Thursday, 26 March 2009

Change Initiative

Within the public sector its hard to avoid change. Its generally accepted that things need to be done better and for less money. So organisations across the whole sector are busy expending energy, effort (and occasionally some money) at making themselves  better.  I am up to my neck at the moment in helping roll out a change programme: great when it goes well,  dispiriting when it doesn't and  always exhausting regardless.   
The key to making change worthwhile is deciding: what change? This is tricky not least because there are shed loads of products out there from which to choose. And all of them naturally (so its said) will transform your organisation. Balanced Scorecard? Lean Management? TQM? Leadership Development? ABC?
All have their advocates and all of them doubtless have their place.  But into this mix I would  add    public sector leaders who  tend to be very passionate about reforming public service and who encourage a climate in which change is embraced .  This in turn can lead to lots of ideas and initiatives top down and bottom up,  and a huge diversion of effort  which if not managed means we forget there's a  day job to be done as well.  In this frenetic environment in which new ideas emerge in quick succession I fear that some initiatives  get sidelined as soon as the next big idea hits the streets. As a result  they  run out of steam before we get a chance to see them through. 
Apart from the basket of change options we also have to deal with the desire for pace. Its not enough that we change. Its equally important that we do so quickly.  It is I think an article of faith that pace is always important. So  that's what we (try to) do.   But at times the average public sector manager must feel like a hamster on a wheel, pausing only to take on board the exhortation  to run faster.
In the next few years I wonder whether the public sector will be able to reform  itself in this way. Public Finances are under pressure and the money to pay for new initiatives will be hard to find.  So maybe in these straitened times it might be an idea to dust off some of those initiatives that never got finished (or even saw the light of day) and extract some value from them. And maybe do them at a more measured pace. At a pace that allows us hamsters to jump down from our wheel, draw breath and, well,  enjoy life a bit more.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Saturday, Saturday.........

If you had asked me a few years ago: what's your idea of a great Saturday, its unlikely I would have responded with "a quiet day reflecting on vocation".   I found myself joining others contemplating vocation at the quiet day at St John's,  slightly  fearful I'd be exposed as a bit of imposter. So it proved. The subsequent description of us as "young" in Father Ivan's  blog could never be applied to me . Saga now permeates my life in ways I never thought possible and the only sport in which I am likely to attract the soubriquet "rising star" is likely to be bowls. 
The day was special, not least  the period of silence before mass and the opportunities for quiet reflection in the afternoon . God getting a word in edgeways is something that daily life all too rarely permits.  But the whole day was a really enriching experience:  I really enjoyed talking to others in the group and the mass included a sermon  on the parable of the prodigal son that made me wonder whether I'd ever really get some of this Christianity stuff right.
Next weekend offers yet more tantalising choices. Catch some sun and get some more potatoes planted or torment myself again at the Valley where Charlton take on Preston North End.  I cannot get too worked up about a match where the outcome from the home supporter's perspective is academic - we're down anyway. However loyalty is about following the team through the bad times as well as the good. So all things being equal, on Saturday the potatoes will have to wait.  

Friday, 13 March 2009

A Hard Week

The end of a very long and tiring week.  
As dispiriting as it was from time to time at work, the news was hardly uplifting. The story about Tim Kretschmer a 17-year old who shot and  killed 15 people at his school was shocking. I find it hard to comprehend how someone is reduced to expressing  their anger and frustrations in such  a way. In Western Europe or the US life for a teenager is hardly  about a fight for survival. But perhaps our relative comforts do not leave us any less anxious about establishing a sense of  identity; of what we are and  what we are here for.  Perhaps he felt  those around him (story is he was bullied at school) denied him that.  And that the best he could do was take matters into his own hands. Shocking that such a short life (and those of some of his contemporaries) ended as it did. I cannot begin to comprehend how the parents and children of the school will ever recover from this ordeal , it is tragic beyond words.  
At about the time Tim was born Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme was underway. The sums involved are truly awesome. $50bn I have seen reported. In court he expressed shame and apologised for his wrong-doing.  But what are we to make of that given that he was defrauding investors for nearly 20 years and was fully aware of what he was doing?  Of course there are no dead bodies here, no parents mourning the loss of their children. But such pity as I have now is not for the fraudster or his possible 150 year jail sentence. 

Sunday, 8 March 2009

In two parts.....

