - what options apart from PQQs are available? 
  • If PQQs and Framework contracts are going out of fashion - what are the best tools to replace them with? 
  • Do PQQs result in the best suppliers being selected to do a job, or do PQQs tend to select those who are just very good at... writing PQQs? 
And finally if PQQs were the answer - what was the question?

I would be genuinely interested in what other suppliers think but especially what do clients and procurers think about my questions? Do you have any answers? 

Please post below. Thanks

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Questioning Engagement

Here is a link to the latest e-book from David Zinger's ning - a set of brilliant questions for leaders to ask their staff, colleagues and bosses - in order to create more engagement.

There is nothing as powerful as a good question, in my view!

Monday, 18 April 2011

The 12 kinds of books on leadership

Often when I visit bookshops and browse the shelves for new publications (and there always many) on management & leadership, I am usually disappointed. The books seem to fall into a dozen broad categories (and I already have several in each):
  1. How to turn your life / new job / business around in 30 days
  2. Learn how to ride a bike / lead by reading a book about it
  3. The 5, 13.5 or 88 secrets of success to being a better leader
  4. The manual of how to lead in 297 easy written procedures with full index
  5. Leadership lessons of bloody ancient leaders or blooming marvellous present ones
  6. The myway by Vranson / Cricher / Jacoka / Saint / insert new name here
  7. How to whack the tribe and lose the cheese: creative recipes for success
  8. HBBRNOW 79! Top hits from hip business school academics
  9. Dig deep, really deep inside to find your inner dude / shaman / dervish
  10. 21 crazy games to get people talking with each other, sometime
  11. It worked in my business: it can work in yours too!
  12. New insight (again)! From the Blankcard, Hotter & Bovey book factory
Or have I missed a category?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Turning on a sixpence

Government, Local Authority & Third Sector 
IT Provision in Times of Austerity
Friday 10th June, Westminster Studios, Central London

The need has never been greater for public and third sector services to make the most of their existing IT infrastructures and systems, and harness the free and low cost options provided by the web. Options to procure new systems or expensive upgrades are now very much more limited due to fiscal pressures.

This 'open space' conference will offer you a unique and intensely interactive opportunityto investigate, develop and enhance your existing IT systems, and explore how web tools (such as dropbox, yammer and many other social media applications) can help you to achieve more with less.

The workshops will provide you with many opportunities to share, collaborate and devise shrewd strategies and deft innovations designed to make the most from the IT within your organisation and how you can harvest all that the net provides – often for free.

What is Open Space?

How many times have you been to an event and come away with two thoughts: the ‘break times were the most valuable’ and ‘how I wish we had talked about X subject’? How many events have you attended and discovered later that a colleague or contact was present but you never had the chance to sit and talk with them? How often have you wished to leave an elective workshop after the first few minutes and visit another, but felt compelled to stay?

Austere: IT’ has been designed with these experiences in mind: not only will you be able to create the agenda precisely around the issues that matter to you but also you will get to know all about what other discussions are going on as well. You will have the scope and flexibility to craft the day to exactly what you want it to be.

Or as Ken Eastwood of NOMADS ( has said “Having a conversational event around these issues will be most fascinating and helpful”

This event will identify critical ways in which existing central government, local government and third sector IT systems can be innovated to provide enhanced value for money with no or very minimal extra investment. As a consequence, the possible topics include:
  • Developing new ways in how to use low cost off the shelf packages, or free to use services on the web to deliver services to the public (such as, and
  • Using social media to ‘oil’ communication around public & third sector organisations (here is one example:
  • Redesigning the human processes to make more use of the IT systems 
  • Using unconferences, govcamps and other interactive means (face to face and web based) to create new applications with partners and users 
  • Making more flexible use of existing contracts with external suppliers to provide more for less 
  • Harnessing the insights, ideas and power of customers, users and other stakeholders 
  • Collaborating with neighbouring agencies and authorities 
  • Extending functionality to new areas and services 
  • Developing and adopting greater commercial leadership & ‘nous’ in negotiating with external providers
This is not just about making do, or even mending what we have (though those can help) – it is critically about harnessing all the resources at our disposal – which includes many low cost or free services already available

