Category Archives: Leadership

Retire – to what?

I want to start this piece by thanking Yorkshire Water’s pension scheme and HM Government for creating the conditions that allow me to write the post. Read on…

For many years I have spoken with people looking forward to retiring and for many years I have wondered what the word meant and whether or not I should succumb to thealleged temptations thereof

The first question I have tended to ask those looking forward to retiring is “retiring to what?”. They tend to know what they are retiring from, but the “to what” question is often more challenging. After all, there do seem to be a lot of people in jobs they don’t actively enjoy and I can hardly blame them for wanting to escape – but to what? The question often stumps my clients.

And now it may be stumping me.

Well, for some time friends and colleagues have been asking me if I am retired yet or when I am going to do so – and I have always replied along the lines of “It depends on what you mean by retirement”. After all, I am 66 and drawing both company and state pensions!

One definition of ‘retirement’ that I have used, and the one that seems to make the most sense to me, is the cessation of paid work – the ‘paid’ being important, because digging the garden is work, cooking is work, blogging is work… – and that’s the challenge that I face now. For the first time since I left my employment with Yorkshire Water 17 years ago I have no paid work in my diary. Moreover, I am not very motivated to do much about that. I’m happy to consider anything that comes my way, especially if it is short-term (coaching, training interventions – end of advert), but as we can get by (OK, a bit more than just get by) on my pensions there is not a huge financial incentive.

But the word ‘retirement’ brings baggage with it, as indeed does any word.

There is a folk myth that ‘back in the day’, when ‘men were men’ and physically wore themselves out doing manual labour for 50 years, the average life expectancy after retirement at 65 was around 2 years. (Actually I can’t find much evidence for this, back in the days when the state pension was first introduced  – the first pensions were  paid on 1 January 1909 to around 500,000 people aged 70 or more at the time only one in four people reached the age of 70 and life expectancy at that age was about 9 years.) Current life expectancy at age 65 is ca. 19 years. Now whether this myth is true or not, I can understand that as a piece of baggage it might inhibit some people from making that  jump to retired status – irrational yes but we are not rational beings.

So what other baggage might the word bring with it?

  • Feet up in front of the fire, slippers on, pipe lit, glass of whisky in hand, telly blaring out Eastenders…
  • or perhaps endless days on the golf course, watching cricket (neither a lot of cop in the winter unless you can afford to migrate to sunnier climes for 10 months of the year)…
  • or merrily frittering the day away babysitting those grandchildren who are the offspring of the children you spent so long encouraging to leave home…
  • or (over?) involving yourself in the Parish Council and getting frustrated with its inability to actually make any changes…
  • or ????

My point is that you are going to be ‘doing’ this retirement thing for, typically, 20 years so it might be worth giving the subject of how you spend those 20 years a bit of forethought. No employer is going to drive your day for you with this project and that, it’s up to you and me to find our own way to enjoy ourselves – for what is the point if we are not enjoying ourselves. I have a sign on our fridge that seems relevant here

“I do not intend to creep quietly through life only to arrive safely at death”

So my question to you, and to myself, is “What are you going to do that fills your soul, that you enjoy, that you will get out of bed for, that you will happily spout on about to your friends, that is your passion?”

Well?

Inspirational ripples

 I was wandering around my old files today when I came across this little piece that I wrote yet didn’t publish back in Autumn 2009.

I was thinking about how the little fountain I rested against offered a metaphor for change…

Market day in Tonneins – busy busy, hot hot, dusty dusty; lots of French (and a few English) locals, the usual North Africans, tourists, migrant workers for the plum/corn/sunflower harvests. The ‘ethnics’ all at one end with their brightly patterned and coloured clothing, their spices; the locals sifting through market stalls filling with fleeces and other autumn and winter clothing, picking the sweetest and juiciest tomatoes, melons, the first of the season’s prunes and the last of the haricots verts, jaunes et noirs.

