I’m not Tony Blair

Yesterday at the Labour Conference Ed Miliband made the announcement that He’s not Tony Blair.  This morning, I witnessed Ed Miliband being questioned by BBC Breakfast on that statement. There’s many reasons why it was important to make that statement, but I think one was missing from the BBC breakfast debate this morning.

A few years ago, I stepped in to do an interim position for a couple of months whilst the post was recruited to. Everwhere I went, I was introduced as “This is the new Dave”.   Even the CEO, who greeted me on the first day with “You’re the new Dave. He’s a hard act to follow”.

At first, I played along with it, as it meant that people easily understood what I had been contracted to do.  However, things came to a head one day when I was sitting with the Chair of  Staff Side (the Unions).  We were trying to find a pragmatic way through a difficult employee issue:

Chair:  “I hear what you’re saying, but if Dave was here, we would have done it this way.”

Me: “But I’m not Dave”

Chair: “No…..but one day you have the potential to be like Dave”.

In another time and place, I would have taken that comment as a compliment.  I had known Dave for years, but not well.  We had crossed paths many times and I had been able to follow the work he had done and talk to him about particular issues that we were all facing.   In my opinion, he was then and he still is one of the best HR practitioners in the NHS in London.

HR, like politics, is an intangible discipline.  There’s more than one right way to do it.   Different HR practitioners have different strengths and skills.  We use this to our advantage to get successful results, and we all will take a slightly different approach.  That is what I was trying to get across to my staff-side colleague that day.   I was proposing a different approach to Dave, one that I felt I could successfully achieve.

So when Ed Miliband is claiming he isn’t Tony Blair, it’s not because he doesn’t value, respect those that have gone before him.   It’s because he’s trying to establish his own identity, his own way of doing things in a manner that he feels will yield results.

Please note, this post does not represent in any way my views on politics.  It is merely an observation on a statement made by a politician.


Learning From French Industrial Relations

I was at an event with a client last night celebrating the success of a major project that I have been involved in over the last few months.   I normally don’t like such events as they are usually attended by an “interesting” array of individuals turn up to drink the wine & fill themselves up on canapes.  I much prefer impromptu, informal celebrations.  

But I decided to attend as I am really proud of the work that we’ve achieved together to make this project a success.  And as predicted, although I have been heavily invovlved in the project, I only knew about 15% of the people in the room.

As I was gathering a plate-full of canapes a man turned to talk to me:

“And what brings you here?”

Although I groaned inwardly, I embraced the moment:   that simple question lead to an interesting conversation.  

The man was a partner from one of the consulting companies I have working with.   He had not been involved in the project, but he was aware of some of the challenges I had faced on the project – particularly in relation to the trade unions and staff engagement.

He shared with me the experiences that he’d had working in France:   the trade unions have a particular ritual that accompanies any major change, including mergers or TUPE-type scenarios. 

The staff KIDNAP the boss for 3 weeks and lock him in his / her office. 

It’s all part of the peacock-display as they protest their objections to the proposed plans.  And after the 3 weeks, it’s business as usual and the changes are made regardless.

Apparently, it’s such a common occurence that some management consultancies are now recommending that this 3 week interruption is actually factored into the road-map.

Which leads me to think:  with the current challenges facing the NHS accompanied by the increasing amount of union unrest, we could find ourselves in a similar position.   In a pragmatic move, should NHS Trust start factoring into their PRINCE2 gant charts time-delays caused by collective grievances, ballots and industrial action?

I don’t think that I’ll be advising any of my clients this particular to factor this into their planning just yet, but it’s worth thinking about (just in case).

PS – I’m not sure if it’s a true story or not, but thought it was one worth telling.

An autumn of discontent?

This week I’ve noticed an interesting development.  Or perhaps, once I’ve been looking out for it, I’ve noticed the following:

It started with the announcement that UNISON were going to take on the Government as they claim that there hasn’t been the appropriate consultation with the public over the recent White Paper.   I think this is a brave and interesting move, and I will be watching developments unfold as they happen.   Whatever happens will have long-term consequences both within and outside the NHS.

Along with this expression of discontent at a national level, I’ve learnt of a number of local disputes.  The GMB are balloting their members over the transfer of a contract with their patient transport service at a Trust in South London.

I’m also aware of UNITE also talking to members about taking similar action at two other Trusts south of the river.

Is this the sign of things to come?  In my 12 years with the NHS, I’ve always experienced good staff side relationships, working through differences in a pragmatic way.   As the pressure increases with significant cost savings and radical service changes on the agenda, will we see an increase in union action?  Are we entering an autumn of discontent?