The last week has been very interesting for me. The Future Landscape project I’ve been a part of reached the end of its first stage, and we discussed and presented our thoughts to our leadership team. Having split into six groups each with a different theme to work on, it was fascinating to come together and hear everyone else’s views.
Our six groups were:
That’s quite a range, huh? But I was struck immediately by just how similar our conclusions were. The same themes came up time and time again, despite the distinct briefs we had all been set. It’s not surprising that there should have been some overlap between, say, Customers and Demand, or Demand and Commissioning, but for me the most striking similarities came not from the issues discussed but from the attitudes and thought processes of the participants.
For instance; each group had been set some questions to provide answers to. Every group ignored, dismissed or refuted those questions. In every case the response was – Why is that the question we need to answer? What thought process went into deciding that this was the problem we need to tackle? If this is an exercise in thinking the unthinkable, why are we being given such a specific focus already, before we’ve even started?
Another similarity; every group had a high proportion of argumentative, challenging, subversive or downright awkward individuals. Of all the things that made this exercise so exciting, my feeling is that this was the most crucial component. I had some concerns about some of these people not stepping up to take the rightful credit in front of our auspicious audience, but on the day I think we were able to show just how much every member had brought to the discussion. No offence to those who stood up this time, but I want to see some different faces at the front of the room next time. I think we will, too.
And from the discussion itself, here were the common points that stood out to me;
- Trust managers to manage.
- Reward positive behaviour.
- Understand the business – its value and purpose.
- Monitor outcomes, not processes.
- Make better use of management information.
- Give us the tools to measure and report the things that matter.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Learn from good examples.
- Think further ahead than the end of the next financial year or electoral cycle.
and biggest of all …
- What are we for?
Our purpose is not to ensure we continue to exist. It is not to spend the money we’re given. It’s not to do what we’ve always done. So what is it? As a colleague pointed out, the only time we’ve come close to caring about justifying our existence as an organisation is when we thought someone had the power to bring us to an end. We devoted a lot of energy to analysing and explaining why we were necessary and what made us special and distinct from District councils or Whitehall.
So where did that energy, that interest, that sudden rush of humility and accountability go? And why haven’t we built on that and used it to sense check the things we consider priorities now?
The wagon train I’ve used as the illustration for this post can be viewed as a positive image – hardy pioneers blazing a new trail, striking out into unknown territory with minimal support and resources. Let’s be them, shall we? Rather than stubborn refusniks rejecting the world as it is and running away to a place where we can set things up to our liking and do what we’ve always done.