It was an unprepossessing little fountain near the riverside ; no more than a piece of local rock about 6ft wide with a hole drilled through it and six 12” jets of water spurting from the top, splashing on the rock and into the pool around the rock. Still it offered a coolish resting place and the gentle tinkle of water on water. I sat on the surround for a brief rest, the fountain to my back. Drifting into some heat induced trance, I noticed the occasional wet spot appearing and disappearing in front of me, several metres away from the fountain. It’s not raining, no local child with a water pistol, they can’t be travelling so far from the little fountain – what’s going on?

Sherlock Holmes kicked into action – yes they were coming from the fountain after all, very occasional little splashes hitting the rock at just the right angle to reflect them out across the pool so far away as to seem improbable. The pool, and the ripples of the water splashes, had my attention…

As I watched, entranced by the ripples, I noticed that sometimes the surface was relatively calm, at others turbulent with the interactions of several ripples; sometimes small splashes, at others large blobs of water would disturb a great part of the pool – ever changing and always something happening, my attention gripped by the circles of light and dark as the ripples shed their shadows on the pool bottom. Always light after dark, the shadows fading as the ripple spread out across the pool, intersecting ripples throwing up sun-bright spots and night-dark shades.

I am sat focussing on the ripples and their shadows before my eyes, only just now noticing the contents of the pool – what was in the pool, on the bottom, floating on the surface, coming into eyeshot. Bunches of grapes, last night’s coke can, single leaves and leaves formed into mats solid enough to resist the charms of the water splashes, tiny tiny fish, gnarled rocks and smooth pebbles.

Suddenly a tsunami! Now the local boys had started playing in my pool, all the time they had been creeping up and now they struck coming from outside my viewpoint to change the whole pattern of my little ripples.

 

 

Well, I could sit here and philosophise or I could actually go get my pen and paper and record these thoughts – so I do so.

 

Coming back to the fountain I can see nothing, the glare of the sun on the ripples totally bleaches out everything. But as I walk around the pool to my starting place, the glare reduces as the angle of the sun changes until I can finally see all the original detail. It was worth coming back. I sit, I think, I write, I remember that 30 metres away from this mesmeric little pool, perhaps 3 metres across, flows the mighty Garonne River as wide as a bus and as deep as a house; strong enough to sweep away this little piece of rock without even blinking an eye. I notice again the hundreds of people going about their daily business all around whilst I muse on ripples and their metaphorical relationship to organisational change. I move on – if I stay I get damp or sunburned and neither of those is in your writer’s plan…

 

 

 

Inspiration from the most everyday objects – just let your attention flow…

 

 

 

Pay attention to the tiniest detail of your environment…

…to the unexpected…

“…there is something interesting going on here…”

…stick with it, investigate.

 

 

 

 

Never the same yet patterns of similarity

Some actions have little effects, some are more traumatic

 

 

Calm after the storm…just wait…

 

Sometimes you get the occasional really  difficult challenge

 

Don’t get mesmerised by surface noise – look below/through to see the deeper structure and/or what is not changing. Keep your eyes open for what is just out of and coming into view – it may be more important than your current focus; or it may temporarily make your current efforts pointless. Is what you are observing part of the underlying issue or is it an artefact – perhaps of someone else’s fiddling?

 

Take action – thinking never changed a thing, only actions change the world

Observation — Insight

Action — Change

 

Review the challenge from different angles – what may seem impossible with one set of eyes may not be through another.

 

Be aware of the wider world – you might be deeply embedded in your problem, others might not care less!

 

…and when it’s time to go. It’s time to go.

 

 

 

N****rs in the woodpile

Racist or ignorant?A Tory MP was recently recorded using the phrase “Nigger in the woodpile” when speaking about Brexit. She was castigated for use of the term, with the inevitable suggestions of racism. Whilst not condoning the phrase in any way, I want to offer (for the purposes of discussion) another hypothesis – that she is simply ignorant.

Looking at her, she seems to be from a similar generation to mine, brought up in the 50/60s when this phrase, along with “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo…” was in common use and well before ‘we’ started to recognise the implicit (if not occasionally explicit) racism in the use of the ‘N word’. As a child, I happily used the two phrases already mentioned as well as many others we would nowadays regard as ‘beyond the pale’. I was ignorant, not in the colloquially sense it is often used to insult people, but in the literal sense of ‘not knowing’.

