Monday, 21 June 2021

I Wonder What Happened To...

 I've wrtten before about some of my previous work as a Head Teacher in a Pupil Referral Unit. Here's a story from the mid 1990's: just a date, the narrative continues.



We had a mixed group of troubled young people at our centre and the labels didn't mean very much-labels have a tendency to damn the future rather than to explain the past.

When working with troubled kids, there were a few things we did know and "Thing One" was, don't leave them unsupervised (stuff kicks off very quickly!).
I didn't insist on very much from the staff, having a great team for me meant helping them to do their job and we had a few conventions in place to help. The big one was that everyone's "stock-box" (pens, pencils, rulers....that sort of stuff), was replensished daily and before we started teaching. That meant that if an uncomfortable situation was gathering pace, the class teacher might send one of the kids down to the office for a piece of stock-this was a signal that some help was needed and we would take it from there. 

Monday:

Teaching started at 08:45 and at 08:55 one of the learners from Bev's group came down for some staples. I went up and Bev handed me a note

"Chris is in an awful state today!!"

Chris:(a) witty, charming, funny, open, empathetic, cooperative and biddable.

Chris: (b) abusive, quarrelsome, selfish, destructive and rejecting.


........all of the above and more!


I asked Chris to come with me to the office: I asked him how his week-end had been-

Chris: "Bad, man...bad!"

Me: Have you had any breakfast, sleep...that sort of stuff, Chris?

Chris: Nah, it's been a bad week-end.

Me: Sit down there Chris, I'll sort something out

...and in a few minutes he'd had some tea and toast and a few minutes later he was asleep and stayed asleep until 13:00. When he awakened we had version (a) restored. More tea, more toast-he was on a reduced programme and went home at 13:30 ish.

A Bad Week End

Chris had a chaotic homelife, a co-depedent relationship with his mom whose drug and alcohol abuse were accompanied by a number of fee paying sexual partners, some of them stuck around for a while and most of them didn't. Chris seldom had clean clothes and frequently stank of weed.

Chris: (to me on another occasion) It's like this Sir, she has these blokes round and they start on the rum and she gets off her face on this and weed and I have to look after her, I can't stop it but if I'm awake and around maybe that wont hurt her....it's a fucking mess, Sir. They don't want me around and I've said I'll stab 'em if they don't fuck off....

Agencies had tried their best and we were the first educational setting he'd stayed at for anymore than a couple of weeks. Social services were reluctant to take him into care, given that he would almost certainly abscond and there were real concerns about the impact of the decision on his mom's safety.

We all knew what was needed but there was no capacity to deliver the complex support package required to even give us a chance of making some positive impact beyond "rescuing the present in the hope that the future might bring us better times." This did nothing to 

  • reduce his mom's alcohol dependency and drug use
  • decrease mom's vulnerability to sexual exploitation
  • increase her safety
  • increase her agency 
  • address Chris' care needs
  • address Chris' educational needs

....it goes on


Chris continued with us for a few weeks more until he and his mom joined the ranks of sofa-surfers, the invisible, the troubled and troubling. He was never heard of again by our service and I remember him not for the version (b) Chris, but for the version (a). When the light shone from him it was brilliant and so was he: this was a light that at that time was reduced by circumstances beyond his or his mother's control.

Chris will be in his late 30's now....I wonder.....




Thursday, 15 April 2021

Do We Understand Our Relationships With Partners & Stakeholders from Their Perspectives?

 

 

I had been involved in a piece of Team Development that related to forming partnerships new stakeholders. It still feels relevant because 
whereas the context changes, the themes remain reasonably consistent:


“How do we influence new and existing stakeholders to help them to grow and develop into the changes we are advocating?”

 

J.K. Rowling seemed to have come across the perfect solution in her “Harry Potter” series: Hogwarts had at its disposal a sorting hat. It put the right people in the right “house:” put the hat on, it spoke, and you were allocated, then on to the next person and so on….








Unfortunately, no such thing exists in our world of getting things done and we are often left to ourselves to try to establish who the supporters of change both internal and external might be. 

It was this way for the team I’d been engaged to work with. I introduced them to  the following quadrant with a view to helping them to understand how we might engage with and develop people as we work with them. It’s a journey and, like all journeys, it works better if know where you’ve started from. Admittedly, knowing where you’re going helps too, but that’s for another time!





 

I’ve applied this in several contests since then and the feedback has been positive:

·         It has helped clarify role and purpose.

·         It has given a deeper and more productive meaning to networks.

·         It has helped to establish clarity.

·         It has informed our actions.

·         It has helped us to achieve “good outputs.”

Of course, the model is pretty sterile without conversations, ones that perhaps ask the following related to each quadrant:


Bottom Right

  • What is expected of them by:
    • Change agents?
    • Their existing team/organisation?
    • What are the boundaries and limitations of their inputs/decision making?

Bottom Left

  • What do we expect of them, what can we contribute?
    • Change agents?
    • Their existing team/organisation?
    • What are the boundaries and limitations of their inputs/decision making?
  • What actions can we take to develop them, increasing their contribution to:
    • Their team(s)/organisation.
    • The project/intervention.
    • Their professional development.
    • Their personal development.
    • Their capacity to inform other decision makers.

Top Left

Clarity rules here!

