How Useful Are The Things You Forget?

Dedicated to anyone who has lost something precious and personal, especially a handbag

Losing your handbag.  Whether carelessness or theft, it’s a thump to the guts isn’t it?  You feel winded, shocked, angry, assaulted, upset. You curse and scold yourself. The realisation of what you have to cancel, replace, make do without, have lost forever can be head-spinning, nauseating.

But just how well do we know what we’ve got where? What is in the handbag now travelling solo on the Tube, and what is in the purse safely in your coat pocket? And what is somewhere else entirely – sometimes somewhere so safe that we’ve forgotten where it is all-together.

And as you start to regain some equilibrium in this chaotic sea, the realisation of the possible harm hits home.  Oh heavens – those James Freedman warnings of why driving  licence and keys and bank cards  should never be kept together,  how easy it is for a malcontent  to clear out your bank account, steal your identity, burgle your home.

But is not the real puzzler, not what you’ve lost but what you don’t know you’ve lost?  The personal nuggets in the corners of the pockets in your bag. The bit of paper with the PIN numbers you should never write down.  The folded up and folded again cheque you’ve been waiting to pass a bank to cash. The business card of a key contact. Your kid’s first tooth. A letter from your long-dead much-missed grandparent. The USB stick with those photos on it.

It could be something or it could be nothing, but the disconcerting and unnerving thing is that we don’t know, and so we don’t know how useful the things we forget can be – both to us and others.

Just like life really!

Unions Need Good Governance

Good governance in action? (Not the NEC, but the Russian Federation Council in session)

 

As trade unionists we demand, fairly, that the enterprises employing our members are run properly. We challenge bad management and expose the worst excesses – the Philip Greens and CityLinks and Sports Directs.  In short we champion good governance.

That is entirely correct, but do we do as we say others must?  What does good governance look like for trade unions?

It is an important question and not just because of the expectations we have of other employers.  Yes, other employers, because we are significant employers too.  And unions also are subject to the same commercial norms as every other business.  Yes – business, because if we spend more than we earn, we will go bust, just like any other business.

Well if only it were that simple. Because of course we are not just like any other company or even voluntary sector organisation. We have specific reporting and accounting responsibilities – the AR21 required by the Certification Officer for example.  We also have peculiar obligations under the so-called Lobbying Act.

Then there are the not-so-merry dances required by the Trade Union Act and the exposure to punitive legal action for failing to comply.

Whereas most firms in most sectors have their own regulatory jungle to cut through, the dynamics of unions give us a distinctive set of circumstances.  We are proud champions of democracy, but this sometimes leads to confusion or even conflict as to where authority lies – at head office or in branches.  Often it is at Conference – but only when conference is in session! And from an employment perspective, who should union managers talk to first about some big issue or other – their own staff side reps or the elected policy makers?

We champion diversity and inclusivity, but the numbers of employees or elected reps are rarely, if ever, in proportion with our membership in terms of age, gender, ethnicity (and so on). And attempts to press the issue, by the use of reserved seats, or the creation of bespoke networks or sections can be resisted, tokenistic or viewed as a distortion rather than a facilitator of union values.

And on top of all this, we have an electoral process for selecting leaders that seems – on the basis of turnout – to fail to engage the clear majority of union members.

We are, of course, like all membership organisations – struggling to reconcile what we do on organising and servicing. Except we can’t necessarily chose who to recruit or who, in a controversial legacy from the “closed shop”  (and how old does it make me feel to need to  hyperlink that!) era, who to expel. And we do seem to have attracted a stalker to rival the hostility of most of the mass media in the form of HMRC, who have thrust themselves upon a number of unions over the last couple of years.

This unique cocktail of circumstances and constraints actually makes good governance even more important.  Because some of the inevitable consequences of good governance are the very things unions need to survive today’s sometimes existential challenges: A strong, clear sense of purpose. An esprit de corps.  Clear lines of accountability and management. A “good to know” not “need to know” culture. Searching, identifying and sharing “best practice” being an expected virtue.

