Think Category

Are you FREe?

Checklists, Front foot, Improvement, Organisations, Reflect, Teams, Think, Values No Comments

Earlier this week I attended a concert at Kings College Chapel. As I sat there in the dark stillness a storm raged outside that rattled the ancient doors as a nearby college clock chimed the hour. I recalled how exactly 27 years before I had first been in that place.

I remembered I had been a little shocked to find myself in higher education – as a working class lad who struggled a fair bit at school. Yet in my mid 20s I had applied to study at tertiary level. When interviewed, some of the alternative angles I shared from my experience as a front line NHS worker, plus the insights from my union activism seemed to appeal to those who selected students.

Over the years I have found sitting in that building to be a powerful place for reflection during times of significant personal change.

So, I was thinking – but on this occasion about my work. My studies all those years ago were the start of my deeper interest in how organisations perform (or don’t). Over the last few months I have been crystallising what I now know about institutions – from larger networks to smaller teams, from commercial enterprises to noble purpose initiatives – based on my experience of working across sectors and continents. What makes an organisation worthy of commitment? What are the features that make them likely to succeed? And fail?

After a quarter of a century, I think there are just three things that are crucial. I summarise these with the word FREe (actually FRE, as you will see below).

Firstly, FOCUS. Is the purpose of the organisation shared? Is the strategy clear – is it understood? Has the governing group set out its intentions (and limitations) for the wider staff to work toward and within? Do individuals know how their particular role contributes – and do they realise where their personal motivations fit, and where they do not?

RESPONSIBILITY: are staff expected to use their initiative to sort out issues? Do they have freedom to act? Do governing boards avoid overstepping the mark and resist micro-managing the executive – and do line-leaders avoid constraining their staff with overly detailed instructions or the expectation of involvement in all decisions? How clearly are all staff held to account for how they have used their autonomy?

Crucially, EXAMPLE highlights the role of senior leaders in setting the cultural tone for an enterprise plus the part played of line managers in re-iterating this – and the importance of peers in reinforcing the ‘right’ behaviours. Most of us are not saints or sinners, rather we absorb the ways others work. This extends from basic ‘pro-social’ interactions to do with decency and civility through to the modelling of focus and responsibility and other important attributes like curiosity. ‘Example’ also concerns how the implied attitudes at the core of a business’s purpose are demonstrated by staff in their dealings with each other as much as with customers: be that caring in the case of health services, learning for an education provider or speed for a high street fashion brand, for example.

I am discovering how this simple framework is powerful in a range of settings.

It helps individuals: it is useful in ways from coaching leaders through to prompting those being interviewed for new jobs to ask useful (and interesting) questions.

With teams it is a checklist to test that the platform for achieving positive results is in place.

For organisations it highlights three important factors to work to get right in all places – to ensure well-served customers, content staff and a fulfilled mission.

Are you ready for FREe business?

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“…a simple trick to get along with all kinds of folk…”

Think No Comments

I recall being in an English class at school when I was 14. My teacher was encouraging me to read more. I went back the next week and proudly said I had started on my fathers stack of Readers Digest. I remember her saying, that wasn’t quite what she had in mind – she was keen on full novels not abridged stories, little jokes and tales of wilderness bravery.

So, you see, I didn’t read some of the classic texts when I was younger. However, I know the second book from Harper Lee is due out in July, so thought it was time I read ‘ To Kill A Mockingbird’.

You probably know I like seeing things from different angles and through alternative perspectives – see this self assessment from 6 months ago.

I liked this section of text early on in ’To Kill A Mockingbird’. Atticus is talking with Scout about her experience at school – and the teacher who wants to hold 6 year old Scout’s ferocious reading back to fit the class scheme. Her father explains about the importance of seeing things from another point of view, particulary the new teachers.

“First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The theme – the skill of walking a while in someone else’s ‘skin’ or shoes – occurs a number more times in the book. In fact, you could say it is the heart of the story – or even the whole book.

What topic would you like to know more about?
Where would you like to think more clearly?
Who would you like to understand?  Maybe a customer view (marketing)? Or a co-worker (engagment)?
This is all about discipline – learning to see WITOS, as i have discussed before. A skill that is worth developing – and one that requires continual honing.


The chief culture officer?

Organisations, Think No Comments

In our work, as regular readers will know, we support senior leaders in shaping the thinking (creative exploration, option generation, decision making) and behaviour (values, ways of working, culture) of their senior teams and organisations. Many years later, we still find the 4i model helpful in framing this task.

As a colleague pointed out to me this week, one of the early management theorists, Jacques, made a big deal of getting the right sort of thinkers at the appropriate level in an organisation (noun) with the right degree of ‘requisite organisation’ (verb) – see this  and this.

