Corporate Reporting – What can we learn from Fast Food Vendors?

Fried Egg and Chives. Scroll down for more.

Fried Egg and Chives.
Scroll down for more deliciousness

“A picture is worth a thousand words…, “ an idea that is universally recognised, frequently used in business, but not often seen where it might have most impact – Senior Executive/Board meetings.

Descriptive text still dominates most senior level reports, often using ‘corpspeak’; a peculiar form of jargon developed by people like *The Head of Corporate Performance Management Policy Impact Reporting (*I made up the job title, but you know the sort I mean).

If you look at the explanation of, “a picture paints a thousand words” it is difficult to argue against the case for using more pictures. It describes the idea that “a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image…..making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly….. ” What’s not to like? Imagine a ‘Report to Board’ that contained just pictures of the impact of a decision they had taken. Imagine this happening all the time.

So why the fried egg? You might now be wondering about the fried egg picture? It’s actually a model of a fried egg, right down to the false chopped chives. I took the photograph outside a restaurant in Vancouver where the menu was full scale plastic models of the food they offered. You might have mixed views about the models (and some of the food, scroll down to see the full picture collage), but one thing isn’t in doubt, you know exactly what you are going to get….. fried egg with chives!

High Tech meets Traditional Fish and Chips at BIG SAMS

High Tech meets Traditional Fish and Chips at BIG SAMS

BIG SAMS, Pontyclun. This kind of clear and precise communication isn’t limited to cool and cosmopolitan Vancouver. In South Wales we have a few fast food outlets that make the most of pictures to show you exactly what you’ll be getting.

I expect you’ve seen picture menus, but what about 36″ colour TV monitors enticing you with what’s available?

Perfect if you are heading home from the Rugby Club, slightly ‘over refreshed’, and struggling to vocalise your urgent need for Chips, Curry Sauce and Cheese (a Welsh version of Poutine for Canadian readers). Just point at the picture on the screen and problem solved.

But it’s not all good news. This week I encountered one of those ‘posh’ restaurant menus that didn’t make a lot of sense. ‘Burger and chips’ was translated into ‘Burger Normandie’, with a very exotic explanation of the meal.

An parody of a menu - but its not that far off the mark

An parody of a menu – but its not that far off the mark. Link below to the source, worth a look!

The consequence was my kids freaking out over what was served,…. I mean who puts Brie on a burger!

I won’t go on about it, the point I’m trying to get to is that a combination of a text only menu, using unusual words caused quite a lot of confusion.

Is this all deliberate? The fast food picture menu experience compared to the ‘high end’ restaurant text only menu does make me wonder. If your objective is to clearly communicate to your customers, leaving them in no doubt about what they are getting for their money, the pictures win every time. If that’s the case, why don’t you get pictures used higher up the food chain in posh restaurants?

I suspect this might ruffle a few feathers but is this a case of, ‘that’s the way we like it’! Vendors use extravagant words as a disguise to make things sound better than they really are. Also, there are no pictures because, ‘that’s what they do in fast food joints’. All a form of ‘food snobbery’, deliberately used to confuse and exclude the masses?

Just a quick observation here, with so many people nowadays photographing their food, and sharing the pictures on social media, are the days of the text only menu numbered anyway? If you think about it, it’s the foodies who do a lot of this….. it must be a nightmare running a posh restaurant with wi-fi.

So what has this got to do with corporate reporting? I think there are some interesting links here with the world of corporate reporting. At the front line it’s a bit like the fast food vendor; keep it simple so that everyone understands. The higher up the organisation, the more ‘refined’ the reporting.

This week I was lucky enough to see some visual management techniques in action at an aircraft engine maintenance company. Pictures of how things work were everywhere. Ones that really impressed me were collections of continuous improvement actions. Basically a single page with a ‘before and after’ picture and a few text bullet points explaining why the action was taken and the benefits.

In my experience, this type of reporting rarely finds it’s way into reports for senior people. You might get a few graphs or tables, but rarely pictures. I do wonder why? It’s not like the technology is any sort of barrier.

