Friday, August 31, 2007


Some feedback about the complaint I made earlier this week about the inconsiderate bus driver.

The company, STAGECOACH, replied to my e-mail very promptly and assured me as follows:

‘The driver on this occasion has fallen below the standard expected by us and will be made aware of his errors …… Please accept my apologies for the distress caused by the inconsiderate actions of this driver.’

I am a big critic of organisations that don’t listen to customer feedback or organisations that argue the toss about whether the customer is actually right or not.

So from me it’s a case of 'hats off' and genuine congratulations to STAGECOACH for believing me dealing with my complaint so well and so quickly.

If only all organisations were like that I would never have the need to rant about customer care on my Blog.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Managing Complaints

A couple of week from now I’m running a healthcare workshop called ‘Managing Complaints’ for about 120 healthcare clinical staff and managers.

When I was asked to do this my immediate thought was … Mmmm!! …. Managing complaints aye? … That title alone means we’ve already failed … because we have complaints to 'manage.'

Seriously - I would love to hear from regular readers of Simplicity Blog about the things you feel are important when dealing with complaints.

Put yourself in the position of someone who has what they feel is a legitimate complaint in a healthcare setting. Healthcare complaints range from a late appointment with your doctor, a problem with car parking in the local hospital, right through to gross medical negligence.

Let me know the things that would be important to you in order for you to feel your compliant is being dealt with seriously, compassionately and efficiently.

I look forward to some interesting feedback.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why Why Why???!!!

Another rant on Customer Care - I am constantly surprised.

Just as I think the message is getting through to businesses that the customer is actually quite an important part of the company… No!! hold on just a moment … let me re-phrase that slightly understated point …


Annie and I boarded a STAGECOACH bus on Monday to travel to Coventry and we were greeted by the rudest, most ignorant and arrogant driver one could possibly find. His whole attitude was 'anti-customer.'

This is such a shame as our previous experiences with many other bus drivers of Stagecoach have been good. This driver set back the image of the company in our eyes and how sad it is that such people can affect the entire image of a company.

I would just love the Chief Executive of Stagecoach to have been the passenger so that he/she experiences what it feels like. I intend to write to the Chief Executive with that comment. The people running companies need to know this sort of thing is going on at the front line. D
rivers represent the Chief Executive.

As regular readers of Simplicity will know I am a great advocate of front line staff and I stick by my beliefs on that.

It is a tragedy that such people spoil the image of the vast majority of front line staff.

I try so hard to be understanding and tolerate the fact that this man may have been having a particularly bad day; he may have been ill; he may have had to cope with some bad news that day …. I am a reasonable sort of customer – I greeted him with a smile and I feel this was just his style.

You just get a feeling about these things don't you?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The prime purpose of eloquence is to keep other people from talking - Louis Vermeil

Friday, August 24, 2007

Actually you don’t know all the answers

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude of mind” - William James 1842 - 1910

At one time I was a manager in a hospital of 140 beds for people with Learning Difficulties. Part of my duties included responsibility for the process of reporting building maintenance problems. For instance if the tap in the patients bathroom was leaking the nursing staff had to write in their ward repair book the nature of the problem and deliver that piece of paper to the office which I was in charge of. From there the office staff would get in touch with building maintenance department to arrange for the repair to be scheduled. This system had been running for many years in the hospital and to all involved it seemed to work reasonably well. We were all happy in our ‘comfort blanket’ and all in the garden seemed rosy. Nothing it seemed could disrupt this tranquility. I feel you may sense a touch of irony in my words.

One morning I remember a young male nurse approaching me with some information that almost caused anarchy!

He said there had been a maintenance problem on one of the Wards and he had told the nurses to send the repair request to the maintenance department direct rather then send it via the Admin office. He said, very innocently, that he was telling me this for my information only because he understood the system had been established a long time. He felt the new arrangements would be better because it would save time and be more efficient.