Now perhaps by now this woman should have learned about the offensive nature of her words, and perhaps she hasn’t. Maybe she is so isolated from society in general that she isn’t exposed to the issues of racism, or indeed other ‘isms’, that she genuinely does not realise how offensive she has been.

I guess that this plays in to one of the long-argued views about intent. Can one really be guilty in the absence of intent? This principle even is established in UK) law with the phrase “actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, i.e. “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty”. So whilst ignorance of the law is no excuse and will not stop you getting pursued through the courts, the absence of intent will work in your favour.

So was this woman racist or ignorant? What do you think? Do let me know.

Infantile representatives

A few days ago MPs were heard to cheer when a Labour amendment to terminate the 1% cap on public sector pay was defeated. This post is not about the politics of that decision, but the behaviour itself. Behaviour that would and should be challenged in many ‘lesser’ institutions than the Houses of Parliament and which, in my opinion, devalues the House itself.

Politics is currently, like it or not, an adversarial process. I might wish otherwise. Perhaps a more collaborative, consensual, partnership…approach might be desirable (especially in a house with no inbuilt absolute majority) but that seems far away given the current predispositions of most of our politicians. Too many seem to have too much to win/lose, both personally and politically, to want to work with others to seek the best for the  country rather than the best for themselves or their party (which of course has the only correct answers tot he many challenges we face).

I think that thoughts on the adversarial system itself had better wait for another day, with the exception of the unfortunate behaviour that seems to be associated with ‘winning’ – namely this tendency to boorish (my judgement) behaviour towards the losers.

Not only do we have the Commons (OK, just over half of them) cheering when civil servants’ pay is restrained, but listen to almost any Parliamentary Questions (especially PMQs) and  the ‘yah boo’ brigade are out in force on both sides.

Behaviour that would not be acceptable in a school debating society has become the norm in arguably the most important debating chamber in the land.

The House of Commons has got so raucous in recent months that Speaker John Bercow was moved to warn MPs in November that he was receiving “bucketloads” of complaints from the public about their “low-grade, down-market and unnecessary” misbehaviour.

This quotation is from 2013 and despite the best(?) efforts of at least two party leaders little seems to have changed. If Speaker Bercow can unilaterally decide that ties are no longer required to be worn, then what’s stopping him making a rather more significant decision to clamp down on boorish behaviour? Parliament should not be a raucous side-show and a few well-timed remonstrations accompanied by threats of expulsion and/or refusing to accept questions from the relevant MP and/or closing the session would surely make a difference? If the party whips really want to ‘enforce’ the views of their leaders and create a more ordered Parliament then how about them enforcing better behaviour – they are quite happy to reward loyalty or toadying and to punish disloyalty, so perhaps punishing simple bad behaviour might also work.

But of cause, all of this requires MPs as a whole to actually want to improve!

Facebook Friend or Stalker

I love Facebook, it’s free, it’s simple, it allows me to keep in touch with family and friends (both ‘real’ and virtual) wherever they are in the world. Yes, it gets a bit full of adverts occasionally – but I have found a cool Add-In called AdBlockPlus that will block most of them as well as allowing configuration of lots of other potentially irritating features of FB. FB don’t like it and keep trying to get in it’s way, but so far ABP have managed to keep ahead of the programmers employed by Mark Zuckerberg, so give it a go.

So I use FB regularly, it is always on in both my phone and my laptop, I post several times a day and read my ‘Friends’ posts at a similar frequency. I rarely think about the consequences of my posts, having already paid a lot of attention to who I accept as a Friend, who I include in the various audiences allowed to read my posts, what I post etc… I work on the basis that, despite my best efforts, everything I post will probably be available to anyone with sufficient expertise anyway and so avoid posting photos of various bits of genitalia or being gratuitously offensive.