Is there something else going on… a bit like posh restaurant food snobbery towards the pictures used by fast food vendors? Do we have the corporate reporting equivalent of picture snobbery?   ….. “those pictures are fine for the front line workers to manage their performance, but what we need is carefully crafted text….. prepared by an expert skilled in drafting corpspeak”. Ultimately not something that helps with communication and widespread understanding.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Pictures are effective at helping people understand complicated ideas and take in a large amount of information.
  2. With modern technology it is possible to make much wider use of pictures in business reporting.
  3. Before this approach becomes more widespread, we might have to overcome the corporate reporting equivalent of ‘posh restaurant snobbery’ towards the fast food vendor picture menus.

Picture Source: via

Note 1. I have posted about the use of graphic recording and minutes previously. These are a great way of capturing complicated ideas and presenting them clearly. More on that and the continuous improvement visual management sheets to follow. Link here:

Note 2. I should also point out, in a previous life, I used to prepare Corporate Performance Monitoring Reports for senior management meetings, written in corpepeak …. Yes I am ashamed of myself.

Full size models of the food thats on offer

Full size models of the food on offer in a Vancouver restaurant

Is annoying your service users a good way to build community action?

Closing a library can upset a lot of people

Closing a library can upset a lot of people

Deliberately setting out to upset and annoy people isn’t an approach I’d routinely recommend, but please stick with me.

Here are three things to think about, and how they might be combined to help to build better communities that can deliver the services they require:

  1. Doing something wrong, and then putting it right, builds stronger brand loyalty.
  2. Closing the local library/hospital/school/park really gets local people annoyed and quite often results in a strong community response (a protest group).
  3. Every community has assets that can be used to help that community.

1. Putting something right to build brand loyalty. This seems to be a well accepted approach in the world of customer services and retail. The basic idea is that if you do something wrong, and then put it right, your customers will be really pleased with you. So pleased with you that they will become much more loyal customers, or ‘raving fans’ as the marketing types like to say. The people who complain are the passionate ones, the ones that care about your product, and the ones you can work with.

There is a fair bit written about this idea in books like ‘A Complaint is a Gift’ and online sources like ‘UP! Your Service’ where Ron Kaufman talks about ‘When Service Goes Wrong, Bounce Back to Improve Customer Loyalty’.

I have heard about this in connection with Dell Computers who apparently resolve 97% of complaints and 40% of those who complained are turned into ‘raving fans’. What sparked my interest in this approach was an anecdote about how British Airways handled customer complaints, unfortunately I cannot find a link to it. If anyone has more detail about it (or it’s just an urban myth rolled out on training courses) I would be very grateful.

Based on what I’ve experienced I don’t think the concept is widely understood or applied in many public services.

2. Closing local public services gets local people annoyed (and upset). I don’t  think I need to expand upon this point very much.


Here is a picture of Margaret Willoughby who chained herself to a bookcase in the protest to save Rhydyfelin Library from closure.

There will be many examples of local groups who have done the similar things to save their, park / hospital / school / day-care centre or any other public service that is facing the axe.

The Rhydyfelin Library Support Group site is with looking at as an example of a highly motivated community getting organised and achieving what it set out to do. Powerful community groups often develop in these situations.

3. Every community has assets. Have a look at this video of Cormac Russell explaining how communities can do incredible things, and why governments need to allow them to do  this. Cormac talks about every community having assets and the importance of working with what a community ‘has’ and can contribute, rather than what it doesn’t have or what public services can provide. The is a lot of helpful information about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) on the Nurture Development site.

How do these things join up?  Have I made any sense so far? I did ask for you to please stick with me, here is my logic:

  1. Public services are going to be doing things that will annoy service users over the next few years.
  2. Closing some facilities looks inevitable.
  3. Local people will get very annoyed and upset.
  4. Many will organise themselves to fight against the closure.
  5. These are passionate people, people who care – the ones the customer services experts from retail say that you could turn into ‘raving fans’.
  6. Stick with me here – this is the scary bit.
  7. Work with these people to come up with a better solution, they aren’t the enemy.
  8. Have a look at the video from Cormac Russell for ideas how this might work.
  9. At the end you might have a vibrant, engaged community delivering services for itself.

Obviously, setting out to annoy and upset your service users isn’t what most public services would do deliberately. However, if you are going to do unpopular things, you could use the ‘annoyance’ for a positive purpose. Look out for who gets most annoyed. These might just be the people who could help you make things better and the ones you need to work with the most.