In my book, we need to go no further in the search for what “Good Governance” looks like in our world: It is summed up in these key outputs. And all of these characteristics are impervious to the servicing/organising conundrum, internal pension reform, hostile government, bad employers and “heart-sink” members. These are things that we can –should, must – do for ourselves.

I hope I will be caught in a metaphorical cloudburst of comments and contributions that show how good governance is the norm and not, as I fear, still mainly an aspiration.

And before anyone gets carried away,  let’s not forget that the union movement is the largest membership based outfit in the country and what we deliver for and with our members changes lives and society.

This piece also appears on the Unions21 website. The Unions 21 conference on 21 March will look at what unions can do  to increase capacity and extend our influence – including some essential elements of good governance. You can  find ourt more and register for a place at http://bit.ly/2kgUGbh

Needed: Our own Garibaldi to Trump Trumpism

 

(photocredit – author)

Inauguration Night saw a demonstration of several hundred in St Peter’s Square Manchester, where I happened to be. One of very many, and very understandable:  His election statements were incendiary, explicitly and xenophobic. And yet….

And yet, of course, he won.  “Down with Trump”. Is that what we are saying?  Down with the outcome of an election we lost. Down with the will of the people? Down with democracy?

We are in potentially dangerous territory here. If we are democrats, then we can’t just accept the results we like.

But of course, “we” may not all be democrats.  That shouldn’t be shocking. Didactic politics are not only the preserve of the (extreme) right.  So, fair enough, if you do not believe in democracy, there’s no problem rejecting its unpalatable outcomes.

But that’s not going to account for very many people.  So the rest of us are facing a wrestling match with our principles.

Well, refuge can be sought in a number of places: The election was fixed – most likely by Russian smears and internet interferences.  The electoral system is unfair – Hilary won the popular vote.  Votes were miscounted in key states.

All these positions would lead us to challenge the election – to call for a rerun.  That is a different tack to excoriating the victor.

Even if you accept – as most do – that Trump has torn up just about every precedent and norm in the political playbook and we are in truly exceptional circumstances, do we abandon democracy? States of Emergency and other similar suspensions of the people’s mandate are usually the work of governments under pressure and are either short-lived or a staging post to autocracy. So are we the people really saying democracy no longer applies?

But look again at the poster.  “Oppose Trump and his racism” the emphasis is added but important.  This is not about the man, nor his position as president – it is about the racism that was undeniably evident during his campaign. Other placards and posters proclaim that in the “US, Britain Everywhere, Stand Up to Racism.” That  “Black Lives Matter”. The objection here is to racism. It’s easy at present to see Trump and only Trump on the flip side of the racist coin, and understandable  how the demarcation line  between objecting to his racism and respect for a democratic process, can be blurred.

Roll forward twenty-four hours and across the UK there is a huge response by women motivated by Trump’s unambiguous sexism.

And there, in the space of those 24 hours, we see the ability of race and gender to act as a prism. To provide the common platform on which to hold the powerful to account.  What is missing from that troika is something that unites and motivates people on the basis of our shared economic experience or views about society in general.

You might call it a class-based view of the world, but whatever the label the absence of it is the crucial element in the context of our own politics.

Because with no shared set of experiences or shared view, where is the basis for a wide-ranging inclusive, community based approach?  Where is the basis of a Labour Party revival?

That’s why the NHS is so important – it remains the exemplar of a shared set of views and experiences.  It’s why in London, public transport is such a key concern and touchstone.

And we have a major, almost existential problem here.  Because the UK landscape is so impoverished,   commoditised,  ghettoised, and atomised it is  hard to  identify and sustain  the very shared experiences and  values that are  necessary  for  progressive populism.

Instead, what we have is internet-driven individualism with increasing xenophobia used to explain short-comings and hardships.

Progressives recognise the challenge and necessity of recapturing populist values from the right. But thinking on how this can be achieved is still developing – or is muddled. For example, hostility to “liberal elites”, so visible in Trump’s rhetoric is seeping from the right-wing into the mainstream,  requiring contributions  from  surprising  quarters to  remind us that the left needs to expose reactionary nonsense,  not  ape it.