But a recent conversation has got me thinking about those ‘Friends’, one of who has admitted to reading posts but never posting anything themselves. My first, and admittedly rather extreme, thoughts were that this practice is in the same territory as stalking and that I would UnFriend the individual. Clearly it is not stalking, but I’m still very uneasy about someone who sucks stuff in about others’ lives but never gives anything out. How would I respond if a physical friend spent their whole time listening to my conversations, looking at my photos without ever speaking themselves or showing off their own family snaps? How long would I keep accepting that person into my house or inviting them to the pub? Would I question their motives for the apparent friendship? Isn’t friendship about a mutual exchange of information?

One part of me is interested in what lies behind this behaviour, another part thinks that even if I knew, what would I do with that insight and would it make any difference to how I feel?

So what would YOU do in these circumstances and why? I would really value your insights into the situation – please comment below. I promise I will share all comments (unless you specifically ask me not to).

Bursting my bubble

As an experiment and in an attempt to get out of my bubble and seek to understand some of the thinking, I committed myself to reading some of the right-wing media supporting Trump – in particular Brietbart as it seems to be perceived as the source of much of the thinking and supportive comment.
I don’t know if I want to continue.
The bile, the hatred, the racism, the conspiracy theories (one today being that ‘they’ are letting in “TB ridden” refugees so they can infect the true Americans and in turn collapse the country) are overwhelming and horrendously alien to my own mindset and values. Some of it makes the Daily Mail read like pink fluffy liberalism.
I guess that the real worry is that the publishers and many (most?) of their readers truly believe all this stuff, much as the relaitvley uneducated (by which I mean ‘do not really understand how the media works’) left and right in this country believe their own mouthpieces. The Guardian is no more ‘correct’ than the Telegraph.
Having been involved with the media over the years I believe that I do understand how most channels will represent even the most innocent story in a way which suits their agenda. Just think of the headlines and stories written about HS2 (not that HS2 is necessarily an ‘innocent’ story, it’ just a very good example of my point):
  • “Billions invested in UK jobs”
  • “Billions to be wasted on foreign trains”
  • “Trade and industry helped by faster journey times”
  • “Thousands of homes blighted”
  • “Property values near route rocket”
  • “Hedgehogs tunnels to be built”
  • “Lesser Spotted Winklewort habitat under threat”

You buys your paper and you takes your choice. None of the above are ‘wrong’, just different views on the self-same scheme. But unless the promoters of a scheme seek to understand the positions of other stakeholders the chances of accommodation are almost zero.

So it is with Trump, Brexit etc – bile in response to their bile just generates and even stinkier swamp, hatred in response to hatred just sets parties at war with each other, denial of positions closes down any possibility of change. As Stephen Covey said in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, ‘Seek first to understand’. And you can only ever understand if you are willing to risk bursting your own bubble and investigating those things with which you disagree.

Getting better all the time

I have been delighted to spend most of today in the highly pleasurable company of 25 committed people working in the opthalmology team at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. We were working on how to improve the patient experience in their department, with me volunteering my time to the process as a patient representative.

I was delighted to be involved, having been fairly vociferous about the weaknesses (whoops, improvement opportunities!) that I came across during my recent journey through their system (not opthalmology though). Not being one to just complain (and I nearly lodged a formal complaint at one time, before realising that complaining would only lead to effort being committed to investigating my complaint rather than actually making improvements), I offered my services as both a patient and someone who claims to know a fair bit about organisational change and process improvements. That offer was taken up and so far I have been filmed telling the story that is contained in previous blogs, I have helped redesign some customer letters. Now the real hard work starts.

LTHT is one of just five trusts in the country chosen to pilot an approach to process improvement imported from Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. In turn they have adapted The Toyota Way – a highly structured approach to continuous improvement. LTHT are putting the patient at the forefront of their efforts in the belief that by getting this right, other things (including costs) will fall into place. That they are taking this philosophy to heart was evident by the warmth with which I was received and the attention that was paid to my observations and suggestions.  From my perspective, ‘patient first’ is a major shift and challenge in an industry that has traditionally been medic-led and where the stereotype (and all stereotypes are rooted in some reality) is of patients being called for the convenience of the staff not the patient.