Finally, the community group that forms to protest about a closure could have far greater benefit to the community for years to come. They might not end up as ‘raving fans’ of the council / health board, but they will be doing good for the community.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. People who complain about products or services are worth listening to, carefully, they care.
  2. The ‘complainers’ may have the answers to the problems, or may even help you solve them.
  3. Think about using potentially difficult decisions to identify the ‘complainers’ so that you can work with them, and help develop something that has a long-term benefit.

One last thing, there is a very relevant quote from Margaret J Wheatley, “All change, even large and very powerful change, begins when a few people start talking with one another about something they care about”. I suspect this might have happened at Rhydyfelin Library.

Links:  Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission.Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “UP! Your Service” books and founder of UP! Your Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit


Nurture Development

The Listening Service. Busting Jargon, Including People and Improving the Tweets

The Party Blower An effective Jargon Buster As used by Barod CIC

The Party Blower
An effective Jargon Buster
As used by Barod CIC

I go to lots of conferences and seminars. The result of this, (apart from the addiction to buffet food) is that I now speak a different language – ‘Jargy Jargy’ or Jargon, “the specialist language for a specific activity or group of people” (I’ve gone on about this before).

If you stop and think about it for a moment, I’m sure lots of people will recognise the affliction, if you aren’t suffering yourself (you are probably fibbing), you will know someone who is.

My Jargy Jargy affliction has been troubling me a lot lately. I’ve been particularly concerned because I’ve been speaking at co-productuion meetings with Working With No To (a network of people doing co-production in Wales). Co-production is all about working together, no barriers, everyone included, no speaking down to people. Real people come to these events! How on earth are they going to understand the nonsense I garble at 300 words a minute, let alone the jargon I use?

Well the good news is that I’m working on my fast talking and trying to eliminate the jargon. But the really good news, I’ve experienced the Listening Service from Barod CIC, a community interest company which specialised in clear communication and making services accessible to everyone.

The Barod Listening Service. The easiest way to understand the Listening Service is to read the Barod Blog and look at this video:

The main things you need to know:

  • What speakers say is translated into clear language as they speak,
  • You can use headsets to listen to the translation, and
  • Speakers (some, not all) will change what they say, and how they say it.

What is the impact of the Listening Service? Having been in the room when the Listening Service is being provided I’ve seen interesting things happen. Some speakers have completely changed their presentations. It’s funny how the realisation that you are going to be ‘translated’ helps people do what they should have been doing in the first place. I know it had a big impact on me.

The best way to show some of the impact of the Listening Service are three tweets about the Re-shaping services with the Public event I was at last week (have a look at the summary of the #reshapeservices storify of the tweets here). This was the first time the Listening Service has been used fully, and the feedback is impressive (and interesting).

20140720-132209-48129211.jpgThis pretty much says it all about inclusion and allowing everyone to access what was going on in the event……“today is the 1st time we’ve been a real part”. Imaging if we could reach that level of involvement in all conferences, particularly if they are talking about ‘service user needs’ and co-production.


This is an interesting one I never expected, but now I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Whilst I was sitting there trying to translate what was being said, and share it with the outside world via Twitter, I must admit, I did struggle on times. It would have been far easier to pick out the ‘Tweetable’ gems of information from the Listening Service and share them, rather than try to do two jobs at once.


This is a bit of a sobering thought. I did some of the speaking on the day. Was this my slot where “nothing had really been said”? It might have been, I was mostly doing the housekeeping notices and continuity, so I can cope with that…. but it’s a huge lesson. If the Listening Service is silent whist you are speaking, that’s because you aren’t saying anything very useful…. have a think about that,… the ultimate test of conference presentation usefulness!

One final thing. You might have spotted the party blower picture at the top and were wondering what it is all about?  Barod also ran a workshop which involved people blowing the party blowers when they heard jargon in a passage of typical public service communication that was being read out. I was in the room next door, it was a riot of noise.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Specialist groups or topics do develop a language of jargon that is often helpful in how they communicate with each other, within the group or about the topic.
  2. People from outside the group can be excluded if they don’t understand the jargon, or it isn’t translated for them.
  3. The Listening Service is a useful way of breaking through jargon (Jargy Jargy) used at conferences and seminars, and also provides other benefits of; including people, providing Tweetable messages, and it is the ultimate test of… how useful is your presentation.

