Archive for December, 2015

Commercial awareness

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Warming to my theme of becoming more effective in our commissioning efforts, I note that the Commercial Unit are looking at running some commercial awareness training in late February and early March. Ian Turner is offering 2 Outcome-based Specification Workshops, which will be very useful indeed for those of you who are directly involved in turning outcomes into delivery – that would be most of us, in my view. You’ll have heard me bang on about getting out-sourcing right, with the 5 steps: fix the service before you out-source; set the requirement and run the competition; manage the transition; monitor the outcomes; and plan for the exit. This course will  help enormously with the second step; writing a good specification sets the direction of travel, and saves time and effort in the long run.

I’ll probably keep my New Year’s resolutions for my first entry of 2016, but in the meantime, can I take this opportunity to thank you for your hard work and commitment over 2015, and wish you and your families an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas and New Year.  For us, it will be another house move, the 24th in our married life, and hopefully the last for some time into our own house in Stafford.

A plan contains specific tasks

Monday, December 14th, 2015

This week’s Business Brief brought to mind the difference between Strategy and Plans.  We have a large number of big projects which we need to land in 2016 – our relationship with Health and specifically Adult Social Care, devolution and Independent Futures to name but 3. I have written and spoken at some length over the past 7 months about our need to close with the detail and get results, and it will be my primary focus in the New Year.

Just in case I’m not being clear, the difference between a strategy and a plan, in my mind, is that a strategy paints a picture of the outcome and gives general direction on why we’re doing it, and what needs to be done.  A plan contains specific tasks which detail the “who”, the “how” and the “when”.  If I’m being critical, we have great strategies in all of our areas, but we’re a bit thin on plans in some places.  There are, of course, exceptions, such as the detailed plans that the IF Team are carrying out to get the service how we want it.  The same is increasingly true in Adult Social Care, and in many other areas, but there remains a lot to do.

The other subject that dominated the discussion in the Business Brief was My Performance Conversation.  My observation that we can occasionally over-complicate things probably applies to the MPC.  The supporting documents that were produced to act as a handrail for managers to use for their conversations are regarded by many as barriers, forms to be filled out.  That might explain why we have only achieved a 60% success rate in the mid-year conversations. We will simplify the process for next year, but, just to be clear, it’s about the conversation and giving praise and constructive criticism to those whom you lead.  The bottom line is that if you’re not having at the very least 2 such conversations annually with each of the people whom you lead, you’re probably missing something.

Sometimes in this job, I meet somebody who is truly inspiring.  That was absolutely the case this week with Duncan Selbie, who leads Public Health England.  His energy and enthusiasm for improving the health of the wider population is infectious, and I know that our Public Health professionals have a strong relationship with his teams across the country, but particularly in the Midlands.  It probably also helps for me that Duncan hails from the same area of Scotland as I do.

I’ll close this entry with a piece of good news.  Darryl Eyers has been confirmed as our Director Economy, Infrastructure and Skills, a job that he has held on an interim basis since the Spring.  It’s great news for him, and for us, and I wish him every success in this role.

Performing well and new year focus

Monday, December 7th, 2015

I have been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction to my comments last week on timekeeping and meetings.  You all seem to agree that we need to do better, not for some petty clock-watching reason, but to buy us time to get on with our jobs. This is particularly true of meetings. How many times have you checked your emails while in a meeting? I certainly have, and I know that most of you will have as well – that is a pretty good sign that the meeting is not achieving its aim. Another is if there is little or nothing to report of what’s happened between the last meeting and the present. More to come on this – it’s on my radar, but you can do your bit. I was delighted to hear that some of you have adopted my suggestion of limiting an hour’s meeting to 45 minutes. The next stage is to question the meeting itself.

Carrying on with the member-led theme, I’ve done a bit of digging and we’ve got all of the bits in place; we just need to use them effectively. Lynne Coates’ excellent Members’ Bulletin covers the majority of what Members need, but she needs to be kept informed. Local members shouldn’t be finding out what the County Council is doing on their patch through the local media. All Lynne needs is a short email to let her know what you’re up to in the divisions.

This week brings December’s Business Brief, where the Wider Leadership Team are updated on current issues and asked to feed back to their colleagues. The session is very much my opportunity to lay out where I want us to go in the New Year. I’ve now been here for 7 months (it must be age, but it’s flown past) and I believe that I’ve now got a good grasp of us as a business.  I deliberately have adopted a light touch, which I will continue to do in most areas, but I now have a clearer view of what we need to do; I’ll try to give you a flavour of that next week. We’re a well-run council with an enviable record, but we can’t afford to be complacent. We have to land some very big projects in the coming months – Devolution, health and wellbeing and the Medium Term Financial Strategy, to name but three.