Friday, February 29, 2008

Good to be home ....

Sorry for no posts since last Saturday!!

Another really busy week on the road and finally today (Friday) I get chance to spend a day back at home in the office catching up.

It feels good to be able to relax a bit.

I’ve been busy going round the country for the last two weeks as a facilitator in a fascinating piece of work. We are consulting with front line clinical staff and managers in the National Health Service on the development of electronic patient records. I will write about this more on my Blog in the future once the position is clearer on the way this is all going.

Suffice to say I see a day, in the not too distant future, when we will all have access, and even perhaps ownership, of our own electronic health records – or at the very least a summary of the record.

Just at the moment all I want to do is 'chill out' as my kids would say and enjoy a restful weekend with Annie.

We may even enjoy a glass or two of Red wine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Thought for the Day

Whilst preparing to write a review for a colleague of Sir Richard Branson's book ‘Screw it Lets Do it’ I revisited the book.

I was reminded as early as Page 2 about why I think this is the best business book I’ve read since I read Tom Peters ‘In Search of Excellence’ 25 years ago.

I just love this extract and if this style is good enough for Sir Richard it is certainly good enough for me. How I wish all managers agreed with Sir Richard's view of the world.

‘Then there are those silly little rules that someone has invented for baffling reasons. I always think that if you set up quangos or committees, they will find something useless to do. The world is full of red tape, created by committees with too much time and an overbearing desire for control. Most red tape is a tangled mess of utterly useless, nonsensical jargon. If I want to do something worthwhile – or even just for fun – I won’t let silly rules stop me. I will find a legal way around the rules and give it a go.’

Friday, February 22, 2008

Complexity and Simplicity

I’ve been thinking about the very legitimate discussion that happens now and again between those who think simplicity is not the real world of business and life. I'm pretty sure some believe the world is full of complexity and maybe they think that simplicity as a mantra is a naive view.

Of course I accept that not everything in business is simple.

Of course there is complexity and it is hard work to try and work out for instance how the heck the NHS works in the UK if you don’t happen to work inside it. Actually even if you do work inside the NHS it is difficult to work out how it works!

My entire argument is that things do not have to be as complex as we make them.

Two things to illustrate my point.

Firstly I love story telling – it is perhaps the most under used skill of any manager or leader. It is such an effective method of communicating. We learn the skill from our Parents and Grandparents if we are lucky. We can carry on the tradition by telling stories to our own children and Grandchildren. So the brilliant news is you don’t need to go to business school to learn this skill. And yet mangers and business schools are already polluting story telling with unnecessarily complicated language by calling it

‘The use of narrative’

It is not 'the use of narrative' - for crying out loud IT IS STORY TELLING!

Secondly how many of you know anyone who goes to sleep at night hoping, praying and dreaming that their work will be more complex tomorrow?

I rest my case on Simplicity

Are Bad Manners now the norm in Business?

My friend and Business Associate David Wike raised an interesting issue with me in our latest email conversation. David was let down recently by a potential business client/customer who failed to show for a pre-arranged appointment.

When David rang to ask why he never showed the person explained he sent an email telling David he would not be able to make the appointment. David had not checked his e mail before leaving home and so he was oblivious to the email until he got back home.

I guess the person’s defence is he sent the e mail but as far as I’m concerned that is not enough.

I admit I am a bit obsessive about effective communication (actually I’m more than a ‘bit’ obsessive about communication) and I would probably double check the appointment but that is no excuse for what I consider bad manners.

I am increasingly surprised in modern society how some people are simply not conscientious enough to make sure they tell people if they cannot do something or make an appointment. Or even to simply respond to emails – we are talking basic communication skills here and good manners. This is not rocket science.

I believe email is the most fantastic form of communication ever invented BUT it is not fair to rely simply on email to transmit very important messages without checking.

In business we all have personal responsibility to demonstrate good manners and high ethics in our communication. I may be old fashioned but I see no defence whatsoever for such bad manners

Am I exaggerating the problem? - What do you think?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Qualifications or Experience?

For 3 years between 1996 and 1998 I studied for and obtained my MA Management (Healthcare) at the University of Plymouth. I completed the course through day release whilst holding down a busy senior healthcare management position.

When we started the course there were 10 students. At the end of three years only 3 of us had stayed the course and completed our dissertation.

Ten years on I am very proud that I stuck at my Masters and saw it through when the easy option would have been to give up. I can say there were many times during the 3 years when that option was very attractive.

After my graduation a colleague at work asked if I thought the Masters made me a better manager. I had difficulty answering the question then and I still struggle with it.