 Linked Posts:

Jargon, a tool of exclusion?



No such thing as a dysfunctional organisation, and you get the politicians you deserve

20140715-073326-27206310.jpgA while ago I was in the kitchen, making tea for my late Father In-Law, and having a good old moan about some local politicians. You know the sort of thing…. “I cannot believe that Councillor X has failed to do Y…..”, spoken with passion and righteous indignation.

My Father in-Law, who had an uncanny habit of teaching me huge lessons when I was least expecting, quietly commented…. “yes, we get the politicians we deserve”. I didn’t actually drop the tea-pot, but it did stop me in my tracks. He was absolutely right.

We get the politicians we deserve. Those words from my Father In-Law were very logical and completely correct. I live in a democracy, every 4 years I have the chance to put myself forward to stand for local political office. If I don’t like what the current politicians are doing (or think I can do a better job), all I have to do is get elected and prove it, or help someone else who I think will to a better job. It’s as straightforward as that.

By not being prepared to stand myself, not voting in the election or not expressing a view and taking an interest; I really do get what I deserve. The democratic process, no matter how imperfect, does give you the opportunity to get better politicians, the ones you truly deserve. That moment of enlightenment sticks with me, my Father In-Law very politely telling me to, put up or shut up”; thank you Tony.

An experiment in industrial democracy

An experiment in industrial democracy

Do we get the organisations we deserve? If all organisations and companies were run along democratic lines I would be tempted to say yes.

Most aren’t, but here is an interesting example, The John Lewis Partnership. In the words of its founder John Spedan Lewis, an ‘experiment in industrial democracy’.

It is worth looking at the John Lewis Partnership constitution and the various democratic bodies they’ve created to ensure that an individual partner (staff) can feed their opinions back into the main decision making bodies. Every employee is a partner and, ‘the happiness of its members’ is the ultimate purpose of the Partnership. Imagine that in your place of work………… while you are doing that, here are a  few questions to ponder:

By most measures John Lewis is a very successful example of an industrial democracy. The way it operates allows its staff to create exactly the organisation they want and deserve.

No such thing as a dysfunctional organisation

No such thing as a dysfunctional organisation

It will never happen here. Thats enough fantasy for one day, let’s get back to the real world.

Recently I heard a clever Professor at a conference using the phrase “you get the organisation you deserve”. I must admit I was quite excited, could this be an example of industrial democracy and employee voice having a positive impact?

Unfortunately not, I’d mis-heard what was being said. What he was going on about was a quote from a book, ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership’ by Heifetz, Grashow and Linksy. “There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way…As our colleague Jeff Lawrence poignantly says, There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organisation, because every organisation is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it gets.” 

Pause and have a think about this for a moment, there is no such thing as a dysfunctional organisation, because every organisation is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it gets. Quite sobering isn’t it.

What do you do if you find yourself in a dysfunctional organisation? I suppose this boils down to a few choices:

  • If you are an individual or part of a group with most leverage in your organisation you could change things …. if you really want to.
  • If you are a lowly worker with no leverage you can ‘put up or shut up’. If you ‘shut up’, just be aware of the consequences; ‘if you sup with the devil use a long spoon’.
  • You could ‘put up’, make a stand and try to change the organisation. This is a very laudable thing to do, but is likely to come with consequences. Standing up for the right thing is tough in a democracy, but within a ‘closed’ organisation, it could be errr … ‘career limiting’.

No easy answers here I’m afraid. Ultimately I suppose we do get the politicians and organisations we deserve. If the political is bad or the organisation dysfunctional, we have all had our part in making it happen.

So, whats the PONT?

  1. In the democratic process it is relatively straightforward to see the link between your own involvement and getting the politicians you deserve. In organisations things are less clear.
  2. ‘Put up or Shut up’ is sound advice, if you aren’t prepared to take action, stop complaining.
  3. If your organisation is dysfunctional, what part did you play in making it that way?

Picture Sources:

John Lewis Constitution

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Related Posts: If you sup with the devil, make sure you use a long spoon.





