Monday, July 30, 2007

It is really OK to laugh at work!

One of the biggest disappointments in my NHS career was the lack of humour and how we always had to have that 'stiff upper lip' that typifies Britain in many ways. It certainly typifies the business world of the public services that I knew.

I've never believed using humour lessens professionalism. I say it is not compulsory to be miserable at work.

Anyway .... in sorting through old papers in the move I came across something that we did back in my NHS days that still makes me laugh … why can’t we do more of this in management?

A friend and I in a mad moment decided we would write out to people who had been on a seminar/workshop for the morning asking for their feedback. We sent it in the name of the Chief Executive.

A few people responded and played the game but most people just ignored it without comment.

What a shame …. We really need to lighten up in management.

This is it... I'd love your comments

Dear Colleague

As part of the continuing professional development we have introduced a new feedback system following away days/seminars and teaching sessions to ensure that learning has taken place.

As a result a few people are randomly selected at the end of each session to answer a few simple questions to assure the organisers that learning has occurred.

I hope you don’t mind filling in this short questionnaire and your honesty will be appreciated.

Bill Bloggs (name changed to protect the innocent)
Chief Executive


1 Did you find your way to the venue ok?
2 Was the coffee good? (tea if you drink tea)
3 Was the room comfortable or would you have preferred somewhere with Sky Sports TV?
4 Did you think the standard of dress of delegates was good enough to maintain the professional image of the organisation?
5 Did you fall asleep in any of the presentations? – We need you to name names
6 Do you think it would have helped if jokes had been part of the meeting?
7 Were you able to make the dolls house out of balsa wood without copying your friend?
8 How would you sum up the experience?
9 Could you have benefited from a lady of the night?
10 Was it worth missing out on bacon rolls back at the office?
11 Whilst you were looking through the window (we know you did), did you think the groundsman could have made a better job of the hedges with a Black and Decker 3200?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Change and Age

How we deal with change has always interested me. I have often been told no one likes change and I think I have probably used that expression too in my work. The first and natural reaction to change is to oppose it is another expression I hear regularly. People who have been around a long time in one environment find change more difficult is another sweeping generalisation I have heard and maybe used myself. Older people find change more difficult is another.

These throw away ‘stereotype’ comments go on and on.

Where am I going with this?

The point is I believe as I have got older I have actually found change easier to accept than when I was younger … Or at least I don't see change as threatening or difficult. I am able to see it with optimism and with hope.

I consider myself an optimistic type of person and I believe I always see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

What are you views and your personal experiences of dealing with change?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Well ... what a week that was ….

We are in!! …

'That was the Week That Was' As the song goes

A fabulously exciting week and we are beginning to settle into our lovely new abode – if you want a laugh you can see some pictures at Annie’s Blog by clicking here

I have missed Blogging and communicating via e-mail in the last week as I have only had time do the barest minimum.

We have got our office set up nicely – although we are still using cardboard boxes as shelves and stationery cupboards until I can get around to fitting some shelves. I'm afraid the office is not the most important priority – things like toilet roll holders and towel rails come ahead of office luxuries.

I will be firing on all cylinders again in the next few days.

Worth Repeating

Yesterday I received a comment on a posting I wrote in May 2006 so I thought it appropriate to repeat that posting today. Thank you Dinesh for your comment – much appreciated.

It is amazing that a post written over 14 months ago still gets a comment – the wonders of technology. Anyway - here goes.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" Leonardo da Vinci

"Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple" C.W. Ceran

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” Albert Einstein

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity” Charles Mingus

"The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity" Prof. Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dan Ward on Simplicity

We are slowly settling into our wonderful new abode …. Still surrounded by boxes and organised chaos … but life is brilliant.

I hope to be up and running properly next week but in the meantime posts will be very limited this week.

Dan Ward my friend from the US has published Simplicity Cycle and you can see more details....and purchase the book by clicking here

Friday, July 13, 2007

We are Moving

We have bought a house (a couple of pictures above) in a village in Warwickshire and will be moving next Tuesday.