A further aspect of the methodology (now branded “The Leeds Way”) is expressed as ‘Inch wide, mile deep’. Rather than looking widely across a process (‘mile wide’), they choose relatively tiny little areas (‘inch wide’) where improvements would have a big effect and study them in huge detail (‘mile deep’). So today we had a look at the core of the outpatients process (in their jargon – Pathway), searching for those few inches that needed deep study. We found them, and what was a delight was to find that the key areas of study related to minimising patient waiting times. The data was compelling – for new patients, they would typically spend around 90 minutes in the department, only 30 of which were actually spent with the specialists they had come to see; so of my 90 minutes in the department I spend a whole hour waiting for something to happen! Definitely room for improvement.

Lots of detailed investigations needed before further review by the team. However, my purpose here is not to delve into the detail of the improvement process so much as to praise the approach. Not only the approach of the improvement team and their methodology but perhaps even more the openness, creativity and enthusiasm of the range of people in the room (ranging from me and a volunteer through to General Managers, Clinical Directors and no less than the Deputy Chief Executive/Chief Nurse). Worthwhile and sustainable  improvements tend to be made by those directly involved in the processes and I feel that people left the room enthused, committed and somewhat more empowered than they arrived. Job well done.

Flood risk management – do we need changes?

FloodsEarlier today the (D)Efra Committee published its review of arrangements for flood risk management. I posted my initial response on Facebook and I stand by what I said there – essentially that the call for a new strategic authority and ‘floods czar’ is misguided. This piece explores more of the issues.

There is a real risk that the report is seen as either a knee-jerk response and/or politicking, yet there is some good (if not novel) stuff in there as well as at least one major flaw.

First the good. Well, that is the vast majority of the recommendations. It’s always good to have p(P)olitical backing, but let’s not get the idea that any of these recommendations are novel. Numbers 1-7, which are the obviously ‘operational’ ones are already developing here in Yorkshire and were long before this report was ever thought of.

The idea of a whole-catchment approach mirrors that of the Catchment Based Approach that Defra set up and funded for ‘environmental’ concerns and bringing those two approaches to catchment management closer together is one of my key aims.

Storing water and land management is a no-brainer, although I remain to be convinced that we should compensate farmers (especially) when the flood plain that they own gets flooded. After all every time it floods they get free fertiliser and soil and owning a flood plain surely means that you understand (Or should do) the issues. So many of our flood plains have been commandeered for other uses and I can get quite frustrated when people complain that their local flood plain floods.

Sustainable drainage systems – it’s taken at least 30 years since the water industry started funding research for SUDS to become mainstream. It’s about time that developers were compelled to install best practice SUDS whenever development of any size is undertaken. Every little bit helps. I believe that much greater emphasis now needs to be placed on retro-fitting SUDS. We have millions of hectares of hard standing in our cities and our roads and by adopting the ‘every little bit counts’ philosophy we can slowly but surely make inroads.

Maintenance and dredging – a sensible recommendation but I feel that insufficient emphasis was put on the very limited usefulness of dredging, especially after the then Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, effectively gave farmers and IDBs carte blanche to dredge in her knee-jerk reaction to the 2015 flooding.

Flood warnings and public understanding of risk – Whilst I have put these two recommendations together, the first is primarily technical and the second to do with communications. Nonetheless they are sides of a coin, without the former we cannot effectively deliver the latter. The key issue is one of active engagement at all times. The history of the EA, which I acknowledge is changing albeit very patchily, is one of ‘Decide, Announce, Defend’ and this has left a legacy of mistrust. They have also tended, IMHO, to consult rather than engage and only to do so transactionally and late, rather than recognising that collaboration demands ‘upstream’ (sorry, but I could not resist!) effort to build trust and understanding in order to be able to reap that when needed.

The rest of the recommendations are clearly relevant at a national strategic level and all except the last make absolute sense and should be acted upon as soon as possible. However, I take exception to the suggestion that a new governance model be created.