Be. More. Human. The Killer App v Designing Out The Idiot


Mark Schaefer being completely Human at Summer School Wales

Mark Schaefer being completely Human at Academi Wales Summer School

Huge thanks to Mark Schaefer for the midweek boost at Academi Wales Summer School. It was a fantastic gallop through ‘everything you need to know about social media marketing’, there’s a great graphic of the presentation at the end of the post. Its the third time I’ve seen Mark speak and as previously; he was very entertaining, highly thought provoking and completely human; which was his key takeaway: in the digital world, Be. More. Human, the Killer App.

You can read more of what Mark has to say about Be More Human on his blog. This all made perfect sense to me, and I ended up in a (late night) conversation proposing that organisations should be more human.

It went along the lines of …..If people are encouraged to be a bit more human, the organisation will be more human, and this will lead to good things like more trust and greater compassion. It was late at night, and I have been thinking about ‘can you teach compassion and kindness’ quite a lot recently.

It seemed to me that by embracing social media, there was opportunity for Be More Human, which has so many benefits. Just to confirm the thinking is right, this morning I read, ‘how leaders can get more from social media’  where Helen Reynolds encourages CEOs to embrace social media and become more human.

So, diving headfirst into social media is the right thing to do….. or is it?

Designing out the Idiot. Many years ago I was involved in a project where one of the key success criteria was, ‘design out the idiot’. Our thinking had gone along the lines of; this process needs to work perfectly, the way people behave is the biggest problem we face, lets design it so that they cannot get it wrong.

Nothing much wrong with that logic, other than:

  • we ended up thinking of everyone as idiots,
  • the process was designed to meet the lowest common denominator,
  • it was highly controlled, prescriptive and complicated,
  • nobody liked it, and
  • in the end most people ignored the process and found a better way to do the job.

It was a massive failure. There is an interesting link here to how lots of organisations have behaved in relation to social media. When I think about a number of ‘design out the idiot’ social media policies I’ve seen over the years (and other HR policies for that matter), there is still a long distance to travel.

Being Human is really messy.  Back to the point I’m trying make, to Be More Human, you need to accept that people are really messy. As well as the desk covered in papers and clothes all over the floor type of of messy this also means:

  • Lack of Uniformity – no two people are alike, what is acceptable and reasonable for one person, may outrage the next person.
  • Unpredictability – different groups of people respond differently to the same situation, and the same group may respond differently on different days, you just cannot accurately predict.
  • Failure – people get things wrong, lots of the time. This can vary from completely accidental mistakes through to deliberate acts of sabotage and malicious compliance.

So what can you do? If we want to Be More Human, we need to accept the human messiness that comes along with it; lack of uniformity, unpredictability and a fair bit of failure.

This means a move away from the ‘design out the idiot’ approach and look for opportunities in what is going to happen anyway. Work with the grain of what is happening rather than try to constrain and prohibit.

From my own experiences I think that it is price worth paying for the benefits you get. Let people have a go, let them fail, let them Be More Human.

Perhaps social media is the best testing ground for people and organisations to try out if they are capable of becoming more human?

If as public services we are mostly in the ‘people business’, maybe this should the the territory where we test ourselves – starting with the HR Professionals (well, they do write most of the policies).

Thanks to Mark for being human and giving us the opportunity to think about how we Be. More. Human.

So, What’s the PONT? 

  1. Anything involving people is a messy old business.
  2. Trying to dehumanise processes and policies (design out the idiot) is pointless – we always find a way around.
  3. Social media might just offer the opportunity to test ourselves and ‘Be More Human’ – then apply that learning to everything else.

Finally, remember; Be. More. Human. isn’t just for social media…. its for life.

Everything you need to know about social media marketing, graphic of Mark’s talk by Rachel Walsh, who works with Fran O’Hara, they did all of the graphic notes during the whole week of Summer School.

Graphic of Mark Schaefr's talk via Fran O' Hara

Graphic of Mark Schaefr’s talk via Fran O’ Hara


Here's Mark, The Graphic from Rachel and Me I should have taken the hat off - who wears a hat indoors, really what was I thinking…..

Here’s Mark, The Graphic from Rachel and Me
I should have taken the hat off – who wears a hat indoors, really what was I thinking…..