Fish and chip shop within 300 yards; Four pubs in walking (staggering) distance ….. A cultural haven as you can tell ……

We are looking forward to it no end and can’t wait to get in and settled.

The next few days are to be spent packing in readiness for the big move bright and early on Tuesday starting at 8.30 am when the removal men get here!!!

Must dash ….. Packing beckons ….. But not before our Friday treat of Fish and Chips …. To heck with the diet today!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Branson follow up

Yesterday I travelled on a Virgin Train from Birmingham to Newcastle return – a total of 7 hours on two Virgin Trains.

Having just read the book I thought to myself …here is a chance for me to do some live research.

I went along to the Virgin train shop to get a coffee and decided to have a chat with the young man (probably late 20’s) behind the counter.

I decided to be ‘devils advocate’ and therefore lied as I said:

"I’ve just finished reading Richard Branson latest book ‘Screw it Lets’ Do It’ …. And in the book he writes about how ‘in touch’ he likes to be with front line staff in the Virgin empire but I’m a bit cynical about all that crap"

I was lying because I believe Richard Branson is genuine …. I awaited with a keen interest this guy’s response.

This was his reply…

"Richard Branson is very approachable and yes we see him quite a lot. He always talks to us and he listens. I like him and in fact he is far more approachable than our middle mangers."


This was wonderful for me to hear.

Middle managers in organisations are often the key people. In my experience those middle managers who like to ‘control’ are nowhere near as effective as those middle managers who trust the front line staff just to get on with it.

Really interesting to hear from a random front liner that world icon Richard Branson is more approachable than their immediate supervisor … what a powerful learning point for me yet again that underlines my thoughts about Branson having the right leadership style – GET ALONGSIDE FRONT LINERS AND TRUST THEM COMPLETELY.

Simplicity Works!

At last I got round to finishing ‘Screw It Let’s Do It’ by Sir Richard Branson. Please read it.

Question: Is Simplicity a real concept?

Answer: You bet!

Sir Richard writes in his book on page 194:

‘The simplicity of this project constantly reminds me of the human folly of creating very complex systems that end up justifying themselves and their existence - but end up stifling innovation’

Amen and thank you Sir Richard!!!

If Simplicity is good enough for Branson it is good enough for me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

'Trust Me I'm a Patient' - 14th Episode

Early start on the train at 7.15 am for Annie and me as we head up to ‘Geordie’ land in South Shields near Newcastle tomorrow for our 14th Trust Me I’m a Patient workshop … Good fun and serious learning in the same workshop.

As I always say at the outset of every workshop …. ‘It really is not compulsory to be miserable at work.’

Another 80 delegates tomorrow … that means almost 800 delegates have now been through our workshop. We are both very proud of that.

More details can be seen by clicking here

In a nutshell it is about trying to get NHS staff and managers to see change through the eyes of patients….

We love it!! And feedback to date has been good

Sunday, July 08, 2007

You don’t need to shout.

‘None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves’ - C.H. Spurgeon, 1834 – 1892

One evening many years ago I was manager on call for my hospital and at around 7 pm the phone rang. It was the switchboard to tell me the fire alarm was going off. I drove to the hospital thinking that as usual this would be another false alarm.

I arrived and was met by a less common situation in that there was a genuine problem. One of the evening cleaners had unfortunately forgotten she had left a pot of water boiling on a hot plate and the water had boiled dry causing the pan to become extremely hot and eventually smoke had begun to emerge thus activating the smoke detectors and setting off the fire alarm. The local fire brigade complete with two engines blue lights flashing and sirens screaming had arrived on the scene to quickly confirm there was no serious damage and all was returning to calm. The poor cleaner was very upset that her oversight had caused such a commotion and I could not help feeling sorry for her. As calm was restored the catering manager who had been called out from home too arrived on the scene. She was a stern woman who, upon surveying the scene and hearing what had happened, proceeded to launch into what I can only describe as a tirade of abuse aimed at the cleaner. The manager accused her of gross inefficiency and stupidity for allowing this incident to happen. Let’s be honest this was not what the cleaner wanted to hear. She was already clearly upset and feeling guilty and then to have this telling off sent her over the edge and she burst into tears. Now we had a situation that was distressing for the few people gathered in the immediate area and caused much embarrassment. The memory of that incident is still vivid in my head and it taught me many things about managing people.

