Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Voices Off

Walking towards the inaugural conference of " National Voices " I am accosted in the street by one of my members . With over 2000 chief executives it is , of course ,highly likely I will be stopped in the street from time to time ! We have a good natter and talk about how difficult the sector finds it to sack incompetent staff. He relates a story of one charity he ran where one member of staff was highly popular; as he did no work he had lots of time to wander around being nice to people, chatting and listening to their problems. But no work output struck him as unacceptable so he said he would have to go. All hell broke loose . I am obviously not revealing his name here!

The National Voices Conference is a grand affair . In Central Hall , this is a new umbrella organisation set up from health and social care charities to bring together organisations representing users and give them a stronger voice in policy making . acevo has been supporting this from the early days ; it has been ably steered by the admirable Jeremy Hughes , CEO of Breakthrough Breast Cancer ( active acevo member ). I make a 5 minute presentation giving acevo's full backing and support for this initiative . Core to the reform of public services is a recognition of the user , citizen and community. The Health service , wonderful though it often is has not been brilliant at recognising the views and opinions of patients , users or carers. That is what the third sector is so good at .

I relate the story of Cecily Saunders ,a nurse at St Thomas' hospital across the river . In the 50s she was caring for a refugee from the Warsaw Ghetto . He was dying. He was receiving superb medical care ; but he needed more . He wanted care , support and love at the end of his tragic and difficult life . Cecily saw that the NHs was not providing that and so began her quest for better palliaitive care and , in 1967 , the founding of St Christopher's Hospice . Now hospices are key to health provision in our country and this model has been copied around the world. Cecily realised that the user voice wasn't being heard . And in true third sector fashion she set about sorting the problem .St Christopher's is now led

Last night was a trial . I had agreed to deliver a lecture to mark the launch of the Third Sector Research Centre . This new facility is being run from Birmingham and Southampton Universities with a £10ml grant from the Office of the Third Sector.Acevo was part of the consortium that bid to run the Centre and we will be playing a big role in the work in the new School for Public Partnership run by the estimable John Tizard. It was funny how despite being used to making speeches , I had a disturbed night preparing in my head what I was to lecture on . I was looking at the future challenges of a third sector in the 21st Century and how the sector is changing and adapting.

The 2 key shifts for me are the substantial growth in service delivery and the huge growth of the sector's role in voice and advocacy and in promoting a healthy civil society . We play a crucial role in making a better and more happy society and in underpinning democratic institutions by active civil society and greater civic engagement. I reminded people that William Beveridge wrote ,

" The happiness or unhappiness of the society in which we live depends upon ourselves as citizens, not on the instrument of political power we call the state . "

And it is often third sector organisations; community groups , campaigning charities who galvanise and give voice to citizen demands for change.

I talked about the need for the sector to adapt to change ; this may mean more mergers and alliances , partnerships with the private sector and a ruthless approach to professionalism . Our capacity and infrastructure needs to develop . More investment funding ; a bigger FBE and other investment and venture capital bodies and a Social Investment Bank . Stronger national organisations to promote the sector and support development. But I also called for culture change . An end to divisive name calling of larger charities and a ditching of the Maoist approach to small is good , large is bad . I pointed out that in our sector even our really large national charities pail into insignificance compared with big private companies and public sector bodies . Are we sometimes too small to truly develop voice and choice for citizens? The lecture is been put up on our website tomorrow , so you can read it all in its full glory!

We had invited a selected group of people , members and key influencers .I was very flattered that David Freud ( he of the famous DWP Freud Report )was there and played a full part in the discussion that followed . He raised the interesting point as to why social enterprises had never made it to the big time? If they are dedicated to making a profit ( even though it is plowed back into the business ) how come all social enterprises are still small scale ? He felt that there was no " forcing mechanism " in our sector . By that he meant that in the private sector they are ruthless at removing dead wood and promoting talent . If you are the manager who got the organisation to a £5m turnover you might not be the person to take it to £50m ? Yet in our sector people carry on and don't get forced out. An interesting point for thought , and one that harked back to the street conversation I had at lunchtime ? Are we just too soft in the third sector? Or is that a strength?


Anonymous said...

Does your call for ruthlessness mean Mr Charlesworth's departure may have been best for the Shaw Trust after all?

Sir Stephen Bubb said...

It most certainly does not.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with poor management practice that enables this norm of underperformance to be established. To then respond to the problem by sacking someone is asking for trouble.
This is a pretty common picture in management.
Failure to give accurate powerful feedback early on allows people to become less than productive. Failure to follow up feedback with more feedback - backed up with coaching - within a disciplinary procedure if necessary leads to chronic underperformance.
Fear of challenging a popular member of staff about their ability to meet expectations for performance combined with a preference to avoid conflict nearly always leads to this sort of mess.
Let's raise the quality of people management in the third sector to significantly reduce this type of incident. www.progressivemanagersnetwork.co.uk

Anonymous said...

No Social Enterprises having hit the big time? What about the Co-op? Ever heard of the John Lewis Partnership? I wouldn't say these are small-scale. Or are these examples simply ignored because they've been around for years and can't be claimed by 'ambassadors' as being part of the latest trend and don't fit with arguments for support and funding?

Sir Stephen Bubb said...

JanetF makes a goiod point. The history of co-ops and mutuals is a great one and does indeed stretch back over time . It is good to have this reminder , especially at a time when " social enterprise " is touted as new and trendy , as opposed to the social enterprising activities of many charities over the years . charity traidng has been around for a very long time too!

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