We Should be Voting for Happiness …. it works for the Swiss (apparently)

A mounted voter on a red plastic cow, on wheels. Oh to be Swiss

A mounted voter astride a red plastic cow, on wheels.  Oh to be Swiss…..

Don’t Panic. I haven’t gone all happy clappy.

This is a relatively sensible explanation of why I’m suddenly enthusiastic about voting. And anything with a mention of Switzerland has to be earnest and sensible, despite the picture.

Why the early lack of enthusiasm? This all stems from my recent trip to the Prospect Union conference in Glasgow. One thing we did a lot was vote.

Based upon my previous voting experiences I wasn’t expecting much. It’s fine for elections etc, but for committee meeting and everything else, well, voting always seemed to be the ‘kiss of death’. The situation where everyone was so deeply entrenched that the last resort was to ‘put it to the vote’. Basically, everything else had failed

Well things were different at Conference. This was voting being conducted in a way I’d never experienced. It was an essential part of how the conference was organised. A motion is proposed, people publicly debate it, speaking for or against it, and then it’s put to the vote. You have 3 very clear choices; vote for, vote against or abstain.

All straightforward stuff which pleased me enormously and got me writing things down about how useful I thought it was. Do check with anyone who’s been unfortunate to ask me how my trip to Conference went and they’ll testify to my newly found voting enthusiasm.

So why is voting so good? Given that there were over 500 delegates in the room, I think a formal voting process is probably the most efficient and effective way of carrying out the business of setting priorities, making policy and holding to account.

Straightforward. Raise your hand for yes or no.

Straightforward. Raise your hand for yes or no.

From the perspective of the people in the room I also think there are significant benefits:

  • Everyone is involved. The act of raising a hand, or placing a voting card in a box is pretty inclusive. No need to worry about the loud mouths, seniority or the Alpha Males/Females dominating a focus group or round table discussion. Everyone has an opportunity to express their view in a simple way; raise your hand.
  • Its Clear and Decisive. There is none of the ambiguity you get with round table ‘let’s reach a consensus’ discussions. The debate has happened, this is what the majority has voted for and this is what we are going to do. If you don’t like it, hard luck, that’s democracy (which is why I tell my kids they need get involved).

So why did I enjoy it so much? Apparently voting does make you happy. You’ve got two choices here, you can either read this Freakonomics article, or this 35 page research paper by Julio Rotembeg from the US National Bureau of Economic Research…..?

To save you the trouble…. the key point is that when we vote, our sense of wellbeing will increase when we see that other people share our personal opinions. I knew something had to be happening to me at conference. That sense of happiness I got when I raised my arm and could instantly see that 100’s of other marvellous people in the room shared the same opinion as me. Great whilst you have lots of people to agree with, but what happens if you are constantly in the minority?…… moving on swiftly……

The Swiss are really happy, and they vote a lot. Thanks to Mark Hodder for pointing this out. I’ve now spent more time than I ever imagined reading about the voting habits of the Swiss. It might not be a coincidence, but the Swiss come very high up on the global rankings for happiness, and they also vote a lot.

Have a look at this article about how the Swiss vote, and here are a few gems:

  • They have a system of Direct Democracy where any citizen can challenge any law approved by Parliament or propose an amendment to the Federal Constitution. Imagine that here….
  • They vote on average 4 times a year. Between 1995 and 2005 they voted 31 times on a 103 questions. By comparison France voted 3 times during that period. I’ll leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about the relative happiness of the Swiss and French.
UN Happiness Report 2013 The Swiss in at number 3

UN Happiness Report 2013
The Swiss in at number 3 (UK number 22)

On the happiness front the Swiss do very well. The United Nations 2013 World Happiness Report places them in 3rd place, just behind Denmark and Norway (France was 25th). If Life Satisfaction / Wellbeing is your measure of choice, the OECD Better Life Index places them at number 1.

Maybe there is something going on here we could bring to the workplace? At a basic level a bit more voting might make us happier (like the Swiss), and on top of this we could get quicker, more decisive decision making that involves everyone?

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Voting isn’t the option of last resort I used to believe.
  2. It is quick, decisive and involves everyone on an equal footing.
  3. It makes you happy… ask the Swiss…..  What’s not to like?

Picture Sources: The Swiss Red Cow – brilliant, and big tourist attraction.

“this is my first conference”… Prospect(s) is/are looking good.