When people have made a mistake the last thing they need to be reminded of in an aggressive way is that they have made that mistake and thereby made to feel like some immature cretin with no intelligence.

Of course there is clearly a time and a place for a ticking off when merited. As adults, and particularly as managers, with responsibility for managing people, we should surely understand and indeed have empathy with people who make genuine mistakes that do not amount to gross negligence.

I believe that when people have made a mistake they will invariably ‘punish’ themselves enough without the need for some arrogant and uncaring manager to rub salt in the wounds by balling them out in public.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Listen and Learn

This week Annie and I ran another successful customer care workshop for receptionists in doctor’s surgeries. I’m delighted to say we had a great time and the workshop went well – the feedback from the 15 receptionists was good.

At one point we were discussing how a minority of healthcare professionals unfortunately stereotype ‘anxious mums’ as ‘over-sensitive’ (or worse terminology) when mums insist there is something wrong with their child.

I’ve always believed mums know intuitively when their child is not well and it is something worse than the everyday under-the-weather minor problem.

I told the story from my own career when a child’s life was saved by an observant mother who noticed a rash on her baby that the doctor had not seen on examination. It turned out the baby had meningitis and had to get to hospital within minutes – luckily the child survived. The doctor concerned is a personal friend of mine and he told me he had missed the rash. He said had it not been for the mums insistence and her observation the child would have died.

This story created a fair bit of discussion among the receptionists with some opposing views about ‘anxious mums.’

Then one of the receptionists quietly explained how she had taken her child to a hospital convinced she was ill. She was – to put it kindly – dismissed as an unnecessarily anxious parent – and told there was nothing seriously wrong.

She told us that her child died because cancer had not been diagnosed early enough.

To add insult to injury she was then told by healthcare professionals that she as mother could have done more to raise concerns.

There was total silence in the room. For the first time in my 38 years working experience I wasn’t sure what to say.

I think everyone in the room felt the same. I managed to get by with some supportive words and after a while we returned to the discussion in hand.

The lessons for me are many and varied:

*Never, ever, assume you know how someone is feeling – you don’t.

*We never know what burdens some people are carrying so we should always try to support each other.

*Be very careful about the language we use in any setting because someone in the room may be terribly hurt if disrespect is shown through the words we use.

For the purposes of this posting we will call the person Wendy and I would just like to thank Wendy for teaching me so much.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Two Fingers to the NHS? ...Or maybe not....

I am grateful for my Blogging friend Dr Grumble for this video clip.

I am one of the biggest critics of the National Health Service.

At the same time I am very proud of the National Health Service.

It is wonderful in Britain that we can get treatment free regardless of our wealth.

I will continue to encourage patients to complain about the NHS when standards are not met but if you find cause to complain about the NHS – it might just be worth remembering this video clip next time you visit your local Accident and Emergency department.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Semler follow up .....

I’ve been thinking more about the Ricardo Semler approach to business, management and leadership.

I can’t help wonder why it is we think his approach is so radical. It is not.

I think the rest of us have over-complicated something that is very simple and I don't know why.

It seems to me Semler focuses on a few simple values such as;

*We can trust our staff.
*Our staff will not abuse that trust.
*Leadership is about treating followers with the utmost respect at all times.
*Allow our staff to be their own boss.
*Don’t over complicate things.

In my opinion these 5 values can be applied in any organisation or business - however old and established that business may be.

Yes of course it is difficult to turn around decades of culture that may not meet these values - but come on - if we are really serious about admiring how Semler does it so effectively, my question remains – Why can’t do it like Semler?

When I think about those 5 values in respect of management in the NHS - which was my career for over 30 years - we certainly do not score highly on any of the 5!

What has been your experience?