As talk of a “progressive alliance” gains ground, especially in the run-up to the two Parliamentary by-elections on 23 February, does this provide a hopeful way forward? I am irresistibly drawn to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland as a loose comparator.  Would it be possible for the centre and left in Britain – or even in England – to set aside deeply established tribalism to the extent necessary to capture power?  Despite the energy and intellectual fire-power of groups like Compass, I am not hopeful.

So step forward Momentum.  Let’s be quite clear – more than half a million people joining or supporting the: Labour party is a big deal.  They didn’t split off to form a UK version of Podemos or Syriza.  There has been a clear reconfiguration of the Labour Party, whether that is to your taste or not. So now comes the crunch time, where the stated aims of this group need to be implemented and hopefully validated.  It will be big ask, even without the current internal “policy debates.”  550,000 party members, sure, but only 20,000 in Momentum (with another 200,000 registered supporters).

What is the answer? Where is our salvation? An under-explored area is the devolution debate. This is seen by some as a last refuge/fertile opportunity to build bespoke, local alliances that engage with voters and can achieve electoral success.  The down side is that devolution, certainly in England, is becoming a case of responsibility being decentralised, without the accompanying power. But I like the idea of the left in Britain almost being reinvented and rejuvenated by this city-statism (but, oh,  who will be our Garibaldi?)

But one thing is undeniable: Those few hundred in Manchester and the several tens, hundreds of thousands in London and elsewhere. These are all expressions of hope.

So let me take you back to St Peter’s Square.  The crowd is bigger now – respectable for a cold-ish Friday night and growing. Someone’s brought a big drum. A smattering of incessant whistles, and a throaty growl of appreciation for each speaker. A harbinger for the even bigger demonstrations to follow.

We the people are entitled to say to elected representatives – especially those who exert influence over our lives – racism, sexism, hatefulness, should be no part of what they say or do.

Bang that drum a bit louder, sister. So everyone can hear and join in.

 

#HeartUnions is here – but we need more support!

 

The role of membership data as a crucial asset in unions’ comms and campaigning work is being increasingly understood.  There has always been an obligation, borne of legislation/litigation and common sense, to know who we are talking to and what their membership status is. But the ability to look in more detail at the interaction we have with our members has the potential for us to improve the quality that relationship exponentially.

For example, knowing the email addresses of members who access union on-line services (including websites) enables us to cross-reference that with demographic data to see how effective we are being at reaching certain groups.  This can be fine-tuned in a number of ways:  we could focus on reps rather than members in general.  We could drill down to a granular level to see how much time has been spent on which page of the site.  We can track usage to see when people visit, and what their navigational pathway is.

This means we can tailor and improve our communications   both to and from our members. That’s valuable and important but of course it is limited by the data we hold on website visitors. And the biggest constraint on that is that the fullest – and therefore most valuable – datasets will only be for members.

I readily recognise that there is an arguable point of principle here: We should only be concerned with members because it is their subs that fund what we do.  And by joining, they have signed up for a club (see my piece last week on branding) in a way that non-members or “outsiders” have not.

But with union membership  stubbornly stuck  at  around 6m, and  showing no signs of rapidly expanding,  and with coverage of collective agreements and density  at  depressed levels,  I would argue that  we should, indeed must,  use every opportunity  to  extend our reach  into the workforce.  Once we connect with people, as I have described above, all sorts of other things can become possible. But we have to establish a communication channel to do that.

This is where models of organising and membership come into play.  If we look at many pressure groups, such as Greenpeace, we see that structures that are orientated towards supporters rather than, or in addition to, members.  This two tiered  offering  sees  people  pay a lower  level  of subscriptions –  or possibly  no subscriptions at all –  to sign up.  Their access is restricted in comparison to full-rate members, but that is ok, because their expectation from us is much more basic. This arrangement certainly has lower barriers to entry – but also reduced powers of retention.