Democracy on a huge scale. I was in Row F, Seat 54

Democracy on a huge scale.
I was in Row F, Seat 54

I’m freshly back from my first ever Trade Union conference.

It was the Prospect Union conference to be precise, Voices Shaping Change, which involved over 500 people spending two and half days in Glasgow.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but its safe to say that I’ve walked away better informed, very impressed and quite a bit inspired.

Here are some observations on three key learning points I took away from Glasgow: Encouragement, Openness and Professionalism.

Encouragement…. “this is my first time at Conference”.  One thing that struck me during the conference was the amount of clapping you do. Every speaker gets a round of applause, an acknowledgement to say thank you for their contribution. Standing up to speak from a stage in front of 500+ people is a daunting task, and should to be recognised.

I’ve been to a few other events recently where the speakers have hardly been acknowledged. Regardless of whether you agree or not, it is good manners to recognise the effort people have put in to share something with you.

Where the Prospect conference really impressed me was how some speakers got a round of applause BEFORE they had spoken. This is not as strange as it seems. A number of people stepped up to the podium and said, “this is my first time to speak at conference”.

This triggered an instant round of applause. Recognition from the audience that the speaker was taking a big step into the unknown and offering them encouragement, willing them to do well. You could see the impact, smiles and people swelling with confidence.

What a brilliant thoughtful thing to do. If I had to pick one thing that summarised the general tone of the conference, it would be that; respectful encouragement.

A lively debate on the Scottish referendum

A lively debate on the Scottish referendum

Openness. The most democratic thing I’ve experienced. I knew I was going to experience  live ‘democracy’, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be so open and transparent. Debate was carried out respectfully, with lots of evidence and well reasoned argument.

It was the degree to which the Executive and Officers were happy to be questioned in public debate that surprised me. A number of the motions proposed raised questions about performance. They were all debated without people turing to denial, defensiveness or blaming others.

There are many other organisations that might benefit from adopting this model of allowing the service users to publicly question and discuss the performance of the organisation. I wonder if we would have had a Mid Staffs Hospital scandal if there had been this kind of public scrutiny and debate available to the hospital service users?

I don’t know if this is how all union conferences work, but I think there is a lot that can be learnt by anyone interested in engaging with citizens, patients, the public and service users (or whatever you choose to call people) in an open and transparent manner.

Professionalism, this should have been no surprise….. Prospect do badge themselves as “the trade union for professionals”.  I’m sure there was plenty of frantic activity happening in the background, but for a newbie like me everything ran like clockwork. When you think about the scale of things this is astonshing:

  • 500+ people from a hugely diverse range of professions (from archeologists to nuclear scientists),
  • 100 motions to be debated,
  • A panel session on a hugely contentious issue,
  • Breakout sessions (with feedback),
  • Voting on motions (included card votes and tellers) and
  • A Gala Dinner (plus disco).

For students of complex adaptive systems this had it all going on. The process of debating motions and voting on them is a great example of a complexity. There is little certainty about what the result will be, and a good speaker can do a lot to influence the voting; so many variables that cannot be controlled. I learnt a lot about the difference between winning or loosing a motion or even having it remitted. The Standing Orders Committee have a very important role in the process of navigating a way through the complex issues (more on that in a future post).

When in Glasgow - Irn Bru the morning after the Gala Dinner

When in Glasgow – Irn Bru the morning after the Gala Dinner

What did I walk away with? Overall my two and a half days at the Prospect Conference in Glasgow were brilliant, thank you.

I’m walking away far more knowledgeable and informed about a range of things.

I’m hugely impressed by lots of the people I met and the way it was organised.

Finally I’m inspired. Inspired to tell people about how good my experience of democracy was, and why they should get involved.



So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Encouraging fellow speakers at conferences is more than just being polite. It  makes a huge difference. Should we be clapping everyone BEFORE they speak?
  2. Democracy is a complex and unpredictable sport. Done on a large scale it is fascinating being part of it.
  3. There is a lot to be learnt from unions who have been practicing this sort of democracy for many years. Any organisation that wants to properly engage and listen to service users or citizens should take a look.

This is my favourite image of Clydeport, Glasgow. A painting of the Dockside Crane outside my hotel window, doing what it was built to do.