I still feel embarrassment and guilt today about my reaction then (although the incident was over 22 years ago)

That day I had feelings of resentment and I remember very well even the thoughts that were in my head;

- How dare this ‘upstart’ change the system without reference to anyone?
- Who is he anyway to decide this is a more efficient system?
- That task is the job of my staff and I will not accept the change – I will do all I can to prevent it being introduced

When I look back now it seems so pathetic that I should resist the change this young man was proposing and I can see very clearly now how much more efficient the new system would be.

What I was doing was resisting change and I didn’t even recognise it. I was not trying to see the change as an improvement. I had made up my mind emotionally that this youngster was treading on my territory. This was a turf war and there is no way I was going to lose this one.

Even though my first reaction was one of resistance I slowly came round to seeing that in fact his idea was a huge improvement to the old system and I had no right whatsoever to oppose it.

We did change the system for that Ward...and of course once we saw it worked so much more efficiently we introduced the new system across all the Wards in the hospital. Everybody won.

When I looked at the system objectively, ignoring the history and the emotional involvement I was able to quickly recognise that I was pointlessly standing in the way of a change that was for the better.

That young Nurse and I remained good friends for many years and we occasionally shared our experiences as we moved on to bigger but not necessarily better things in our respective careers. We all learn from colleagues and peers and that episode taught me a lot.

Leadership Lesson - Actually Mr (or Mrs) leader you don’t know all the answers. You can always learn and beware especially of those old well established systems that everyone is comfortable with – don’t protect them ‘blindly.’

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's in a name?

The NHS is not exactly passionate about simplicity.

Here are two ‘easy to remember, rolls off the tongue’ titles of NHS organisations. I was just trying to picture the staff name badges – they must be a metre wide!

Here goes …deep breath ….

In second place …. 9 Words!!

"Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust"

And the winner is …. 11 words!!

"Bedfordshire and Luton Mental Health and Social Care Partnership NHS Trust"

This is the longest title I’ve come across so far in the NHS.

Mmmmm .. I have to ask myself are these titles meant to convey user friendliness for patients and the public. If that is the intention I don’t think they are achieving their objective do you?

Can you come up with a title of an organisation more than 11 words anywhere in the world?

If not I will unofficially award "Bedfordshire and Luton Mental Health and Social Care Partnership NHS Trust" with a gong as the longest organisation title in the world!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Recruit for Attitude and Train for Skills.

Take a look at my friend David Wike’s new Blog – Random Ramblings

David has written a fascinating posting today about skills shortages for the future and I’m sure he would value comments from regular Simplicity readers.

My own view about all this is that we need to reverse the historical trend.

For as long as I can remember the perceived wisdom in management and business is that we should recruit for skills and train for attitude.

I support the opposite – recruit for attitude and train for skills.

Thanks David for a great topic.

Leadership Lessons - More NHS memories ...

'The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished’ - George Bernard Shaw.

When I was about 18 I spent some terrific time going round various departments in the hospital I worked at to learn the ropes so that as an aspiring manager I might have an appreciation of what it is really like to be doing the work at the front line. Quite forward thinking in 1970 when I think about it, so let’s immediately dispel the myth that all the best ideas were invented in the last 7 days.

One of my placements was with the female (yes they were all women) telephonists at the hospital. This was a fascinating place. These folks knew everything. I was impressed. Every call - and there were hundreds - that came through was processed efficiently and the women always seemed to know just what to do. It was like watching an orchestra conductor to see them use those old fashioned plugs. Never once in the time I spent observing them and learning did I see any of the staff ‘lose it’ or get flustered. They always seemed in control and take it from me the volume of calls at peak periods was phenomenal.

At non-peak times such as early evening the women had time to tell me of some of their stories and of course I was very eager to learn. One story sticks in my mind.

It was in the early hours of the morning on a cold winter evening when there was a knock on the entrance door to the hospital which was adjacent to the switchboard. The telephonist on duty opened the door to be greeted by a confused looking elderly lady. She was invited into the switchboard office and as this was an unusual occurrence the telephonist was keen to find out what the problem was. The old lady explained that she had been to the accident and emergency department a few days previously after a fall which had resulted in a nasty laceration. She explained to the telephonist how she had been given a tetanus injection by the doctor and she had been asked to return for a booster injection in five years time. The telephonist listened intently wondering what the problem could possibly be.