However, this more modern piece – actually published this week – is a more contemporary account, with the role of CEO as the guardian of not just the thinking of an institution, but of its behaviour too. We like this – as do a number of clients we have shared it with over the last few days.

We have long believed that what leaders say and do matters – more than their ability to personally think clever new ideas. This twin focus (on thinking and behaviuour) is part of the way we like to develop teams in what we sometimes call our ‘Team Gymnasium’ of several development sessions linked to specific readings, assessments and conversations. Some of the ideas that are core to this process are those of Lencioni (for his team model), Heron (for the 6 interventions), Fairtlough (for responsibility autonomy) – alongside some of our ideas on VIP (values into practice), FFO (front foot organisations) and NPO (noble purpose organisations).

As always, we are happy to share more on any of this FOC (free of charge)…

That is enough TLAs for now – by the way there are ‘only’ 17 thousand possible permutations I read recently! So a few more to go…(even accounting for a couple more here)

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Mind the gap?

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Did you notice we didn’t blog last week?

Did it matter?

Do tell us…good or bad ….

[…and for those who are missing something, here is a great talk by David Attenborough we recently attended – launching an important partnership of conservation organisations working to avoid any new ‘gaps’ in the world’s biodiversity.]


Photos to make you think…

Think No Comments

We love how easy it now is to post a photo – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram….

From 2006  to 2011 we were regularly sharing photos online…then 18 months ago we stopped…

Did you notice?

Did it matter?

Why did we do it? Because the novelty had expired – and it was so easy other ways.

By the way, our presentations are nearly always made up of a series of photos with not much text. At least half of what we present are shots of things we have personally observed….so that is where we have migrated to.

Where are you going with the technology you love?

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A checklist in action

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Thanks to The Health Foundation for encouraging and publishing this blog – in response to media coverage about The Liverpool Care Pathway (in reality a checklist designed to improve the reliability of care at the end of life).

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TPS Curiosity #179

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Another phrase I hear a lot of in Australia, is one I am familiar with in the UK too,  from the work of Chris Collision and others:  The Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Curiosity in action takes us here – an interesting read.

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Prizes for all?

Think No Comments

I was pleased to get this response to a piece I wrote:

“Really interesting what you’ve sent through, thanks for this – certainly agree and all chimes with my experience. I love your framing of this – curiosity, ignorance, incrementalism and rapid iteration all key, and they need to be deep cultural norms (and reinforced structurally etc as you say). Would be great to talk more on this.”

And what was it in response to – this piece, post a conversation, and pre-twitter…

This model  is one I use to guide me…you might recall it.

I believe, health services round the world need to move from cultural norms that prize the west and north (to south and east) of this sort of compass.

A few things make innovation a prize over copying, still:

1) Personality – I don’t know anywhere that seeks to recruit people with a strength of curiosity (‘Input’ in the Gallup strengths framework if you know it)

2) Training – rarely are new recruits taught the most important three words – IDK (I don’t know)…even now, in the knowledge era. It might get said in passing, but not really modelled and lived by their teachers (ie at level 4 in our values framework )

3) Culture – I think awards ceremonies set the wrong example with none or few prizes for copying and applying; there is the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (seen in its most extreme form re the treatment of whistle-blowers)…even progressive journals and publishing can prize the new and novel a bit too much too.

4) Incentives – real testing, experimentation and piloting is still not popular enough…rapid implementation is the order of the day (often without the time for learning and synthesising – the transformative not syntactical learning Senge et al have talked of )

So action is needed at the level of Structure, Process and Pattern to rectify this.

Btw, sadly I still think many at top of orgs who call for spread (repeatedly) don’t model 1) and do things against 2-4 on a daily basis”


Can the person who contributes please stand up?

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I have a mystery

I don’t know any of those writers I am afraid

And I am a bit surprised –and embarrassed.

(Will the authors please stand up?)

Unlike other social media

I have yet to find anyone

No one at all.

Anyone who writes

Who edits.

To and for Wikipedia.

Will the persons who contribute to Wikipedia please stand up

I want to thank you – and wonder why with you.

Why you do

And we don’t.

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Fashions in measurement

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For a while now we have been interested in (and supporters of), “The Net Promoter Score”  as an indicator of customer views – and also the likely success of an enterprise.  You can see some of our ideas applied to health care half way down this 4 year old Business Briefing  on the trickiness in gauging satisfaction with the NHS.  And this year the Government outlined its plans to roll out the so called ‘friends and family test’.

So why this piece…just as some organisations are getting into this sort of metric, others are moving out. Tripadvisor seems to have stopped collecting and publishing the ‘would you recommend’ question.  And we know Facebook asks only about ‘liking’.

If we believe Goodhart’s law, there are good reasons to be very wary of measures – for when they become goals they are open to (possibly unconscious) gaming.

Commerce and Public services beware.  We are all only (actually) human after all.


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