Members matter but supporters can play a crucial role too

What would the relationship be with supporters as opposed to members? Here’s my “starter for ten”: Basic generic employment law advice. Local contacts. Campaign material. Information on how to get involved. Calls to Action.  But something that is supporter-specific, an event of some description would be good.  This could be allied to a wider political goal such as the recent “JC4PM” tour, or an appeal to turn out for a local or national demo.

There will be endless permutations of possible and actual support-offerings, but the bottom line is surely this:  we need to reach out to and engage with people for whom a full-blown membership package will not be attractive. We simply cannot afford not to.

Many unions are already engaged in this task.  Forms of organising from Unite’s Community section to the IWGB are actively pursuing new forms of engagement. The NUS explicitly offers a two tier service with their “NUS Extra” programme.  Multi-party campaigns, consisting of unions and other friendly groups,  such as HealthCampaignsTogether and Schoolcuts.org.uk, have a particular focus on a supporter model of engagement, but here there is a specific set of policy objectives as opposed to explicitly promoting trade unions.

In all of this, I believe signposting and co-ordination is key.  There is little value in each TUC affiliate providing generic employment advice.  Partly because that would be duplication and partly because if we ae engaged in a battle for the future of the movement, we need a strong central coordinating body  like the TUC, as the default provider of  such  advice and bespoke centre-of- excellence.

The collection and use of data can give unions individually a key advantage in optimising communications and campaigning.  But it is in the collective space that there is even more to gain by bringing fundamental messages about trade unions to the wider population in a coordinated fashion.

As we enter #HeartUnions week, it is worth remembering that we have no divine right to be the voice of working people. But by aligning   membership strategies with developing an offering for supporters, we give ourselves a hugely enhanced future.

How we can use digital information is an ongoing area of investigation for Unions 21. You can catch up on all their work as well as hear some top level speakers on the key issues we face at the 2017 Unions 21 conference on 21 March. Details, including how to register are here.

This post also appears on the Unions21 website

Trump’s Travel Ban is a Revolution in Action (so what do we do?)

(photocredit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

 

President Trump’s travel ban is clearly controversial – but I would argue it is also revolutionary. Here’s why.

The ban is a triumph of belief over fact.  The seven “proscribed” countries omit those which have harboured or generated the most murderous of foreign nationals to have assaulted the US and its citizens – like Saudi Arabia.

If we look to the stated aim of keeping America safe, the greatest threat to US citizens in the US is not any foreign national but their own fellow citizens – Over 1000 deaths due to home-grown gun crime for each life lost to terrorism.

And the blanket ban on all refugees is a strikingly obdurate, almost paranoid act against some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, which has unsurprisingly been termed “un-American.”   It may only be 90 days (initially) but that is absolute purgatory if your life is hanging by a thread on a day-to-day basis.

Hang on though – we might not like it but to “dump Trump” is to overturn democracy. Right?

Wrong.  It is easy to see how the office and person of the President is being confused with the policies of his administration.  There certainly should be a distinction between the two.  But the personal responsibility and accountability that Mr Trump has taken for the leadership of his administration makes it difficult to disentangle this.  Nevertheless, if he suddenly comes to his senses and changes tack,   I would happily welcome him round for a cup of tea. (I’ve not put the kettle on just yet though).

“Ok,” you say, “even  if it is legitimate to “dump Trump”, all he is doing is honouring an election pledge?”

I would make two points here: First, what you say to gain power is not what you do to keep power.  Thank you Machiavelli for distilling that universal truth. Second, whatever you may want to do, in the US there is the small matter of the Constitution.

And this is where it gets even more disturbing.  The Attorney General, arguably the  most senior, learned and respected custodian of constitutional wisdom outside of the US Supreme Court, says “Hold on – really not sure about this.”  And the President sacks her.  And the White House describes her act as one of “betrayal”.   Breitbart really has got its feet under the Presidential table, hasn’t it? Disagreement will be not tolerated and vilified.

Three concluding points:  Where is all this going to go? What has all this got to do with us in the UK? And what on earth do we do about it?

