The Monday Morning Quote #74

I am grateful to my friend Kathryn Thomas for sending me this week’s quote.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”


The Monday Morning Quote #73

“If the lessons of history teach us anything it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us” ~ Anon

Use your initiative? Far too dangerous

From The Times On Line

Sometimes it’s the stories about the little people that, more accurately than any number of polls or policy research papers, illustrate exactly the kind of society we live in.

So let me tell you the desperately sad tale of a man named Brian Gilfillan, a 36-year-old medical records supervisor. Mr Gilfillan, a quiet, blameless soul, who lived with his parents, worked all his adult life in the records department of NHS Fife.

He cared about his job and the smooth running of the department, to the extent that he regularly worked extra hours and took work home to correct errors made by others. In other words, he was one of the sons of Martha — those who toil as anonymous, dedicated backstops for the rest of us.

One of his jobs was to ensure that there was sufficient stationery, even when his line manager, Anne Starkie, was absent. One day, however, Mrs Starkie discovered that, while she was away, he had signed her name on an order for maternity forms.

Mrs Starkie, being sadly representative of a certain type of NHS middle management, decided that this was a breach of trust. She contacted human resources, who advised her to hold an investigatory hearing. At this and a subsequent hearing, Mr Gilfillan admitted that he had “forged” her name 11 times to make sure enough stationery was available for the department.

Time, surely, for a mild rebuke, an apology and an end to the matter. But oh, no, not Mrs Starkie. It was time for a witch-hunt. She decided that his actions were fraudulent, although there was no question of personal gain. The hearings continued, and her own line manager decreed that, since it had taken “a lot of probing” to get Mr Gilfillan to accept fraud, his actions amounted to serious misconduct.

Perhaps, with a sinking heart, you can guess the rest. The wheels of the NHS disciplinary juggernaut began to turn. The hearings — during which Mrs Starkie was, variously, a complainer, a judge and a prosecutor within a short space of time — increased. Six months later Mr Gilfillan received a letter that, for the first time, raised the possibility that he could be dismissed and asked him to attend another hearing.

The day before the hearing, he gave his parents money for his digs and left for work. He never arrived. The next day, October 28, 2008, his body was found hanging from a tree in the hospital grounds in Kirkcaldy. Killed, one is entitled to conclude, at least in part, by a culture of institutional zealotry within an organisation colonised by some insensitive people.

At the inquiry into his death, NHS Fife was accused by the Crown of acting “shoddily” — which I suspect may yet prove the understatement of the year. If the matter had been dealt with rationally and proportionately, the Crown said, none of this would have happened.

Under questioning, the NHS jobsworths conceded that if Mr Gilfillan had signed his own name, or placed the letters “pp” before his lamentable line manager’s name, he would not have broken any rules. They also conceded that there was no written protocol for ordering stationery when Mrs Starkie was absent, nor had they taken legal advice on whether Mr Gilfillan’s actions constituted fraud.

In a judgment this week, after the inquiry, the presiding sheriff spoke caustically of procedural failings, fundamental errors by managers and lack of training. Mr Gilfillan’s actions, the sheriff said, were neither serious misconduct nor fraudulent, and a first warning should have sufficed.

So what does this story tell us? A depressing amount, for a start, about the NHS where bullying is prevalent — according to figures in the Health Service Journal, the problem costs the organisation more than £325 million a year — but rarely exposed like this. Many of us will know people employed in some capacity by the NHS who have been fingered by Stalin.

If Britain is broken — and I’m not altogether sure that it is, not in the way that the Conservatives would have it — then part of the fracture is because we have created a world so full of systems and structures that these things have taken on a life far more important than the people who inhabit them. We have become locked into doing process and utterly rubbish at doing humanity.

Even more worrying is that rules disempower people to the point where the human race becomes genetically weakened. The ambition is no longer to get the job done; it is to make sure that the ten commandments of management are not defiled. Stupid people can do this, so stupid people are hired.

Such attitudes are toxic to any kind of entrepreneurialism, and probably the reason why few good brains go into the public sector and too few young people, raised in such a culture, start their own businesses. In the private sector, where journalists are among millions who spend their lives “forging” line managers’ signatures to obtain stationery or short-circuit trivial red tape, we would not last ten minutes if we did everything by the rules.

But we must watch out. Mr Gilfillan’s fate should serve as warning that initiative is now officially rated as a dangerous vice.

Are these things related?

Numbers of senior managers in the NHS have almost doubled in a decade compared with a 35 per cent increase in doctors and nurses as ‘fixation’ with the market means health service is bogged down in red tape, a report said….

Never Try……


The John Lewis Secret to Customer Service – what can you learn?

hp_shops_01From BNET insight.

Say customer service and the one organisation that springs to many minds is John Lewis. The retailer pipped other retail rivals to the top slot in a recent poll by the Institute of Customer Service for customer satisfaction, closely followed by grocery stablemate Waitrose.

Called the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, the poll found four out of the top ten brands recognised for customer service were retailers, prompting the researchers to assume the sector as a whole had redoubled its efforts to serve their customers well in an attempt to stave off the effects of the economic downturn. Certainly John Lewis has done better than most.

What is also interesting is six out of the top ten places have been shared by three companies – JLP, Marks & Spencer and Virgin, suggesting there may be a relationship between strong brands and the perception of good service. These three brands have been well known for good customer service in the past and it’s possible there is a self-fulfilling prophesy at work here. Customers expect these brands to give good service and so they receive it.

Nonetheless, there’s no real substitute for a strong basic philosophy for good service at ground-level, as Victoria Simpson, development manager for customer service at John Lewis confirms.

She explained the retailer’s reputation for good customer service is built on the concept being a core part of its corporate culture. It’s not delivered from the top-down, she said. Front line staff are expected to make decisions affecting customer service by themselves. They are encouraged to come up with ideas to improve customer service, which are fed back up to managers.

Crucially, John Lewis is also known for its employee satisfaction as well and Simpson explains this goes hand- in-hand with the service partners (JLP does not use the words staff or employees. Every member of the company is also a shareholder and they are given a yearly dividend out of the company’s profits) give to customers. A happy and engaged workforce passes that satisfaction on to customers.

Just as anywhere else, John Lewis’ corporate culture on customer service has to be taught to new joiners, who are paired with more experienced staff to learn the retailer’s way of treating customers. This buddy system is supported by an ongoing training programme, which is continually updated as staff develop their customer service approaches.

Simpson has a few words of advice to other retailers and other businesses. They may seem obvious, but she’s not certain they are followed as rigorously by John Lewis’ rivals. As it’s John Lewis at the top of the pile and not some other retailer, she may have a point.

1. Ask customers what they want and listen to their response. Get their feedback through a multiplicity of channels, including the shop floor.
2. Actually do something with the information about that is fed back. It’s tempting to feel that once the information has been gathered, the job is done. Your processes and culture need to be altered as a result.
3. Talk to front-line staff. They have insights no one else can form. It makes them feel good too and hopefully they will pass that feeling on to customers.

The Monday Morning Quote #72

“This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

George Bernard Shaw – Man and Superman



Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)

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