The old lady became increasingly emotional and upset as she went on … I have ‘paraphrased’ but the message is authentic.

‘The doctor told me to come back in five years time for another injection. I have been doing some research and I have just found out that in five years time the anniversary of my injection will be a Saturday and your accident and emergency department is closed at the weekends. I got worried about it and couldn’t sleep which explains why I am here. I need to make sure I got the right date. Can you check for me please?’

When I tell this story many people say it has an ‘Ahhhh’ value which of course it does. The story is an accurate reconstruction of something that has stuck with me for over 30 years. The story illustrates how important checking out comprehension is. The patient had taken the instruction literally. She acted ‘correctly’ and yet all of us would say – ‘well of course anyone would know that the 5 year request did not mean an exact requirement.’ But I do not share that view. I am often accused of being pedantic about checking out whether my listener has understood what I am asking. Life has taught me this and I make no apology. So often in my career I have said something that has been heard by my listener as something else. This is not complicated – take time to check out comprehension.

Leadership Lesson - Never, ever assume – become a pain in the backside - check out comprehension of your listener

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leadership Lessons

Memories from the NHS ....

One day I had to attend a meeting of the Senior Management team representing my manager who was away on holiday. This was the regular fortnightly meeting of the 10 Team Leaders with the Chief Executive. I felt honoured to be in the presence of these senior folks and not a bit overawed. I saw this as a great learning opportunity. I am a great ‘body language watcher’ at meetings and it was my chance to see how things happen at the real decision making level. Yes of course there was a monthly Board Meeting but we all knew that this meeting was the ‘engine room’ of the organisation where most of the important decisions were thrashed out in discussion between the top people on the payroll.

One of the items on the agenda was a progress report on the commissioning of a major piece of health care equipment that was to cost many millions of pounds and was due to be fully operational about 9 months from the time of this meeting.

The Chief Executive asked for progress reports from five or six of the Team Leaders involved in various aspects of how this new service was to be commissioned and brought into operation over the coming months.

I watched and listened intently as one Team Leader after another came up with various operational problems that seemed to indicate there will be delays in bringing this new service into action. The Finance Team Leader was concerned about when the money would be released from higher levels in the National Heath Service (NHS). The Public Health Team Leader was concerned that all procedures may not be written up and prepared in time for the schedule opening. The Contracting Team Leader expressed concern that contracts between the various NHS organisations would not be in place in time for the opening date. And so it went on. Each Team Leader seemed to find a number of reasons why this project would not be delivered on time.

I watched the Chief Executive who remained calm and unruffled as excuse after excuse came out and I wondered how he would deal with summarizing the negative feel about the discussion. He waited patiently and asked finally if anyone had anything to add. There were no further responses. I did not know what to expect but he calmly explained;

‘Thank you for the updates. As you know we have been told by our leaders in the NHS that this service needs to be operational by next April and I have promised patients groups that the service will be up and running next April. As you know I have given my commitment as Chief Executive that this will happen. I am therefore expecting the service to be operational next April. We will now move on to the next item on the Agenda’

I think this is what he meant;

‘I hear what you all say and I respect your feedback. You know we are working to having this commissioned and working from next April. I am holding you all personally responsible for delivering on this for our vendors and for our customers. Talk between yourselves; iron out the problems; do what you have to do; but make sure the service is up and running on time.’

For me this was wonderful example of a leader in decisive action.

He invited updates on progress and listened respectfully to every word of every interest without interruption. He allowed all inputs to be brought forward and even checked if there was anything else that had not yet come out. He analysed the mood of the meeting and felt he needed to show some decisive leadership to remind people of the objective. It was all done in a very calm manner with no ‘volume increase’ in his voice. The body language I observed among his Team Leaders told me his message had been heard.

