I did promise to write about desks after my last missive on the NHS. The application of my off the wall idea may indeed have wider implication and utility, but the pressure cooker environment that is the NHS (constant imposed change that feels intent on killing the service by a thousand cuts being foremost in my mind) provides us with a sensible and captive model.
Here it is. No board member or their direct reports should have a desk or an office.
A consistent theme running through Francis report (1 & 2) and Geoffrey Robinson’s TV series “How to save the NHS”, and my own experience would suggest that a closed door policy exists; that senior managers are remote from front line staff; that there is little input into decision making from staff members.
All solved at a stroke. The board would have to be out and about. I’ve mentioned Management by Walking About before – and now we have a simple mechanism to make this happen. MBWA is just a guru wish without a mechanism to force it to happen. No office or desk? You don’t have a choice.
I know managers need to do some work behind closed doors. There should still be boardrooms and meeting rooms, and the senior team would be able to hot desk there, amongst their team. And the meetings would still happen there. And any discipline or private meetings (typing up your resignation letter because you were culpable of presiding over a shambolic service, for example) would happen in small meeting rooms.
Simple. Successful senior managers spend more than 50% of their time in informal meetings with members of their teams, at all levels of the organisation. Staff would be shocked and probably amazed at first – they may have to ask “Who are you” when you first arrive on a ward, but that will pass. But it could work. Cut the umbilicus between the board and their desks, and we are on our way to fixing the NHS – and maybe other organisations too.