    • How can we support and develop them within and throughout the process?
    • What values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs do they bring to the process?
    • What values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs might we develop and grow to enable them within the process?
    • Where are the areas of potential growth through reciprocity?

Top Right

How might we develop their interest, engagement and commitment/support?:

    • What are the strong messages?
    • What benefits might grow for the organisation?
    • Reputational
    • Developmental
    • Cultural
    • Environmental
    • Financial


The shifting and flexible role of the Coach, Mentor, Facilitator has much to offer here in underpinning the meaning we attach to the specific development, the people involved and our engagement on processes that create high value outputs for those involved.





Friday, 8 January 2021

Ethical Bureaucracies Enable Democracies!

 “Things will be very different when this is under control,” seems to be a stock phrase of late and it might be worth thinking about what might happen to make things work differently. Can we begin to describe a set of principles that might inform how and why we relate to each other across a range of political, economic and social contexts? What can we learn from existing ideas on how people operate, why change is necessary and the direction it should take?







We should consider the space occupied by bureaucracies in enabling the fair delivery of resources whilst supporting organisations. This is open to scrutiny driven by the necessity not to measure the efficiency of bureaucracies against a series of metrics but to consider their effectiveness in ensuring that the Ethical Purpose of the organisation is maintained and grown throughout a range of agreed contexts, values and behaviours


Context “I Wouldn’t Have Started From Here”

Given that “here” might be defined as being held in the teeth of a global pandemic that has placed huge and possibly devastating demands on economies, has re-awakened medieval uncertainties and has exposed the limitations of our collective capacity to respond to the challenges; it seems fair to ask “Who would?”


Significant social and economic shifts have led us from collectivism and co-operation towards isolation and individualism: yet it is at this very point that we are witnessing the architects of rapacious national and international individualism bereft of any answers that seem to make sense to those most afflicted by the pandemic. What we may be seeing is the emergence of a different kind of Leadership, one that places the relationship between Leadership and Service at the heart of it Values, Ethics and Behaviours: Servant Leadership.

Our starting point might well be the need to raise “questions of purpose,” in a manner that challenges the status quo, the design and purpose of organisations, outputs, and processes. In short, “If what we are doing fails to serve a greater good, one that is beyond bringing wealth to the share-holder, why are we doing it?” It is the failure to pose this question that results in our being spectators as bureaucracies are configured to bring disproportionate wealth and power to investors, rather than to ensure that services and outputs are delivered in a manner that is sustaining, encourages growth, cooperation and learning.


To Consider

Conversations about our current challenges have exposed the structural weaknesses that have unwittingly acted as an incubator for the pandemic. The weaknesses seem related to the unwillingness of power to recognise and listen to advice and suggestions that contradict its current narrative. There is a need for power to be redefined as a process that takes place within and between people. This requires a “Because I said so!” culture to begin a journey towards one where decisions are taken and enacted “Because we agree and I commit.”

If this were to happen, bureaucracies will be required to adjust so that their purpose shifts towards processes and behaviours aligned to the ethical purpose of the organisation and the relationships into which it enters. They will need to become more agile. To clarify, agility is not seen here as “speed”; it is instead viewed as “robust flexibility”-the capacity to accommodate by stretching boundaries and in doing so create new opportunities for learning, growth and discovering different types of ethical influence outside of the existing structures.






Readiness

No one would have chosen to be where we now are.  The gaps in yesterday’s certainties and assumptions have been brutally exposed there will be changes and it may well be that the powerful groups whose behaviour has helped deliver us here will seek to tighten their grip on power in the post Covid world. There is however a sense that the structures that got us into this situation are, unless they change, unlikely to get us out of it. I state with a note of caution, that I cannot recount one example of powerful groups giving away their power because everyone thought it a good idea. It was taken from them.  I’m not for a second proposing a forceful overthrow: I am suggesting a build-up of ethical pressure on politicians, the financial sector and ultimately legislators to enable us to turn a corner and do things differently.

What Can Aid Our Thought to Action Journey?


 How well placed are we to listen to what is said and not said? 

I believe that we can find some guidance in helping us to formulate questions and challenges that serve the purpose of developing Servant Leadership and in so doing, consider the change journey required to develop Ethical Bureaucracies that give active support to development, engagement and delivery. Our questions:

  1. How do we acknowledge and demonstrate that we have listened and heard?
  2. How do we reach and communicate our decisions
  3. What do we enact or defer?
  4. How do we assume the good intentions of others and not reject them as people when at the same time rejecting their performance or behaviour?
  5. How do we communicate to others that our purpose is enabled by a search for ethical wholeness?
  6. How do we remain aware to the power of the possible?
  7. How do we use ethical persuasion rather than rules-based authority?
  8. How do all members of our organisations (formal and informal) contribute to “Dreaming Great Dreams”
  9. How do we do this and maintain our day to day focus on our present purpose?
  10. What lessons do we learn from the past?
  11. How do we assimilate and describe the current reality?
  12. What are the consequences of today’s decision for future generations?
  13. How do we evidence and learn from our commitment to the growth of people?
  14. To what degree do we accept that we are stewards of our organisation and that they have a purpose beyond the day to day?
  15. How do we ensure that our organisations, our ethics, values and behaviours contribute to the greater good of society?


John Dooner-Original April 2020
Recycled with minor edits January 2021

All Art work by Beth Dooner. https://www.instagram.com/bethdooner/