Leadership Lesson

Decisiveness is about listening respectfully and then setting a clear direction

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sven - Success or Failure?

My friend Dmitry from Moscow asked me recently on this Blog what I thought of Sven Goran Erickson as a manager and leader.

Sven has made a terrific start as the new manager of Manchester City winning three successive games and his team has yet to concede a goal. They even beat my beloved Manchester United last Saturday and that was hard to swallow.

So it seems Sven has become a hero again in England after being the villain for many English football fans after his perceived failure as manager of our England national team.

I say ‘perceived failure’ because I can't quite make up my mind about whether Sven was a failure or not.

England did very well to qualify for the World Cup and European Championships under Sven's leadership and many people argue that with a little more luck we could have won the Euro Championship and maybe got to the semi final or final of the World Cup.

Too often Sven’s 'off the field' activities dragged him down through tabloid newspaper stories and many fans say that is his own fault.

I would be fascinated to hear comments about whether you think Sven is a good leader/manager.

I think on balance I am prepared to give him the benefit of doubt in my mind and say I think he is a better manager and leader than many English football fans like to give him credit for. If you look at results and nothing else he is a success.

Sven is a fascinating man – thanks for raising this Dmitry

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome Back Football

Well it certainly doesn’t seem very long ago I was celebrating Manchester United winning the Premier League Championship title in May.

And here we are already two games into the new season.

So far Manchester United have drawn both their opening games which means some teams are already four points ahead of us.

My logical explanation is …..

Sir Alex Ferguson the United boss has decided to give the other 19 teams a start this season just to make it interesting …

Now that is what I call blind faith.

It is always brilliant to welcome the start of a new season and I’m sure – as always - there will be twists and turns and highs and lows on the emotional roller coaster that is simply the most fantastic sport in the world …. Football … or soccer if you are in the States.

Come on you Reds!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All pennies have the same value

If you are anything like me you have to work really hard about not being judgmental.

I have heard many stories in my life about this subject. I’m sure you have too. I’d love to hear them.

My favourite is the story of the tramp who stumbled into Church on Sunday morning in his filthy, smelly clothes and proceeded to make his way to the front stumbling along and mumbling incoherently passing the immaculately dressed members of the congregation.

They shuffled uncomfortably in their seats as the tramp made his way towards the pulpit. No one was quite sure what to do and so no one did anything. The tramp seemed oblivious as he looked down at the congregation from the pulpit still mumbling.

They waited in an embarrassed and uncomfortable silence wondering what might happen next.

The tramp took off his coat and hat, removed his untidy, scruffy looking false beard and proceeded to deliver the sermon. The audience quickly realised this was the Minister and so they immediately relaxed. What a wonderful way to make a point.

Was the tramp welcomed as warmly as the Minister? … We all know that's a 'no brainer.'

Although I genuinely hope I am getting better as I get older I sometimes still make wrong assumptions about someone based primarily on their appearance.

I'm working on it but I admit I sometimes still do it!

How about you?

I think it is a very unusual person who can honestly look in the mirror and say they have never been judgmental about someone based on perception; the appearance of the person; maybe even just the reputation that goes before them; their race; their skin colour; their religion; their sexual preference; their lifestyle; the list goes on .....

It was delightful therefore to be reminded by Nicky Gumbel of the wonderful words of GK Chesterton who said;

‘People are equal in the same way pennies are equal. Some are bright, others are smooth, others are sharp and fresh. But all pennies are equal in value.’ G K Chesterton

Next time I feel myself making assumptions I will do well to remember the words of GK Chesterton.

The UK National Health System

I am delighted and proud to say I have had another article published about the UK National Health Service in the July edition of The Stevie Awards Newsletter that is published quarterly in the US.

This magazine has an international subscriber list of over 7000 so I am thrilled that they have published my writing.