Register today and save £200 (All delegates registering by Friday 6th June will be entitled to a £200 discount. To register please follow this link.) If you have any questions regarding the event please email Katie Gilroy. (Account Manager- Local Government, Neil Stewart Associates. Direct Line: 020 7960 6852)

More information here


Brendan Harris - Interim Director of Knowledge and Innovation
Services Directorate Support Team Manager
Local Government Improvement and Development

will be giving an opening presentation

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

13 Questions: when is a consultation a consultation?

I have just had an article published in the Guardian today: prompted by the NHS listening exercise initiated by the Government, the article reflects on what it takes for a consultation to be genuine. There are 13 yes/no questions to test (or design) a consultation process.

You can read the article here:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Prose & passion: Inspiring and sustaining leadership

There are many, many books on leadership: a search on Amazon just yielded a list of 165,621 for example. Nonetheless, I am editing a new one and I am looking for your help. This will be a different kind of leadership book as it will be almost entirely written by everyday people practising everyday leadership. My aim is to have a wide diversity of contributors from large and small organisations, public, commercial & voluntary, and from all levels with a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. It will be an anthology of articles by leaders for leaders.

Quite simply I am looking for what inspires and sustains people in their leadership? What book, or poem, or story, or quote, or film, or person or even passing remark has helped you become the leader that you are? And from this article, what strength of insight, what ethical tiller or what beacon idea sustains you when your leadership is tested?

For example a client who has become an old friend once told me that in his first job (in a medium sized engineering company) he observed that the managing director always came in the back door and walked through the workshops to his office at the front. He once got the chance to ask him why and the MD explained that this was his way of staying in touch with what was going on. This principle of ‘staying in touch’ stuck with my friend and he always made a point of either literally or metaphorically coming in the back door as he rose to become (and then retired from) being chief executive of a large organisation.

My intention is to collect and edit these contributions into a book that will inspire people. My aim is that it will be a book that people will treasure or want to give as a gift to friends, relatives and colleagues. All contributions will be duly acknowledged (unless you really want to remain anonymous) and I will obtain the necessary permissions to publish the passages and poems etc. that you cite. I will also be writing an introductory text, cataloguing the contributions, arranging for publication and commissioning images to go in the book.

To be considered for inclusion in the book, please email me with the answers to two questions:

1) What book, poem, film, speech, painting, quote, story, or person (or whatever) continues to inspire your leadership? (please note that I will need a copy of the text or image you are referring to, together with a reference from where it came)

2) What is it about this piece that inspires you and helps sustain you as a leader? In other words, tell me the story behind your selection. (I am looking for something around 300 to 500 words. And based on some of the contributions I have received so far, here is some further clarification. I am seeking personal statements about just how the piece from Q1 connects with your leadership. In other words, I am not looking for third party descriptions of someone else’s leadership – but a heartfelt declaration of yours. I am also not looking for pieces that read a little like adverts for your organisation or consulting practice! I am looking for, as I said to one person who got in touch: how the piece connects with your life/leadership... I want – and I believe the readers of the book will want – to hear why this article in particular and how the essence of it sits inside you every day...)

The deadline I am working to (now) is the end of January 2012.

My email address is I will reply to all emails sent to me and keep you in touch with what is happening next.

Finally, thank you for your interest and commitment to creating a book that will inspire & support leaders around the world


Monday, 11 April 2011

Leading as listening - what is your image?

The UK Coalition Government is beginning a two month ‘listening exercise’ about their proposed changes to how the National Health Service is managed (see for details). There is much that is being written about the politics of this decision (see here for a ‘Mills & Boon’ description: for example) – but I would like to focus on what we mean by... listening... and leadership.

Most of us know what good listening involves. When I pose the question to groups “how do we know when someone is really listening to us?” they have no trouble filling a flip chart or two with the most detailed descriptions of behaviour, body language, phrases used and so forth. But when I ask the question around how well their leaders listen to them, the response is very mixed. Many people report leaders who may say they listen but give little evidence of having done so. Some leaders just don’t listen very well, others do it well at the time but do not follow it up with any action. This all leaves me wondering why is it that most leaders usually know how to listen but often appear to fall short of doing it effectively?

