Archive for April, 2017

Big Ideas Need Attention to Detail Too

Monday, April 24th, 2017

I spent a very useful couple of hours in Northfield Village in Stafford with Philip Atkins and Mike Wilcox, Leader of Lichfield District Council.  We were there to demonstrate the type of benefits that can be achieved when people and organisations work together.  Wendy Woodward, the District Commissioning Lead for Stafford, was there to give us her experience of being one of the main instigators and guides for the project.  The thing that struck me was that this is a very big idea, and very complex, but the thing that probably got it to completion in such good order was Wendy and Phil Brennan’s attention to detail.  They worked tirelessly to bring together a wide variety of stakeholders, from the local community to the staff of the existing facilities, politicians, the business leaders whose businesses operate in the development and the developers.  Every meeting was preceded by careful planning and consideration of what might be a stumbling block, and how it might be overcome or avoided. 

The result is that we have a vibrant facility with a world-class dementia care home, which is sustainable and sits comfortably in the local community.  That didn’t happen by chance, and it was no surprise that the Lichfield team left wanting to know how they could have at least one of these in their district.  We will of course do so, and we will apply the same level of thinking and planning to this, as we have in Northfield Village.

Attention to detail is one of those things that anybody who has done any military service will remember being taught in basic training.  It’s one of the factors that make our armed forces amongst the best in the world.  There is of course a balance between focusing on the horizon and the big idea, and spotting the simple pitfall that you’re going to trip over in your next step.  It’s clear from most of the activities that we undertake that Staffordshire County Council gets the balance right.  As we enter into a new administration in May, of whatever political complexion, and with a leaner and more taut organisation, maintaining that balance will be more important than ever.        

Learning at work: the recipe for success

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

I hope that you have all enjoyed a relaxing break over Easter, even if it was only the long weekend.

Once again, our duty personnel have been called upon while most of us have been getting some down time, this time to deal with the aftermath of a fire at a care home for the elderly in Tamworth.  Standon House caught fire on Saturday night, and after the excellent response of the emergency services, we have been able to find new accommodation for a number of frail elderly people.  It was a magnificent effort by all involved.

Regular readers will be familiar with how much I emphasise the importance of our being a learning organisation – for me it’s part of the same recipe that makes us agile and confident, making the best of smart working.  That goes for learning lessons when things go right or wrong, as well as personal development.

We have an opportunity to focus on this with Learning at Work Week, starting on 15 May. Our themes are Go Discover, Be Curious and Get Connected.

I would encourage you to scan our GO channel on the intranet to see what you might like to do. It might be anything from an on-line tutorial in an area within your business, to accessing coaching to support your development.

We will be undertaking what are being called ‘randomised coffee trials’, where you can swap ideas on learning, as well as networking lunches.

There is already some excellent work going on, and I was delighted to hear of the Best Practice Club, an initiative started by Hilary Foxley (Rural Enterprise Programme Manager) for people to swap their good ideas and share experience. If you have any suggestions, ideas or would like to take part in planning Learning at Work Week, please email

The Care Brokerage Team, SMART working and creating the conditions for more and better jobs

Monday, April 10th, 2017

I spent a very useful and enjoyable hour with the Brokerage Team this week, learning more about how we commission care for the frail elderly.  Bringing this team together is one of the big changes for this year, probably masked by the more obvious office moves in Stafford and Newcastle, but every bit as important. 

Bev Jocelyn and the team have really hit the ground running, and one can already see the benefits of pooling this expertise in one place; walking through a real case with Jamie McLaren was hugely useful for me to understand the intricacies of finding the right care for the most vulnerable people.  The trick will, of course, be to combine these advantages while maintaining the links with the practitioners and clients on the ground, and that is where mobile and flexible working comes in.  Meanwhile, there is much to do to ensure that the software tools are improved to match the new-found energy and cohesion, but it’s a great start.

I was invited to speak at the Jacobs Aston Conference this week, hosted by Aston Business School in Birmingham.  The theme that they wanted me to speak on was devolution, with the title “Smarter, not Harder”.  I shared the stage with Jessica Stoddard of the New Local Government Network, who spoke very knowledgeably from a national and policy viewpoint.  My bit was to attempt to tell the audience what we were doing in Staffordshire, in particular how we are pulling together the wider public sector and creating the conditions for enabling our residents to be more prosperous and healthy.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy is probably the most important document to be published on this subject since the EU Referendum, and this will need a local coordinator if it is to succeed.  With our track record for delivery across the many areas of responsibility, I can’t think of any other organisation that will achieve this for the people of Staffordshire.  With Brexit just around the corner, this will probably define us in the future. 


Working in a flexible organisation

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

The office moves in Stafford have been running on rails – I’m very grateful to all involved for the effort and can-do attitude that everybody has displayed. Change can be unsettling, but this project has gone as well as any major move that I’ve been involved in, and I would note that there has been no discernible drop in our organisation’s performance during the disruption. I’m really impressed and looking forward to the opportunities that our new environment will give us as we move towards smart working.

On that subject, it was a pleasure to address the managers’ conference this week, and to take the temperature of that level of the organisation that convert the big ideas into action. I’ve always been operational at heart and been naturally suspicious of big ideas neatly drawn on PowerPoint slides, but it was good to hear feedback that we are on the right track. Smart working is a theme for many managers, and we will have to ensure that we strike the balance between flexibility, connectivity and getting the work/life balance right. For many of those at the conference, it is a new-found delight to be able to make our work fit our lives more flexibly, but there are still a very few who worry that they will never truly have any down time.  This will require maturity and trust on the part of leaders and led at all levels, but I know that it is worth the effort.

There’s plenty already going on in digital and People Helping People (PHP), and a few areas of activity that already bridge the gap – this relates to the world of assistive technology, networks based around a locality, etc. We started the Social Hackathon a week or so ago; it’s about digital solutions that will enable People Helping People, in the context that there’s already a lot going on – this is seeking out the bright new ideas that we might be missing at the moment. At the same time, we want it to shift people’s thinking towards digital and PHP – adding to the momentum of both.

In early March we brought people together from across the Staffordshire – internal to the county council and partners who work in this space – to start to form some ideas. All those ideas are now on Pinipa, and we want people’s views on them – we need you to question them and explore problems/opportunities with the proposals so that they can be thought through further. Those of you who are interested, and haven’t yet signed up for the Pinipa group, should do so soon. To do this email  and you will be sent an invite. We want as many new people to join the group as we can.

Most importantly, we want your new ideas too. The entire purpose of the discussion is to bring out and develop new ideas – people know their areas, and they might well know of a better way of doing something; I’ve always found that the best ideas come from the shop floor, and any new concept only gets implemented properly if the practitioners believe in it. The group is friendly and helpful – it’s not a place where an idea is going to get slated. This only runs until the end of this week, so there isn’t long – please do get involved.

In closing, many of you will have heard about the Asphalt Industry Alliance report on the state of Britain’s roads. As the better weather beckons, we are into road repair season after another winter. This year, we will have our online and MyStaffs app reporting, tasking and feedback system up and running for the first full year, and 3 of the Roadmaster velocity patchers that you can see in action.  I think that we will see a significant improvement in the coming months.