You can see the article by clicking here

Any comments you have will be great to receive and can I ask if you will cascade this to your contacts please?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Leadership lessons

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned through this current crisis

  • Always have a plan B even if you are confident plan A is going to work
  • Ask the staff most directly affected what they think
  • The staff are usually 'ahead' of the Board
  • Don’t listen to gossip – talk to people direct
  • Be aware there are political games going on at every level
  • Try to ensure there are no ‘camps’ even though there will be
  • Be open and up front about bad news
  • Tell people quickly and tell everyone affected at the same time
  • Walk away for a few hours and leave it – you need refreshing
  • Don’t make assumptions and if you do … change them every hour
  • Be ready to be surprised with reactions
  • Admit you were wrong when you make a mistake – as you inevitably will
  • Just when you thought things were getting better they get worse and you have to keep going
  • Never give up
  • Have an understanding wife/husband/partner/family
  • Remember you have a life too.

We continue to manage our way through this problem making it up as we go along to some extent and drawing on our various experiences with help from the legal folks and the HR professionals.

You will make many mistakes along the way and if you think you have finally ‘cracked it’ you will be wrong. If you think you can write a policy to deal with this sort of thing and then simply pull it out of a filing cabinet and implement it in a cold clinical way then forget it – the world just doesn't operate that way. We are talking about people.

Wake up and smell the coffee if you think this practical leadership stuff can be taught in a business school classroom.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Learning through a crisis - the best way to learn

Well … what a three weeks it’s been.

I am Chairman of a local Voluntary Organisation and sadly, we, as a Board made a decision earlier this week that the organisation will have to close down after much soul searching and various discussions and meetings in the last three weeks.

This is devastating news for all involved – not least the 11 staff who run the organisation.

My Simplicity Blog is just not the right place to discuss all the intricacies involved in this.

I can say that the time I have had to dedicate to this work over the last three weeks has been incredible. Most of my paid work has been put on the back burner because the best I have been able to do is ‘bits and pieces’ at time I have been able to 'grab' that has not been dedicated to the Voluntary organisation.

Don’t misunderstand – this is not a plea for the sympathy vote.

In my opinion ‘putting in the hours’ goes with the territory as Chairman and it has been fantastic learning for me. I do however have a message to anyone out there contemplating putting themselves forward as a Chair, Director, Board Member or Trustee in a voluntary organisation.

My message is …

Don’t do it lightly.

If you want a quiet life and you want to be associated with a charity simply as an ego trip then please don’t bother to do it. You must be prepared to get your hands dirty when the going gets tough.

You will have to ‘get in there’ among the muck, blood and the bullets. You have to get alongside the staff doing the work and support them in whatever way you can. And still you will get it wrong sometimes. And then you have to bounce back and try again.

Just in the last two weeks I have sent hundreds of e-mails, I’ve made probably 100 phone calls; the Board has had a telephone conference for two hours; we have had two Board meetings each lasting over three hours; and we have another Board meeting on Monday next week.

My fellow Board Directors have put many hours in too and I have been very grateful for their support. All of us do this for no financial reward - we come completely 'free of charge.'

The Chair role seems to be where the buck stops and where people look towards for leadership.

I am not sure whether I am a good leader or not but it has felt in the last three weeks that I have been the leader by default for a variety of reasons. It is a time of the year when many people are on holiday
, so the communication has been patchy at best and that is through necessity rather than by design. People are just 'not around' at the moment – and that goes for staff as well as Board Directors.

Stress levels of Board members and staff have been at peaks and troughs throughout our crisis and at least now the decision to close has been made, people seem committed to an effective, and painless as possible, closure process.

As a result my Blog has suffered because of these other priorities ... something has to give.

I see another week of ‘busyness’ associated with this and a few weeks/months of managing ‘down’ the organisation making sure we meet all our legal obligations to our employees at a very difficult time for them.

I became Chairman about four months ago and this situation was in the background then but it has been brought to a head in the last three weeks and now we have to support our staff and the families who use our services more than ever.

I apologise to regular readers of Simplicity Blog that I have not been able to post as often as I normally do but it has been exceptional circumstances.