The President’s apparent desire to not just “drain the swamp” but to throw every baby in reach out with the bathwater is unlikely to deliver what his supporters want – jobs and security. The instability that his administration is both reacting to and furthering   is not constructive.

So Trump may not see out his term.  Then we have Vice-President Pence.  The US has a history of conservative VPs becoming progressive part-term Presidents (step forward LBJ).  But Pence’s election statements are just as worrying, in many ways, as his boss’s.  It doesn’t look good, but Congressional elections in 2018 will be an early indicator either way.

What’s it to do with us?  Well it’s a global world.  We didn’t have a vote, but the US administration affects us all deeply.  We have a right to say clearly “Not in our name” and “No state visit”. And we certainly need to choose our friends and trading partners with great care as we plan for Brexit Britain. As the Observer said last weekend on a possible US-UK deal last weekend – Trump doesn’t want free trade, he wants a free ride.  Disturbingly it sounds like some senior UK ministers would be happy to accommodate him.

And then finally, what on earth to we – as honest, decent, caring compassionate, democratic civilised British citizens?

We have a great challenge in our own country, the encouragement of intolerance and the schisms in society pre-date Trump’s inauguration.  The “serenity prayer” (non-religious version)  is never far from my mind. There are many things we cannot control, but some things we surely can:  How we chose to live our lives, the values we display as we go about our daily business. Courtesy, respect, compassion. Being inclusive, treating others as we wold wish to be treated.  These are not platitudes or homilies but the defining characteristics of progressive human society underpinned by one factor: Hope.

A better society starts, as it always has, with us as individuals. I’d say it’s just our human instinct to search and find those “sunlit uplands”  and you can’t change that.

To outgoing US Attorney General Sally Yates we say “thank you”

 

Unions and Branding: Cause for Concern or Celebration?

(photocredit: Andrew Cowie/Getty Images)

Are our unions becoming a bit like football teams? We’ve come a long way from the lively, ornate, melodramatic fabric banners that used to typify any labour movement march of significance.

Now it is very much a “team colours” approach: Gold-and blue for PCS, red-and-white for Unite, blue-and-white for one teaching union, white-and-blue for another.  Turquoise-and-orange for a third.  Purple-white-and-green for Unison, black-white-and-orange (GMB), Burgundy and gold (CWU), green-and-white (RMT).

It’s not a question of size – everyone is at it: NAPO (two shades of blue and a dash of green), Equity (purple-on-white) and BECTU (blue-and-gold) – soon to merge with Prospect (two shades of blue).

Allied to colours is often an image – or more usually a shape. The CWU’s double wave, or the TUC’s 3-by-3 shaded grid.

But whether letters or shapes or both, these are clearly very different from traditional union imagery.  And so union demonstrations have arguably become homogenised and therefore somewhat sterilised, superficial, more concerned with image than substance.  At least that’s what critics – conservatives with little and large “C” s  – might say.

I’m going to disagree here and strongly. Far from giving-in to commercialised and bland marketing values, we have just got a lot smarter at the concept and practising of branding.

Look at the benefits it can bring – from an organisational and media perspective, you can readily identify “your” people.  And they can identify each other too.  You’re wearing the same colours as me – you’re one of us.  It facilitates a sense of community for members.

It is also a short-cut to recognition for the outside world – literally in the case of QR codes.  People who want to find us will know what to look for.  But common branding is also a short cut to a set of values.

We want both our members and the rest of the world to know what we are about don’t we?  That good work is important. That collectivism and community spirit is more important than undiluted and uncaring individualism.  That workers are entitled health, safety, fair pay and job security.  That we get things done and give people a voice.

But we want people to “get” this as easily as possible.  We don’t have the time or resources to engage every individual in debate about what we do and how and why we do it.  Branding   for the trade union movement can provide that quick link and give us greater reach.

