To desk, or not to desk?

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.


What problems would that solve?  (Thanks to Glasstap and Trainers Library for the above)

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.

Letting go

Another superb blog today from Roy Lilley at NHS Managers. net.  Here’s the bitly link: 

“Bitly” is a brilliant free tool that can shorten any link for you – really useful for bloggers and especially useful for tweeters – saving loads of your 140 character limit…

The title of the piece was ‘letting go’.  It is all about trust, delegation, involvement, empowerment and delegating responsibility and accountability.  Yes, if your are chief exec, the buck should indeed stop at your desk (more later) (about desks). And  there do seem to have been too many times recently when the captain has abandoned the ship before all the passengers have been catered for.  But you should let go to get more done.

In case you are not convinced to go read yet, here’s perhaps my favourite section:

Don’t over organise; let-go and give people the space to self-organise and create natural, informal groups, gatherings, huddles and teams.  Leaders will emerge, consensus will surface and people will sparkle.  Give them room to innovate.  Understand it creates more failures than it does successes.  Asking people to innovate without being free to fail is like giving your other half a programme for a West End Show and calling it a night out. 

Isn’t that just stunningly simple?  As with all common sense, it isn’t that common in practice.  It takes guts, and a complete change of focus inside the managers head.


Keep them involved – and informed (from Trainers Library)

If you read my last blog, Funeral for a Friend, we had a movingly sad celebration of a great woman yesterday.  We were in county Durham and had plenty of hours to talk on the coach to and from.  One of my friends has been on courses with me and we chatted.  “I didn’t think I’d be able to let go of that task at all.  I love payroll”. (note from me: it takes all sorts, and thank goodness someone does!). “But our new person is more than capable of doing it – and in fact is embracing the recent PAYE changes easier than I could because it is all new for her. I’ve got 4 days of my month back now”.  I asked how this had been able to happen:

“Because I changed me”.

That is my only concern with any sort of obvious but rare approach.  Roy is right – this is absolutely the way forward.  There will be managers who think “that’s for other people not as successful as me” – and they will be wrong, long term.  There will be others who think “that’s all very well, but I’m paid to manage!”.  And they will expire overworked and unloved.  Then there will be the leaders, who think, “I should be doing this, and more”.  Their teams will thrive.  And so will they.

Funeral for a friend

I am going to a friends funeral tomorrow.  She was a bit special.  I only know her through working closely with her during her rise through one of my client companies.  I counted her as a friend and colleague.

She died just before Easter.  She was diagnosed only two weeks before, but that’s how aggressive some cancers are.  I’d only met up with her to design the content of a course during the snow two Monday’s past.  I’d had an email exchange when she didn’t turn up to a workshop.  I said to get well soon, and I’d missed her input on the session.  She replied that she had some bad news

Sorry to say, I panicked and tried to find out what was going on.  The grapevine said it was indeed bad.  We had no idea it would happen so fast.

What do I remember Pat for?  Hard work, frightening honesty and integrity, and fun.  She was proper northern.  A lass from the north east.  Absolutely hated those who over egged their northern roots.  “That one – she keeps saying Hinny an stuff – she’s not even from there!”  Pretty typical.  No side to Pat, and no hiding place if you couldn’t hack it.

Fools were not suffered.  No work was left hanging.  No-one who put a good shift in was ever given anything but praise and support.  Fiercely loyal, Pat would fight anyone’s corner.

It is not fair.  It feels like she has been stolen from us.  It just doesn’t feel right.

The world is less of a place without you Pat.  Goodbye, bonny lass.    You taught me a lot.