Part 1

Standing Up for Christ

A few recent blogs and today's homily are a reminder that standing up for Christ is not (yet) cause for shame or stigma.  And that we should resist the wider trend to dismantle our Christian traditions. It is odd that at a time when the diversity agenda rightly reminds us of the need to be sensitive to the traditions and religions that now form part of twenty first century Britain there are some who feel that this need not apply to our own church.  Why is that?  I'd guess that in our rush to give people the freedom to challenge the church's position back in the sixties and seventies we overlooked the fact that other faiths did not (and were in no hurry to)  welcome challenge.   

There seems to be a presumption that to be Christian is to be a bit well, how shall we put it, unsound. Time to put this straight. And by that I don't mean some crass campaign on bendy-buses or a right-on rock festival. But a steadfast eye-balling of detractors and a quiet but unwavering assertion that we are certainly not mad and that our faith provides us with a better basis for dealing with life than  they might imagine. Nobody is compelled to go to church. But I will have no problem pointing out that its a lot more rewarding than Ikea or Bluewater. 

Part 2 

Charlton 2 Watford 3

Whilst there is nothing of the Gerald Ratner about the club's  fall from grace, the journey to League 1 is no less painful or, seemingly, irreversible. There is a real joy for me in having a "boys' day"  out with my son but it ends when we have to watch the team and barely kicks in again till we are safely out of the ground after full-time. No time with him is ever wasted, but the spring tour of prospective universities promises, overall,  to be a more rewarding experience. 
For a while yesterday I thought we were going to win. At half time the other side were on the ropes and I thought the second half would simply involve scoring the third goal that would secure 3 points. Sad to say after half time we were not at the races. Their equaliser (for 2-2) was a very classy finish and the winner was less about how than when, so badly had we gone off the boil.  Personal view is that the windy conditions yesterday needed a bit of adjustment. First half, playing into the wind, all was fine. Our strikers  exploited the uncertainies of a hanging ball and made hay. 2nd half the ball didn't hang: it blew straight to the opposition.  But for some reason we didn't adjust and start passing the ball on the ground. It surely isn't difficult to see what is going on and make allowances for it. But, no: as time ticked away the tactic of hopeful hoof was all we had. 
Oh well, next season perhaps. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Number 11 Bus

Barely has the ink dried on my first  blog for 2 weeks when along comes another.

Defeat at home to Doncaster tonight (a late finish at work means I was at least spared having to watch it) means relegation is pretty much a certainty.  In football the ends can pretty much always justify the means. So Parkinson assembled a team of journeymen players (many on loan) with the view to making us difficult to beat and capable of picking  up some wins, so I guess the plan went, on the way to safety. Sadly we played ugly and still lost. 

We haven't played in the third tier of English football for many years now. So the prospect of watching Millwall and Tranmere again has a certain nostalgic value. But my one hope is that something is done to inject a dash of verve and style; or at the very least we go out and   play the game as it should be played. Its not impossible - both Swansea and Doncaster have demonstrated that good football is not impossible outside the Premiership. I hope Charlton can follow their example.      

Recharging the batteries

One of the dubious pleasures of crawling up the organisational hierarchy was the requirement to attend a succession of courses on how to be a manager and later, a leader.  The various  personality profiles, preferred working styles, 360 degree feedback and inevitable personal improvement plans all tended to blur into one so by the end I  began to suffer leadership development fatigue.


But I cannot honestly say that they were not of use. I do remember in particular learning on one course about the need to look after and regularly keep topped up physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. And that each for different reasons needed attention.


A recent trip to France gave me a heaven sent opportunity to attend to all 4. Being with the family was the emotional well-being, Abbot Christopher Jamison’s latest (finding happiness) ticked the spiritual side, whilst a week’s snowshoe walking in the alps was a double whammy – getting up the mountain did for the physical whilst the tranquility and settings more than helped recharged the mental box.


The Abbot’s book was a good way into lent and not too heavy that it could not be fully digested on a holiday. But as I slogged up the mountain side I was struck by the “different-ness” of my surroundings. And then I thought some 50 miles west, beyond Geneva it probably looks more like Kent (ie green) than the Antarctic. And then that the margins between a comfortable environment and a harsh one are perhaps finer than we sometimes assume. Go up a few hundred feet, travel a few hundred miles north (or inland) and life could be a lot less easy unless we adapted to it. We are blessed to have such a comfortable environment – and we shouldn’t take it for granted.