Mission Impossible?

She may be a little lacking in finesse, but 62 year old Silla Carron is certainly not short of determination and zeal for her cause.

Following the outstanding success in leading a project that transformed the fortunes of her own estate in the Camden area of north London, England, some bright spark from the BBC decided to see if her home-spun methods might be able to help other disadvantaged areas. It’s one thing to do this on your own estate, where you know everyone, you know the area, and you know the community, but how much of Silla’s experience would be transferrable to other areas? I’m pleased to report that not only did she pull it off a second time in Plymouth, but she’s gone on over the past year to have just as much success in a grimly despondent area, the Lawrence Weston Estate in Bristol, England. The story of this latest case was told over five episodes of a recent BBC series called ‘The Estate We’re In’.

I’m always wary of the term ‘change management’. I am not sure, when people are involved in a change process that ‘management’ is the right phrase to use. What’s more, the term implies that the Change Manager is somehow ‘all knowing’ about what they are implementing. But in these three cases, whilst the problems are sadly familiar  – deprivation, anti-social behavior, hardship, isolation – the solutions are far from obvious. Anyone kidding themselves that they knew the answers to these problems would be brought down a peg or two before too long!

Watching Silla set about her challenge is a masterclass in making change happen. She’s quick, by the way, to insist that she is not the architect of the changes – the residents, the local council, police and local businesses get the credit as far as she is concerned. But if the success is not solely down to her, the energy to get things done certainly does spring from Silla.

Silla’s Golden Rules

Undaunted by the lack of a Change Management model (!), Silla’s impeccable instincts have led her to develop her own Golden Rules. These rules are simple and she encourages residents to use them too. Here are a few that were vitally important in the recent Bristol case;

  • Listen

Even if you think you’ve heard it all before, Silla is a massive advocate of hearing the truth from everyone involved in the troubled area. And she wants to hear it from the people themselves, in their own language. If they won’t come to meetings, she goes to them, or puts out suggestion boxes. It’s the first step in getting the whole community to take ownership of their environment.

  • Build the community spirit.

On her first visit to Bristol estate, many residents would not even answer their front door to Silla. They were locked in a fearful state, and there was a complete absence of any community feel. This became the starting point of the project, and from the pitifully small turnout at the initial residents meeting, they built up the momentum by responding one at a time to the declared frustrations of the residents. As they began to see results, the Residents Association was able to thrive and grow.

  • Establish strong partnerships

Her campaigning tone might not make this golden rule so obvious, but Silla knows that the only way to make fast progress in such grim settings is to appeal to as many players as possible to make a contribution. In some cases, these are groups like the council and the police, who have an obligation to offer a service, but she spreads her net wide, appealing to any other players who will benefit from an improved community – other charities, local businesses.

  • Ask for what you want, and keep asking

Silla has developed a reputation for herself as a stellar campaigner on behalf of residents. Her own local council have apparently drawn up guidelines for their call centre staff to help them deal with Silla and her crusading approach. She encourages residents to demand the services to which they are entitled, and then some more.

  • Take responsibility for – have pride in – your own environment

Self help is also an essential part of Silla’s approach. She encourages residents to campaign for and then use the resources they manage to win. If you can persuade the council to clear a piece of waste ground for you, organize resident groups to take on converting the area into a garden that everyone can enjoy. If you can wheedle a meeting room for your Residents Association, turn it into a hub of community activity.

  • Don’t give up

The word ‘can’t’ doesn’t exist in Silla’s vocabulary. ‘Hopefully’ is equally frowned up. Her positive mindset is clearly a tonic for everyone, and if she can’t get what she wants from one place, her next thought is, where else can she get help.

What’s the Legacy?

You get the feeling that no-one is more surprised at her celebrity than Silla, but by sticking to her simple principles, she has become an iconic and credible figure in the lives of people whose needs have been ignored for many years.

The simplicity and obviousness of her Golden Rules make it easy for the residents she befriends to have their own success with the Silla approach to change management! And unlike so many changes imposed from outside, these three cases are a living example of a lasting legacy that has a shelf life way beyond Silla’s original involvement.

If that isn’t a WOW! Project I don’t know what is!

A Boost to Recovery?

Some of our customers have been asking us our advice about things they can do to keep their people active and engaged as this period of austerity seems to be dragging on endlessly. Many are concluding that after a period of serious cost cutting and frugality, it is time to shift the focus back onto the issues their people care about. I wonder if you are feeling the same way?

We decided to look at what we have learned from the 200 or so managers and other professionals who have completed Excellence Audits during this difficult period. The Excellence Audit invites people to consider a broad range of excellence characteristics, and to identify those which they think present the best improvement opportunities in the upcoming period.