There are certainly multiple agencies involved in FRCM and whilst these all need to be involved, I fail to see how creating a single national FCRM body helps co-ordinate them. We already have such a body – the Environment Agency – and my personal and local intelligence suggest that they are doing an increasingly good job in trying circumstances (for which read ‘shortage of funds’). I might argue that a desire to address a democratic deficit has led to a proliferation of agencies with responsibilities, to the detriment of strategic planning. Only a cynic (moi?) would suggest that this also pushed spending and spending decisions out of the hand of national agencies and so allowing government to have an arms-length relationship with these strategic challenges.

Finally, separating the ‘environment’ and ‘flooding’ arms of the EA risks fragmentation of addressing ‘watery’ issues. There is already a, fortunately closing, gap between the two arms of the EA and separating the functions can only make it even more difficult to identify and deliver the collaborative multiple benefits that are undoubtedly available when we work together.

A useful document that doesn’t add much in practice!

Memories…and emotions

aberfan_1_smI was just watching a BBC Breakfast item about Aberfan. Now if that name means nothing to you then you are probably less that 60 years old. For those of us old enough to remember, it was probably one of those iconic moments in your history that you remember more vividly than most. It certainly is for me.

The item was about the 50th anniversary of the disaster  which was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, which killed 116 children and 28 adults. The tip slid down the slope right into an through the primary school and the film footage (very little outside broadcast in those days) showed hopeful but unexpectant men digging and women waiting to hear of the fate of their loved ones. All those mothers waiting outside the school still bring tears to my eyes, as did watching the item and the old footage.

I was intrigued by the unavoidable tears prompted by the memory and in turn the link between emotion and memories. It’s well-known that linking emotion to events helps consolidate them in long-term memory and enable retrieval. (For once, I am going to give a Wikipedia link, because it has an excellent summary of the field). This works in all directions – positive events, traumatic episodes – and one of the ways we work with clients using NLP techniques is to dissociate a traumatic memory from the emotion, thus helping people overcome phobias and to move on from ‘difficult’ situations.

Likewise the idea that it is ‘better’ to give experiences than things, on the basis that a positive experience is more likely to be remembered than some bit of plastic tat that ends up forgotten in the back of the garage.

So how do you create, for yourself or others, events that have some positive emotional content? Fill that memory bank with positives.

What did we not hear?

earsTwo blog posts in one day – something interesting must have happened!

Amidst all the gloating, rage, disappointment about the referendum result, my great friend James Traeger reminded me, by posting this blog, that I am a change leadership professional. So here is a short piece reflecting on the outcome from that perspective.

There is a view that many of those voting for Brexit were essentially casting a protest vote. Protest at austerity, protest at uncontrolled immigration, protest at who knows what… What they are saying is that they have not been heard. As a good change professional (well, I think so anyway!) I need to recognise and be able to work with the difference between hearing someone and that person being heard; the difference between my ears listening to the words and my heart and brain listening for the meaning. I need to seek out and learn from the naysayers and the resistors, for sooner or later their grievances will surface and get in the way of progress. Listen to them properly, explore with them what lies behind their position, for only then can we start to change their minds.

We are also repeatedly told that effective change relies on a positive vision of the future. It is not enough to say what is wrong, we need some idea of what might constitute right. Yet here we are with a campaign about getting Britain out of the EU. Where is the compelling narrative of the future? Where is the roadmap for change? Where are the guiding coalition, the leaders? And where were the leaders who could understand and articulate the interlinked, systemic, nature of the argument (shame it wasn’t dialogue)?

Effective change leaders acknowledge the past, picking out and retaining the good whilst changing the bad. Not here, the baby risks being thrown out with the bathwater.

Finally, and for me this is almost above all else, effective change leaders are honest and humble. They don’t make promises and then change their minds; they don’t pursue their own agenda at the expense of the greater good; they recognise where things have gone  bit dodgy and set about repairing the damage…

Oh, for politicians of any hue who have studied and practised effective change leadership!