Learning the lessons – building on what matters

Everyday I read sentiments to the effect that the virus and the lockdown have changed us forever.  Life cannot and will not go back to how it used to be.  I beg to differ.  I think once this is over the most likely scenario is that all the old pressures will come crowding back in and everything will fairly quickly revert to how it was.  All that we are experiencing now will fade into a tantalising dream/nightmare.  If we want things to change we had better learn the lessons now and act to make sure we don’t forget them.

“Key worker”
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The power of identity

The question of identity lies at the heart of recent political convulsions.  It is a critical and often misunderstood or neglected factor in the success and health of societies and organisations and it is vital that it is respected, nurtured and given appropriate expression.

The last few months has seen us all surprised (Shocked? Flabbergasted? Appalled?) by the results of the two big polls, on either side of the Atlantic. The British people voted for Brexit and the American people for Donald Trump.  In both cases the result defied most expectations and overturned conventional thinking – such as that which holds that there are some things a candidate cannot say or do and still be a credible challenger for public office.

I consider these to be deeply worrying events demonstrating neither sense nor reason.  But that is not what this blog is about. Here I want to talk about what I think is an important part of the picture and suggest some applications of what emerges for organisations. Continue reading

Whose business is it anyway?

The collapse of BHS has been met with dismay.  Pensions are at risk, many are out of work, the former chairman stands accused of taking vast sums out of the business and a British institution has disappeared from the High Street.  It is a sorry story and very distressing for those involved, but it also raises a question: whose organisation is it? Continue reading

Problems and potential in the system

Models of organisation 3

We all see organisations through different lenses. One commentator says that organisations are all about the people (‘our greatest asset’) a second will attribute success to efficient processes (‘a well-oiled machine’) others seek gifted and heroic leaders (overpaid but ‘worth it’).

Meanwhile, sustained organisational success remains elusive:  experience suggests that very few of today’s FTSE 100 companies will be in existence, never mind successful, in 30 years’ time.

In recent blogs I’ve been looking at how the models in our heads determine the way we manage our organisations and how we address their problems.  I’m not arguing that any particular model is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  But (to paraphrase Stafford Beer) some may be more useful than others and being aware of the model we use and opening ourselves up to other possibilities might give us an advantage in the tough world of organisational survival. In this blog I will explore a model (of organisations as systems) that offers richer possibilities for problem-solving and has the additional advantage of allowing the organisation to shift the focus from problem solving to the realisation of potential. Continue reading

The Church and (its) wonga

How refreshing it was to see the Church hit the headlines for positive reasons! The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative to challenge Wonga and other payday loan companies by using the resources of the Church to support local credit unions and compete them out of existence is bold, imaginative and appealing. It was a shame then when it was revealed the next day that the Church is, if only indirectly, invested in Wonga.

To be fair to Justin Welby he handled the embarrassment this caused very well. And I don’t think the news undermined the power of the original idea. But it does illustrate a couple of significant ways in which the Church neither helps itself nor makes the most of its still considerable resources. Continue reading

Welfare: choices

I signed the petition urging a boycott of the Daily Mail following its decision to use the Philpott child killing case as a stick to beat the welfare system. It is a most unpleasant rag and today’s front page plumbs a new low in its cynical exploitation of the worst instincts of middle England.  The suggestion that the welfare system produces horrible crimes is nasty (and stupid) even by the Mail’s standards. But leaving the Mail and the Philpott case out of it for a moment, why is there such a strong instinct to see the welfare system in such black and white terms, as if all the issues around it are easy? I don’t think they are. Continue reading

St Paul’s, Bad Capitalism and the Principles of Sustainable Success

The story of the protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral has been dominated by the coverage of the Chapter’s management of the situation.  There are some signs now that attention is turning to the larger problem of what the protest means and of what should be done to rein in the excesses of what Ed Miliband has called ‘bad capitalism’.  Voices from both right and left are suggesting that not all is well with the way ‘the City’ operates. I want to suggest that both the Cathedral and the ‘bad capitalists’ might benefit from giving some consideration to the question of what makes organisations sustainably successful, viable, that is, over the long-term. Continue reading

What the NHS really needs

A report in today’s FT suggests that the savings from the government’s latest NHS reorganisation will be quite a lot lower than promised.  That does not come as a great surprise.  Every NHS restructure is costly and time-consuming.  As they happen every few years it means, as one senior manager told me, that as soon as the new organisations it creates are mature and actually achieving something they are abolished in favour of a different configuration.  And back to square one we go.

It is not that the current changes and the many previous ones do not make some sense or have not contributed to some improvements.  My experience is that NHS Trusts are far more focused on efficiency, for example, than they once were and the separation of commissioning (Primary Care Trusts at the moment) and provider functions (hospitals, community health staff and so forth) may have helped to achieve that.

But restructuring never delivers what is promised because it cannot.  Continue reading