Here are those characteristics which appear at the top of the list of the survey participants who are not managers – those aspects of the business in which they see most need for improvement:

1. Having a “lean and mean” structure, reducing hierarchy, simplifying decision making, and shortening lines of communication.

2. Seeing effort being put by leaders into making the work place a demonstrably great place to work.

3. Having clear, efficient, elegant, and distinctive processes, procedures, and methodologies that support seamless work execution.

4. Exploiting the latest IT and Web-based systems to deliver products and services more efficiently, and to expand our offering through new online products, features, and/or services for our clients/customers.

5. Rewarding and recognizing people based on the impact of their work and the legacy they create for the company and for their clients.

Does this list ring any bells with you? Can you set up mini projects to identify and nail down some quick wins that will send the message to people that you want to make their work life more bearable and rewarding? Surely there must be something you can do?

Watch out for the June edition of the TP Times for more information about this study, and join in our FREE Webinar on 7th July.

Shaping Up for the Future

Everyone is looking for success – and in TPC, we believe that this means they are in Search of Excellence (to quote our founder and philosopher, Tom Peters!). And whilst we believe that there are some constant factors that make Excellence possible, the way that it is delivered differs from organisation to organisation. We’ll be using this blog to collect thoughts and evidence of what Excellence looks like in practice, and providing tips and tools for those who are looking for inspiration.

Text Book Example!

Glasgow’s Govan High School, led by Head Teacher Iain White, is a fine example of a public sector organisation that is incorporating what we would call FSW thinking into their way of working. Their 7th Newsletter describes a number of FSW characteristics of Excellence.

Right upfront, they signal clearly their bold Ambition, which is of “all leavers going into positive destinations in jobs, training, college or university.”

One of the ways that they do this is through establishing links with employers, colleges, universities and other providers. They do this by initiatives such as hosting breakfast meetings for local employers and training providers at which topics like employability skills and what employers look for at interview are discussed. We would position effort of this kind under the Architecture element of FSW.

A strong connection is made between the School’s Ambition and its Performance Measures; in their article entitled “We are still making a difference” they list many success stories of pupils, but most telling statistic is that Govan High School has continued to reduce the number of leavers who are unemployed and has the highest percentage of pupils going into employment of all Glasgow schools. This focus on the legacy impact of the organisation’s work is typical of the Performance Element of FSW.

Finally, in FSW, one of the critical success factors is to ensure that your Talent feel connected with what the organisation is trying to achieve. The Govan High School Student Council has been set up to encourage students to make connections with others schools and relevant organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce. What better way to ensure ownership of the Ambition than to encourage the students to promote that Ambition to others?

What the Co-op Measures Gets Done

In FSW, our take on the setting of performance goals is quite particular; if you are to generate more value for your clients than your competitors, goals and targets must be carefully crafted to encourage behaviour in your people that genuinely adds value for clients. But, for publicly quoted companies, the obligation to deliver value for shareholders often dominates, and some critics would say this skews the focus of what managers notice, measure and reward.

So, it’s encouraging to hear the recent Performance results from the Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual retailer; gross sales are up 15% over last year, with improved profits of 11%. They also report progress on their many social goals, including including a 10% increase in their contributions to community projects.

An employer of over 110,000 people, with around 4900 retail outlets in a range of retail sectors, the group is owned by over 3 million members, who share the group’s ambitions.

“At a time when the economy is struggling and many business models are coming under intense pressure we truly believe that The Co-operative Group is coming into its own….Our focus on financial success combined with social responsibility is more attractive than ever before ” Peter Marks, Chief Executive, 6th May 2009

The group has come a long way since it was first established in Rochdale in 1844, but the co-operative and social aims have remained constant.

Are there any principles from this business model that can be applied more widely in tomorrow’s companies?

Zappos is so Ambitious!

Zappos, the zany internet shoe company that has created a bit of a stir in the press lately, takes seriously the challenge of engaging their Talent with their Ambition (a prime FSW characteristic, by the way!). To achieve their ambition of providing world-beating customer service, they realise that they need to create a distinctive culture.

Despite a careful, and rather unconventional recruitment process, they realise that the Zappos way is not for everyone, so after a few weeks they offer new recruits a $2000 payoff to leave the company. This way, they believe that they will weed out those new recruits that are not committed to the Zapos ’cause’. By the way, in 2008 just three people took the cash.
Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!

Have you got any examples of companies that are REALLY serious about attracting only those people who share their ambition? Do tell us……!
Read more about the Zappos story in a recent Economist article.

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