I got my Masters as a mature student – I was 43 when I started the three year course. I think doing the Masters as a mature student had advantages because I had already gained many years experience as a manager by that time.

I would certainly never ‘knock’ anyone who obtains qualifications – I know how hard it is and what a toll it takes on the student. On the other hand I feel there is equal value to learning by doing.

What are your views about the qualifications versus experience debate? – I’m still unsure

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Mental Health is precious

Three of my favourite films are;

*A Beautiful Mind
*One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
*The Dream Team’

All are powerful films portraying the challenge of people who have mental health problems being fully accepted by the rest of us – the supposedly ‘normal’ population.

In ‘A Beautiful Mind’ Russell Crowe brilliantly portrays the mathematical genius John Nash in his battles to rid himself of the images and voices that haunt him as he struggles to cope with his own genius.

Jack Nicholson in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' is fantastic and I feel this film should be compulsory viewing for all employees working in mental health care. How the rights of people are completely stripped in an old fashioned institutional setting is emotionally harrowing. But the ‘inmates’ rise gloriously if tragically above it all in the end.

‘The Dream Team’ is a touching and moving story of how four inmates from the local mental institution are left to fend for themselves in the centre of New York after their Psychologist is mugged. The ‘inmates’ have to cope with life in the City for a few days. It is a remarkably powerful film tinged with comedy and poignancy.

We all walk a very thin line between staying mentally healthy and becoming mentally ill.

People who have mental health problems need to be understood and helped - not shunned by society.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What is Accountability?

The next three months will be the busiest time I’ve had since becoming a self-employed person three and a half years ago. It feels good.

When I left the National Health Service it was a bit of a risk. The truth is the time had come for a parting of the ways. I am able now to see clearly that I was no longer good for the NHS after 35 years and the NHS was certainly not good for me.

I had become stale, disillusioned and dull. I still had loads of energy to offer but I felt tired.

I pledged to myself that a return to a 'contract job' on a full time basis on someone else’s payroll would be a defeat for me.

So far I have managed to eat every month for 40 months as a freelancer.

I still feel that the last thing I would ever want to do is return to some office based job in a large organisation.

I love working from home. I love my freedom. I love my self-imposed rules. I love my new accountability.

Let me say some more about this word 'accountability.'

I left surely the most ‘layered’ management structure in UK business in the National Health Service. You would think therefore I would have felt ‘accountable’ in that environment. Not true.

I now realise I am truly ‘accountable’ to the person who knows me best – and that is the person I see in the mirror. That is REAL accountability. Holding yourself to your own standards is a real test.

If I deliver for my customer I look in the mirror and know that I did a good job. If I fall short that guy in the mirror will let me know. The mirror test works for me.

The accountability I now have is like hanging - it concentrates the mind.

To whom are you accountable?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dress Code in Business

I am genuinely grateful to Jim Baker for his comments recently about my dress code for the Fox TV Interview and it has prompted me to publish a new posting on the subject.

Jim’s view is that I should have worn a jacket and tie because this was a business interview. I completely understand Jim’s view and of course I respect that argument.

Jim deserves a proper response from me rather than a brief reply in the comments section

For many years in the National Health Service – from age 16 right through to about 35 I ALWAYS wore a shirt and tie at work and often a suit. It was kind of expected if not said. I guess it was just the way things were.

As I got older and a bit more confident I guess I also became braver. I decided I would take a more casual approach to dress. I always took a tie to work but if I had a day when I was not going to meet any patients or their carers I wore an open neck shirt and the tie stayed in my office desk. I then started to wear t-shirts if we had no important meetings. Most of my male colleagues did wear ties and I was invariably the odd one out at meetings. My dress code actually became a bit of a discussion topic in the office.

I felt a whole lot better one day when we had a meeting with 10 family doctors – a group of very revered professionals. Paul – one of the most highly respected doctors arrived for the meeting on his bicycle wearing shorts and a t-shirt. One of his colleague doctors David was even more casual in a tracksuit and trainers having just been to the gym in his lunch hour. I actually felt ‘over dressed’ in my casual trousers and t-shirt! My recollection is the meeting was as effective as it would have been had all participants been wearing jacket and tie.

I noticed gradually over the next few years that more and more men started to discard the tie unless we were in important meetings or there was some special occasion.

Then there was the advent of something called ‘dress down Friday’ which I never understood. People were allowed to dress casually on a Friday – I still don’t understand the logic of that. If it’s ok on Friday why not every day Monday–Friday?

