Which City?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Gracious leadership - is it time for a softer style?

Now that the lovely Tom Pellereau has won The Apprentice and the nasty newspaper barons are  geting their comeuppance, is it time for a softer, more gracious style of leadership?

I saw the film Tree of Life this weekend and can't have been alone in struggling on first viewing to get the point of it all. But it is a film which makes you think, it's impact extending long after the titles have rolled. In it, we are asked to ponder the essential forces of life - nature which creates us, and grace, which makes us human. Grace, broadly interpreted, might be  simply defined as kindness, that force in us which chooses to be good rather than not.

In business, and (sadly I think ) in public life we have got used in the last thirty years to displaying some of our worst human qualities in the pursuit of profit and performance. Agressive competitiveness, clawing our way to the top, squeezing the pips out of every deal and contract, looking after number one - some of the cliched concepts which have been seen as good for profit and best for customers.

But where has it led us but to financial and moral bankruptcy. We are feeling well and truly screwed by the banks, by the press, the police and politicians. And they are left without any reputation or good standing, trust or confidence.

Is it time to bring some grace back into business? Great leaders - those who take people with them - are great people. They display integrity as much as influence, they care as much as they create, they serve as much as speculate.

In the midst of our current difficulties we feel that what we want is for those in power to be fair, to value the people that work for them, to respect the people who use their services. And not just to say it, but to do it.

Strong leaders are not loud, cruel or selfish. They are sensitive to the needs of others, quietly considerate, scrupulous in their integrity. If we could rely on all our leaders being this strong, we would have nothing to worry about. Gracious leadership isn't easy, it requires a leader to believe not just in themselves but in others, not only to be independent but to recognise that we are interdependent and much more powerful when we work with one another and not against one another.

A softer style isn't a weakness, it requires confidence in your ability to do what is right. Instincts and gut feeling, common sense, and a sense of justice are better leadership tools than Gantt charts and project plans. Use your moral compass rather than your management satnav.

Our belief in the strengths in people drives our work at The Open Channel. We know that people aren't perfect and that they can and need to improve. But if you want to lead people to do more with less and deliver the best services they can, then build on what they can do well rather than knocking them down for what they havn't done.

Be gracious - it will pay off.


Monday, 11 July 2011

What does the Public really want from Public Services?

Today, the government finally publishes its public services White Paper
The vision for reform is underpinned by five principles, which promote a set of values appearing to occupy the middle ground

Choice – Wherever possible we will increase choice.
Decentralisation – Power should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.
Diversity – Public services should be open to a range of providers.
Fairness – We will ensure fair access to public services
Accountability – Public services should be accountable to users and taxpayers. 

Of course. This is what we want. Or is it?

There is no shirking the reality of life for many people who make use of public services in Britain
today, and the White Paper makes reference to widespread inequalities in  education,        health and poverty. Addressing poverty and inequalities better is an avowed aim of the document.
Empowering people, putting them more in control is a central tenet across the centre ground of politics.
But what are the challenges for this vision of individual freedom to choose, collective opportunity to run our own services and real power to demand quality and value?
Well, first of all there is bound to be a certain scepticism in the air about the extent to which the private sector can be entrusted with our public services. As investors in Southern Cross walk away from an increasingly unprofitable sector, the White Paper suggests that health care should not be an area where 'profit' is be made. So how does the private sector engage in delivery of public services without the opportunity to make a profit? Which bank will lend to a private company without the prospect of profit?
We can't have our cake and eat it.
In social care local authorities have looked to drive down costs, to cope with increasing demand and reducing budgets. Squeezing profits will put people out of business. If care is not affordable in the public sector why do we think it will be in the private sector? Because it is more efficient, or because pay levels and quality will be driven down?

Social enterprises, management and staff mutuals are held out as the middle way - a route to get public services out of political control and into the market, but with a human face. If these enterprises are to succeed, they have to be able to charge for quality, they have to have the resources to pay good staff. There are risks either way - they may not be able to compete with private providers who can drive costs down, or they cost as much as public services ever did.
I don't believe there is a holy grail or we would have found it.
Public services do not exist in neutral territory, they live in a political context. The White Paper talks about choice, but you have to deserve the service, you will have to need it , to qualify. It isn't the same choice as picking the make and model of your new car, nor should it be, but let's not overegg the amount of control we do have. For most people it isn't a choice to cross the country to have health treatment that is better and cheaper - the need to be supported by family and existing services is a massive drive to stay local. Choice is about always having a positive service, even if there is only one choice.
The poor are most in need of support from public services. The better off often find it easier to navigate the system and make better use of what's available in relative terms. This is why fair access is so important, and why we shouldn't have to rely on service users alone to hold services to account - this is the duty of our elected representatives  at local and national level.
It's a complex picture, and one in which people across public services - whether delivering services directly or commissioning them from others are in a state of change. At The Open Channel we are supporting colleagues at the eye of this storm of change, people who are changing themselves and adapting to working not only in new ways but in completely new contexts. Our approach is to build on the strengths in people and organisations and to use those strengths to respond to the future, using techniques like Appreciative Inquiry and  Action Learning
Our experience extends to every corner of public service delivery and includes experience in private, voluntary and community sector settings. We have deep and current networks in housing, health, social care, higher education, fire services, criminal justice, children's services to name just some of our areas of expertise. 
The White Paper is a while coming, and it will give us plenty to do for some time to come. If you want to talk to us about your challenges, just get in touch

Monday, 4 July 2011

Dementia Without Walls - can a city be dementia friendly?

On the day that Andrew Dilnot tries to solve our future care conundrum, Dementia Awareness Week highlights the scale of the challenge. As we live longer, more of us are exposed to the risk of ill health and disablity, needing social and health care for longer and to meet increasingly complex needs. And, as the costs of our pensions rise, working until you're 68 with a parent or parents in their mid 80s or early 90s makes for a very bleak future. Capping the cost of care, promoting old age insurance will help to share the burden, but we will all have to contribute. Is there anything more we can do?

As part of its Dementia and Society programme the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has commissioned a local project to look at whether a city (in this case York) can become 'dementia-friendly'. I will be working through the Dean Knight Partnership as an associate of AESOP consortium to lead the project jointly with Janet Crampton and we will be supported by her colleague Ruth Eley. Both Janet and Ruth were until recently working in the Department of Health on the National Dementia Strategy. My contribution will be to bring local network knowledge and wider public service linkages.

Our focus will be on people with dementia, their carers and families, as well as the people who provide services and facilities to them. We will be asking questions like ' What makes your life easier or more difficult?' 'How do you manage transport?' ' Are shops and restaurants aware of your needs?', as well as trying to identify the best (and not so good) examples of housing, health and social care which could be blueprints for the future. A central feature of the project will be to enable people with dementia and their families to see some of these different examples and to find out what is really important to people as individuals and if there are common themes. We will be working with Innovations in Dementia to capture these views and create an end of project report and event to spread the ideas.

Places are for people - they have meaning, history, associations, but they also need to evolve to meet our changing needs,  they need to facilitate and enable us at every age and help us to live together in the best possible way. As much older people become a larger part of the population the business world and commercial interests need to understand this consumer base as much as public services need to provide for their care. Dementia Without Walls is exploratory in nature, it may come up with recommendations and action plans, but as much as anything we hope it will start people thinking in different ways about how the places we live in can help rather than hinder us.

If you have any thought, ideas, contacts, connections or resources we can use or share, please contact me.