I am a bit of an quality and improvement geek, so it is a great joy to me to introduce someone who stretches my thinking about how we can keep learning, developing and improving. He has introduced me to clean language and has supported us to design our approach to improvement. I am very pleased to introduce Andy Brogan, our coach on improvement, and I asked him to introduce himself here.
“A couple of years ago I made a big decision – to set up in business with my good friend and colleague Dave Chesters. We were both nearing 40 and had been staring hard at the question of what our lives’ purpose should be. Our answer was to launch Easier Inc. Our intention was to create a business that allowed us to continue to learn and share learning about how to create better ways of working and better places to work. We both had quite a bit of experience in helping organisations redesign services and create environments that encourage responsibility over compliance.
We had also seen how, armed with all the tools and techniques of management and improvement, it was easy to make simple things difficult and difficult things impossible. So we set out to find the like minded and to explore whether it was possible to create simple ways to make doing good work easier.
But my story doesn’t start there. Back in 2000, I thought I wanted to run a restaurant and bar. I’d just taken on a position as general manager at a place I’d worked as a student. I loved the job and enjoyed the social side of it. It’s where I learned my first – and I think still – my most important management lesson; that much of what is taught as good management practice is what holds our organisation (and ourselves) back from a better future.
Back in the bar and surrounded by colleagues that I’d worked alongside for years, I knew that they worked hard and brought a lot to the business. I knew that improving was not about improving their effort or attitude. Instead, it was about really understanding our customers and making it easy for my colleagues to deliver what mattered to them. That seemed so intuitive at the time that I never even thought about it and in the first 2 years the business thrived.
Then I went on management training.
The owner had seen our success and wanted to expand, to develop a chain of restaurants and bars. It seemed sensible that, in the context of this new ambition and given that I’d basically been making everything up as I went, a bit of training couldn’t hurt so I gladly signed up. I learned all about budget setting, incentive systems, using objectives and appraisal, doing customer surveys, developing strategy and all the usual “good” stuff. Armed with my new bag of tricks I couldn’t wait to get started and so, without a second’s thought, I set about ruining the organisation I had spent the previous 2 years building!
For a while people went along with me – I had a lot of good will to burn through – but this only blinded me to the reality that the more I imposed new management controls the more I was disabling the responsibility, enthusiasm and ownership of my colleagues. The more also that I was evaporating any real control.
Performance didn’t implode but it pretty quickly deteriorated. Sickness became an issue and the important, impossible to train, details suffered. Service with a smile became service with a fixed grin; a soulless mimicry of what we had so naturally achieved before and something that rang just as hollow to customers as for my colleagues.
My colleagues also felt ever less like colleagues. Friction had grown between us and I could feel a loop of mutual resentment building. Our once exemplary stock control suffered too, with increasing wastage and – possibly – the occasional theft.
It took quite some time to realise it but when it hit, it hit hard; I had become the problem. Jumping back to the present, I use that experience to motivate me in all my work. I’m not naive. I don’t believe that the magic of great performance just happens and that all anyone needs to do is get out of the way. There’s real work to do, helping people create environments that are purposeful, rooted in creating value but also humane and enabling; places where people can bring their whole self to work (which, of course, is not the same as giving up one’s whole self to work).
So I put my energy into learning about how to do that and do it better, and it makes me incredibly grateful when, in the course of doing so, I get the chance to meet and work with people like Helen and her colleagues; people who are ready to challenge the status quo but stay practical and who are committed from their core to creating brilliant places to work.
I’m only at the start of my relationship with Helen and the Wellbeing Teams but already I can’t wait to discover what their future holds.”