I think it is fair to say the dress code is now much less formal in office settings where there is no direct customer contact and I warmly applaud that.

Wearing an open neck shirt and smart casual trousers is acceptable in almost all settings as far as I’m concerned.

I believe managers can be trusted to dress how they feel they should dress bearing in mind they are representing themselves as well as the organisation.

We can trust people to make the right call in my view.

Let me say up front I am not advocating anarchy here – I am just saying trust your managers and your staff.

And finally if we should be expected to wear a jacket and tie because it is a business setting what does that tell us about business? … That we all must look the same? That difference cannot be tolerated? That conformity is the Holy Grail?

I repeat that I am grateful to Jim for raising this issue and I am not saying for one nanosecond that I am right. I am expecting dissenting views as well in the comments on this posting.

Over to you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

True, Good, or Useful ...

Socrates (469 - 399 BC)

Annie and I are indebted to our Christian missionary friends David and Alisan currently working in Namibia for this gem of wisdom. It is for all of us involved in the world of business, leadership and management ... indeed life in general ....

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC) Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said

"Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

"Triple filter?"

"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really"

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true nor Good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Who influenced you?

Where do we get our inspiration from as far as our work ethic is concerned?

My earliest influence was definitely my late beloved Dad who always told me we get nothing for nothing. That is why I think my work ethic is so important to me.

When I started work in 1969 the boss of the Hospital was God as far as I was concerned. I was 16 and he was probably about 60. It felt to me like he just knew everything there was to know about how to run a hospital.

Now of course almost 40 years later I realise he was important but not actually God. Nevertheless those early influences are still with me in my work.

As I moved on in my career other people influenced my thinking and I came to realise there was such a thing as challenging the boss. The boss was not necessarily always right. But he/she was always the boss. Therefore I adopted a style that challenged the boss but I remembered that ultimately I had to support the boss.

Then I began to read about management and leadership and formed my own views through a mixture of practical experience and management theory – largely the former I have to say.

Nowadays I guess I like to spend my time reflecting on what I have learned and who I have learned from.

Where have your influences come from?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Meet Bertie and Rusty

Two new family members arrived in our life on Friday.

Keep up the good work!

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been in departments, organisations or even a club where it seems a few people do the work and an awful lot of people appear to be happy by not putting much in. Someone used this wonderful metaphor to describe the concept.

‘It’s like a football (soccer) match. 30,000 people desperately in need of exercise watching 22 people desperately in need of a rest’

I heard recently of a light hearted letter about this scenario in respect of a Church and as a bit of light relief I thought I would publish this today. Enjoy!

Dear Minister

There are 566 members in our church, but 100 are frail and elderly. That leaves 466 to do all the work.

However, 80 are young people away at college. That leaves 386 to do all the work.

However, 150 of them are tired businessmen, so that leaves 236 to do all the work.

150 are housewives with children. That leaves 86 to do all the work.

There are 46 members who have other important interests. Which leaves 40 to do all the work, but 15 live too far away to come regularly. So that leaves 25 to do all the work.

And 23 of them say they've done their part.

So, Minister, that leaves YOU and ME and, frankly, I'm exhausted.

Good luck to you.

A. Parishioner

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fox Business Network TV Interview

As a result of the recent article in the New York Times I was invited by Fox Business Network TV to go to London last Friday to take part in a live TV interview that was broadcast in the United States.

The Fox studio overlooks the River Thames and the House of Commons – a marvellous setting.

This was a new and wonderful experience for me and I was impressed with the people at Fox and the whole process.

The interview lasts almost 4 minutes.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Early Management Gurus

I’ve been persuaded that the greatest management gurus lived many centuries ago. It seems my management hero Tom Peters was not actually the first one after all!

How about the two pieces of pure wisdom shown below for present day managers? This advice is free and goes back fifteen hundred years and one thousand years.

So often in modern management we think that we must understand absolutely everything before we take any action.

This wonderful ‘old world’ wisdom tells us that we should just simply ‘believe’ and then work to understand, rather than be obsessed with searching for understanding and look for proof of everything before we believe.

To me it’s called having faith in what you feel is ‘right’ in your gut – ‘going with your heart’ as I often describe it.

I cannot see how this can possibly be considered controversial …. But I’m sure some of you will come back to me with a counter view.

Anyway – here is the wisdom – let me know what you think:

“Credo ut intelligam – translation; I believe in order to understand.” - St Augustine of Hippo: (354-430 AD)

“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand” -
Anselm (1033-1109)