Perhaps many leaders think that it is the job of their followers to listen to them, not the other way around. The images that many people have of leaders are either
  • someone ‘leading from the front’, with their ears turned away from their followers, or of 
  • someone at the front of a room presenting to people or of 
  • a general in a tent somewhere well behind the lines directing the troops like a chess game, or a 
  • a thought leader, researching and ruminating in dark laptop light filled room. 
None of these images conjure up an image of listening leader.
  • What picture pops into your mind when you think of a leader? 
  • Does this image conform to what kind of leader you are... or want to be? 
  • If you think deliberately of a listening leader, what image now comes to mind? 
But of course, leadership may only be about 10% listening... what do you think? Perhaps the Government is seeing their listening exercise is being much more about telling, selling & explaining than about genuinely taking on board the concerns of NHS staff and patients – time will tell.
  • How much of your leadership is about listening...? 
  • How much of your leadership would you like to be about listening? 
  • Does your image of leadership match this?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Navigating the 3 C's: how do you score?

Here is a short questionnaire to test how successful your business will be over the next 18 months. It is based on the premise that the most successful businesses are ones that balance
  • Creativity,
  • Commitment and
  • Complexity
Every business needs innovation to delight their customers, stay ahead of their competitors and to keep driving down costs. Creativity is the fuel for innovation and many businesses are brilliant at not recognising when it is needed, or worse, crushing it out of people.

With the commitment (or engagement, as it is often called) of everyone involved in a business, everything becomes that much more possible. People work smarter and more steadily: not just harder and harder (and harder).

In our frenetic world where new technologies and ideas approach us from all angles, and customers want that something different and bespoke: managing complexity is critical. If a business cannot handle the complex demands it faces, it will quickly fade away.

Are you and the other key leaders of your business balancing these three C’s well enough? Try this questionnaire and see how you score

How much do you agree with the statement? (Where 1 is ‘not at all’ and 7 is ‘totally’)
1.        I can easily remember the last time one of my team had a brilliantly creative idea that added to our overall performance.
2.       In fact I can remember quite a few times before then too when people around the business have come up with new and fresh ideas.
3.       In my (part of the) business, we do things very differently now to three years ago – new pressures mean we have had to change
4.       I usually come away from a meeting with colleagues or business contacts with at least one new idea.
5.        When my team and I sit down together, I just expect there to be creativity and there usually is.
6.       Often at work, I am delightfully surprised by the ingenuity of the people I work with
7.        In my business, there is no effort needed to sell the new strategies, people know what they need to do already – and are doing it
8.       People all face the same direction in my business, not in some regimented way, but with a clear focus on the future
9.       I enjoy coming to work and so do all my colleagues: we work hard, but we also have fun
10.     Staff appraisals are not the turgid box ticking exercises I see in other businesses, in ours we have lively conversations about the past and future
11.      The plans in our business don’t just gather dust in filing cabinets, we use them to handle the pressures we face
12.     In fact we don’t really have large planning documents, instead we have a community of people who all understand what we need to do
13.     Just like a good military general, I don’t spend all my time in the valleys, I am often up on the hills looking further & beyond the current challenges
14.     I read newspapers, magazines & journals to spot the trends that are coming our way – there are patterns in most things
15.     My team and I are able to work the detail as well as we work the big picture – we can link it all together
16.     I use every chance I get to talk with suppliers and customers about what changes they are seeing, or would like to see
17.     Things are much more complex than they used to be, but I think we have managed to have big enough conversations to handle these changes
18.     Sometimes I get scared when I think about everything the business needs to achieve but I know I can rely on everyone to bring their piece of puzzle
19.     Come the end of the week, I am able to relax and know we are surfing the waves of change rather than being drowned by them
20.    I spend a good chunk of my time managing the future and not just to reacting to the present day challenges

If you scored 140, you need to bottle what you company is doing and sell it! Certainly if your score was somewhere above 110, your company is probably far more creative, engaged and strategic than most. You will enjoy coming to work. Between 60 and 109 is probably around average – but is average enough? How might you up your score? And if your score was below 60, there is probably room for some change – you, your business or both.

This, of course, is not a scientific survey but merely one to prompt reflection. The ideas underpinning it though are – the best companies are the ones where creativity, commitment and complexity are blended well together.