Of course it’s not a “magic bullet”.  Things rarely are.  Branding is a double-edged sword, especially if one acquires unfortunate associations.  And such an approach  will only  work  if  there is  suite of supporting  measures – an integrated media strategy  with  clear and common  straplines, hash tags and so on.  A level of consciousness amongst  activists to ensure they actively disseminate  key messages by understanding that  they  have a union identity, and give life to it  by “liking”   material on Facebook feeds,  retweeting,  keeping branch comms consistent.

For the labour movement to survive and indeed flourish   we need to be smart and sassy.  We need to be easily identifiable and easy to connect with.  In a global, digital and robustly free-market economy, we need to use what generally works, tempered with an understanding of how to make it effective for our key issues.

I somehow don’t think that the collective colour scheme will be the key issue which seals the deal on the Prospect/BECTU or NUT/ATL tie-ups (if the latter is backed in the current members’ ballot).  But if anyone seriously pushes for the fluorescent shades illustrated below, then that really could be the kiss of death.

(Sock images courtesy of Sports Direct)

This piece also appears on the Unions21 blog

Friend or Foe? Truth or Dare? Social Care Tax Row Takes New Twist.

This Daily Express article poses many more questions than answers (Credit: Author)

Recently, I called for a grown-up discussion on tax as a remedy to the funding crisis in health and social care. Seems, fortunately, I wasn’t the only one, for now Surrey County Council has announced plans for a referendum of its residents on this very issue.

There are no half measures here – agreement is being sought for a 15% increase in Council Tax.

This is neither a surprise nor rocket science. Social care costs. Central government grants have been cost. Demand is rising. It seems to me entirely right and proper that the question is posed. Indeed, for those who see devolution as a way to revitalise our politics and re-connect with voters, it is surely something of an exemplar.

So what’s not to like? Quite a lot it seems.

The Daily Express went large on this. A big story devoted to excoriating the council, the decision and the concept of local democracy.  The ‘paper called in the Tax Payer’s Alliance in support.  The language used was “fruity”, you might say. “Bananas “might be more accurate – the TPA told councillors to “hang their heads in shame” at ripping off poor old Mr and Mrs Resident yet again.  Council Tax is a “huge burden” – well, try personally funding social care for your adult and aged relatives.  That seems quite burdensome to me.

UKIP (who hold 2 seats on the 78 member Surrey County Council) weighed in to say the referendum itself would cost a £1m that could be better spent – and why does government not take more from the International Aid budget.

With apparently no trace of irony, the Express ran a telephone poll on whether readers would pay more in council tax to fund social care.  After all, why back a real vote when a proxy poll would do just well.

We get the picture – this should be for central government, and they too should fund this at nil extra cost to the taxpayer.  The Express offed an editorial comment on this matter too – something along the lines of a half-hearted hand-wringing “something must be done”.

Whilst the ‘paper has sadly and predictably added a millimetre to its reputation and nothing to the debate, there are other concerns and objections to the Council’s plans.

These perhaps can be best summarised as acting in bad faith. No-one will vote for a 15% Council Tax hike and this is therefore grandiose buck-passing. The Councillors can then say “look, you didn’t want to pay for this care and that’s why haven’t prioritised it. There you are Government, you must do something.”

But I think we need to be indebted here to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, who researched the  dynamics of this carefully for her detailed piece published today.

It turns out that all 11 MPs in this country are Conservative – as are 57 of the 78 county councillors.  Council leader David Hodge says (a) cuts and demand means he has no option, and (b)he has the support of most of his group. Local Government finance experts CIPFA say he has the numbers  spot on, but according to Toynbee, the DCLG Permanent Secretary offers what might be topically termed “alternative facts.”

David Hodge has grabbed our attention and deservedly so.  We know that social care needs to be better connected to health care. We know that government should take a lead in both encouraging integration and ensuring adequate funds are available.  But residents cannot wait for someone to blink first or be reshuffled/voted out of office.

This is more than “truth or dare.”  It is closer to life or death.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

“Access Denied” to Workplace Mental Health?

 

(photocredit: Dimitri Otis/Getty Images)

In my 30 years of working in employee relations, I have seen mental health relentlessly climb the ladder of workplace issues. Historically, poor, even abusive, performance management and intense economic challenges have contributed significantly.