I am grateful to David Wike for his great posting and for keeping the ‘good ship Simplicity’ afloat in the last few days. I miss posting my thoughts and I hope to get back to normal with my Blogging in the coming days.

The greatest thing about this crisis is the learning. As long as I keep reminding myself of that I can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

We are all learning and I am sure the 17 people involved – 11 staff and 6 Board Members with the benefit of hindsight as hugely educational – it just doesn’t feel like that for some of them at the moment.

Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Toilets, ghosts and good works.

Those of you following Trevor’s great adventure with toilet roll holders may, like me, have become slightly concerned that he may have got himself locked in there, so it’s great news to hear that he is out and about doing good works. As he is hard pressed for time at the moment, I’ve volunteered to fill in for him. With the blog that is, not fitting more toilet roll holders!

For the last year or so, my website has had a weekly column called Random Ramblings, which this month has become a blog. Back on the 18th July I was talking about how some busy professionals were employing ghost bloggers, just as people have employed ghost writers over the years. Well, it seems that it is almost coming to that for Mr Gay!

Like Trevor, I am involved in various voluntary activities. A couple of weeks back we had an email exchange about the pleasures of working for no financial reward. Trevor talked about the joys of working in a voluntary organisation, offering one’s services for free and the great sense of doing something really important, something hugely rewarding.

From my perspective I felt it demonstrated that money is a necessary evil, rather than something most of are particularly bothered about for its own sake. Job satisfaction – feeling that you are making a difference is far more important. Maybe more employers should capitalize on this, not as a means of under-rewarding staff but to get a greater contribution from them. Trevor often talks about letting the front line get on with things, as they are the experts. I totally agree. By trusting people and giving them as much responsibility as they want and are capable of handling, they are likely to be happier people. And it is said that happy employees mean happy customers.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many people in the UK are involved with voluntary activities of one sort or another, and how many organisations doing fantastic work rely largely or entirely on donations to enable them to keep going. It is also revealing how many high profile people support voluntary organisations, both with money and with their time. Much of this is done in a distinctly low profile way that doesn’t make it into the media.

Many years ago I heard a story about the newspaper magnate, Roy Thomson, later to become Baron Thomson of Fleet. He was asked to help a charity. He declined to give money as that was easy for a rich person. Instead he offered his time, which to him was a far more valuable commodity. I am sure that Trevor would agree at the moment.

David Wike

Life is interesting just now ....

Apologies for lack of postings on Simplicity Blog in the last few days

This is because my time is heavily committed in trying to manage a crisis in the Voluntary Organisation of which I am Chairman.

I hope to be back to something resembling 'normality' - whatever that means - next week.

Please bear with me

Thank you.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Simplicity is the Key ...again ...

Once or twice on Simplicity Blog in the last year or so I have complained in quite an animated way how stupid some people are when they fit toilet roll holders in public toilets. In my experience many holders are fitted in places that means one of two things:

1 The person fitting them has a sense of humour


2 The person fitting them believes we are all contortionists.

So …....................

When we recently moved house I was put to the test …

  • Is he all talk?

  • Can this bloke Trevor Gay who is always complaining about the position of toilet roll holders deliver in his own back yard?

Well …. Here is the evidence … that is me pictured in our new loo with my recently fitted (by my good self) toilet roll holder. This can be reached very comfortably and requires no great physical effort or contortionist activity.

Now there we are ….. I am not an architect; a designer; a builder; a carpenter; a room planner; or a scientist … I am just an ordinary bloke with two eyes, a drill a screw driver and some common sense.

It really is not that difficult is it?

I hope you are impressed David.

By the way .... Annie was laughing last night when I told her I thought our downstairs toilet was so lovely I was thinking of getting a TV installed in there together with an easy chair ... I guess Annie must have thought I was joking.

Nope ... I promise I have not been secretly at the Red Wine before typing this.

A great weekend to all visitors to Simplicity Blog - the sun is finally shining in England - summer has arrived ....