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Written by: Rebecca Johnston
on 4th June 2018
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How many times have you heard frontline staff complain about the chiefs in their ivory tower who have no understanding of what happens on the “shop floor”?

It’s common feedback from people on the ground who are providing the product or service. As a senior leader, I can imagine this can be frustrating to hear when you’re trying to juggle so many balls and the ultimate responsibility for keeping the organisation running successfully lies at your feet.

We read a great blog this week from Corporate Rebels about the ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’, which shared these stats from research by Sidney Yoshida in 1989.

100% of front-line problems are known to the front-line employees, only 74% are known to team leaders, 9% to middle management and just 4% to top management!

Many people have tried to debunk this theory but we think there’s something in it.

In our view, the best team combines management awareness and commercial acumen with frontline know-how. Ultimately it’s about understanding each other better and being humble enough to admit what you don’t know and not being afraid to ask questions.

This comes from spending quality time with people who interact with customers every day, as well as the customers themselves.

And that doesn’t mean ducking in for five minutes to say hi – although there’s an argument for visible leadership, more on that in another blog!

It’s actually spending hours with the frontline, which is exactly what we did at Buccleuch Lodge. Our Founder, Sara McKee, went on ward rounds with geriatricians, she spent Easter with the admin staff on call and senior clinicians, plus she talked with patients and families about their experiences. She’s always believed in the Tom Peters mantra: ‘Management by Walking Around (MBWA). Some of our best ideas and creativity comes from those small moments captured in unplanned conversations.

This was time-consuming but so valuable on multiple levels:
a) It demonstrated Sara was genuinely interested in what happened in the field;
b) it provided us with an opportunity to test what we were told by senior management;
c) it started to build understanding, rapport and trust between Sara and the team; and
d) it provided insights that were then used in the development of a culture programme.

What we then did was involve staff in designing the solution. We had an idea but they are the ones who had to deliver it. As design agency IDEO says:

People support what they create. Bring them into the process of creation so that you’re not trying to sell someone on your idea, but working together on “our” idea.

And this is not a gimmick. It’s happening today, right now at Buccleuch Lodge. We haven’t trained anyone. We’ve had conversations, we’ve discussed the importance of simple words and we’ve done lots of colouring in.

We passionately believe that most people come to work to do a good job. With a little nudge, permission to go beyond task-based activity and bring their inner creativity to life, we see magic happen every day!

We’re often asked to design a vision for the future and to develop system-wide strategies that will deliver. We know the place to start is with those that understand the customer experience. If they can express how they want the future to “feel” for them and their customers, you have the beginnings of the design.

Now that’s what we call co-production and it’s great fun. Worth coming out more to experience it.

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