But levels of literacy in this area have also increased, so now employees, workers and employers at least have the words to start necessary, difficulty and often suppressed discussions.

Organisations such as Samaritans, MIND, SANE and See Me in Scotland and Papyrus for younger people, have been campaigning on this for years, but it is good see the relatively new groups such as Minds@Work join the fray.

There has been a new push by Geoff McDonald’s outfit, and it’s “USP” in a well populated space is its foundation on the direct experiences of its founder.  Full marks for McDonald for having the strength-in-depth to turn a crisis into something positive – and to continue to promote its good cause personally.

And I have to say I like  M@W’s mantra – “We want to create mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces where individuals can flourish and organisations prosper”.  This really does push all the right buttons: productive enterprises are those that nurture individuals and understand we are dealing with people not machines.

But the transition into reality is fraught with difficulties. Let’s start with the two steadfast obstacles of access and affordability. With all respect to McDonald,  his own  story, as  recently  recapped in the  Daily Telegraph, seems to be an illustration of someone  who  can afford to dramatically alter his working (and presumably salary) arrangements.  Seniority arguably gives greater access to or understanding of what remedies and help are available. It has been long-held that more junior employees will typically have less control over their working lives, and those who are workers in the gig economy have even less.

In companies who have committed themselves to doing more on mental health, often at the behest of the unions who represent their staff,(for example, the CWU) getting the message across can be difficult.  Take junior and middle management in a large company in a competitive sector – simultaneously you need to look after the wellbeing of your direct reports, whilst hitting those KPIs.  Both are stated goals of the company, neither takes account of each other.

Even in McDonald’s own plight seems not to have dented the prevailing idea that some roles are – and can only be – all-consuming.  If you can’t manage to do it all, then that is something for you to deal with, not the firm.

Will companies ever, truly be able to both prosper and have those “healthy human workplaces”?  This is a potential dividend from increased automation-driven productivity, and it is good to see the debate on “6 hour days” moving from “if” to “how”.  But set against that is the seemingly unstoppable rise of precarious forms of employment. Uber drivers, session musicians and Deliveroo couriers will, I am sure, secure “worker” status, but if companies are not willing to make the commitment of offering a contract of employment, then expecting investment in mental and emotional health seems far-fetched.

And of course all this takes place against the backdrop of what is accepted as inadequate mental health provision in society as a whole and for the young especially.  So the “safety net” if ever there was one, certainly is in very poor repair.

It seems to me that as well as proper, robust funding of mental health services, business needs to square the circle of wanting to take mental health seriously, whilst at the same time delivering operational success. At the moment these seem often contradictory, but they surely do not need to be.  The more the issue is brought into the mainstream – by government, unions, campaign groups – the greater the capacity and likelihood for action.

In the long run, I would argue that M@W is not ambitious enough. Individuals will only really flourish and organisations will only truly prosper in mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces.  Business needs to truly understand that.

On Leadership

All eyes on Washington DC this week for the inauguration of the 45th President of the USA – the leader of the free world.

There are lots of ways of looking at leadership – that it is born, not made. That it’s the results, outcomes that matter, not how they are achieved. That it is the office and not the individual.  That timing is everything – “cometh the hour, cometh the man”.

Some believe that leadership and the exercise of power are synonymous, and that it is all down to class, or race or gender

All these things may be true, but the concept of leadership is prevalent through just about every society on earth. Be it an individual or collective, it is desired, sought-after, debated, criticised, regarded, refined, reviled, lauded, darn-near inevitable. From football teams, to local communities, to powerful nation states

So however leadership comes about, one thing is clear – if you don’t do it then someone else will either want to or have to. Some seek out leadership; others have “greatness thrust upon them

And however it comes about and however leadership is exercised, two things are utterly inevitable.

First, what leaders do matters.  There are consequences of action – or inaction. You could, credibly, say that this is no different to decisions that all of us make as individuals every day. Except the outcomes will generally be greater.

But second, leaders model behaviours. This prospect of such responsibility horrifies some – I have had leaders vigouroursly deny that how they behave acts as a benchmark for more junior colleagues. But leaders are not just ambassadors for their community/club/country, they are role models.

By virtue of their position, leaders unavoidably set standards. Obama embodies the notion that Americans of colour can be President. Margaret Thatcher broke the mould on homogender Prime Ministers.

And similarly, Trump’s behaviour says to the USA and the world generally,   that abusive ranting, tax-dodging, sexism, racism and homophobia are ok. And because it is ok  for the leader of the free world,  then it is permissible to  live out those  values  at a local level. The violence that this creates is already visible.

That’s why the line-up for his inauguration party is sparser than a Christmas tree put out for recycling. That’s why the Million Women march on Friday is set to be one of the US’s biggest ever protests.

That’s the challenge of and for the President-elect: the meaning of leadership.

NHS and Social Care: A Political Constipation That Fails Us All

NHS hospitals have big and fundamental challenges, it is true.  It’s partly a regular-as-clockwork winter peak.  Partly desperate and wrong-headed underfunding. Partly a consequence of pressure on GP services, despite more money recently being promised.

But a huge and often overlooked factor is the impact of dreadful social care provision. This is what led the Red Cross to grab headlines and court controversy with claims of a humanitarian crisis.

The Red Cross have for many many years assisted hospitals look after patients when they are discharged and return home. It has always been a constructive and valuable partnership.  These trained volunteers are part of what used to be known by some as the “big society.”

There are some areas of our life where there is an argument for state provision, but actually, collectively, we are happier pitching in and doing it for ourselves.  The Red Cross is one such example, The RNLI is another. The National Trust is a third (though, of course, you’d have to pay to be a member).

So the Red Cross is not a replacement for the NHS, and nor is it an emergency relief.  And their concerns need to be seen in that context.  In the area of patient discharge and domestic return/resettlement, the Red Cross has hit the red button.

Patients medically ready for discharge but not being “signed out” for hours – thus blocking much needed beds. Care plans not being drawn up or properly supported so that when patients return home they are vulnerable.  Insufficient home support exacerbates that vulnerability. The chance of people in this position requiring re-hospitalisation is clearly and greatly increased as a result.

So we have a vicious circle of poor social care leading to stretched-to-breaking point medical care.

And of course this is not the only source of tension.  In amongst funding and seasonal spikes in ill-health, it is worth looking at the use of hospital services: 2m non-urgent visits to A & E in 2014.  So you can see why Jeremy Hunt is trying to filter these out of the wait-time statistics.  Partly it is because they are the only places open for health care on a 24 hour basis and, also unlike your GP, you don’t need to make an appointment.  The NHS “111” helpline seems to have a low thresh-hold for directing callers to hospital (and you can understand why). On-site, out of hours services, such as Walk-in Centres or Minor Injuries Units undoubtedly help (with  7m attendances a year, according to official  figures), but coverage is uneven and reducing.

As a society we have conspired to heap intense pressure on hospital services. Is it really a surprise when they threaten to fall over?

And it is an old trick – set something up to fail and then say it can’t work, and that we need an alternative.  And is this context we know what that private-sector, run-for-profit, alternative would be.  So we need to take great care in the language we use, lest we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, there is still a huge national consensus in favour of care provided free at the point of delivery and the principle of the NHS itself.  Why then the gap between what we say we want and what we are prepared to pay for?

Could it be that we simply do not want to acknowledge the fundamental economic importance of social care, or that it is an essential component of a functional society, not an optional add-on?  Politicians do not want to engage  with the unavoidable need  to  raise taxation and possibly we do not want  to embrace the inevitability  of  us and our families needing  care, especially as  we/they become older and more frail.

And that is why, serious as it is, it is not the NHS that is most exposed in this real and difficult set of circumstances.  It is society itself.  You can’t have a mantra of sharing when you’re in denial about what makes society work. You can’t provide leadership without having a grown up discussion about tax and social care. That’s the mother of all crises.