Category Archives: Practice development

Podcast Episode 081: How to recover our staff

TheStrengthsRevolution_albumart_2-2With all the expectations placed on providing excellent service to clients how can we truly expect staff to value others when they don’t feel valued themselves? So, the concept of a strengths assessment should apply equally to staff members as it does to their work with clients.

In this episode I explore some of the key messages from the wide-ranging Gallup organisation’s strengths research. The focus is on why we should pay more attention to developing individual potentials, and less to fixing weaknesses. I also explore those feelings we experience when we are engaged in activity that is most likely connected to our real strengths and talents.

For the full content of this episode click on the links to iTunes & Sound Cloud (or go to Stitcher Radio):

“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.” [Barbara Bush]. 


Podcast Episode 065: Puncturing pomposity

Person-centred (2009)
Person-centred (2009)

Why are we so enamoured with our impenetrable jargon and gobbledegook? All professions adopt it, seemingly as a badge of membership, and as an illustration of their special exclusivity. For the outsider, having the unfortunate need of the services of a professional, the langauage is often likely to be the first insurmountable barrier.

In this episode aI briefly explore how meetings can be fun experiences. In the undignified way you might want to adopt a game of ‘bullshit bingo’. In a more dignified way, it is a chairperson’s role to give permission for the use of the more humourous examples and anecdotes, even when the overall subject matter is heavy and serious. It should be more about encouraging lateral or creative thinking, but do it in simple and accessible language.

For the full content of this episode click on the links to iTunes and Sound Cloud (or go to Stitcher Radio):

“I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings.” [Jonah Goldberg].

Podcast Episode 064: Control freaks need not apply

Person-centred (2009)
Person-centred (2009)

Can the chairing of meetings, the very thing we often want to avoid, actually be fun? In this episode I discuss how the overall effectiveness of meetings can be directly proportional to the effectiveness of the chairperson.

Those who operate as control freaks with an over-inflated sense of self-importance, or those who are democratic to the point of becoming all talk and no action, are equally ineffective. The concept of the ‘revolving chair’ should just be left spinning.

I outline an approach to meetings that views them akin to a 3-act play, with several practical tips for fulfilling the role. I also outline the need for preparation and skilled facilitation as a pre-requisite for an effective chairperson. What does a strengths approach to managing the ebb and flow of meetings look like?

For the full content of this episode click on the links to iTunes and Sound Cloud (or go to Stitcher Radio):

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.” [Charles Kettering].

Podcast Episode 063: Truly meeting the need

Person-centred (2009)
Person-centred (2009)

Within the context of service-centred working can a meeting ever be person-centred?

In this episode I outline experiences of ward rounds and community reviews that are frequently presented by the services as being person-centred, but are clearly service-centred.

Our use and misuse of language is more often than not a reflection of our values and ultimately a reflection of what we deliver as a service, so it needs careful attention.

Attendance at meetings does not equate to involvement in meetings. So what will it take to make service meetings, particularly client reviews more genuinely person-centred? I present four messages to guide us towards this aim.

For the full content of this episode click the links to iTunes and Sound Cloud (or go to Stitcher Radio):

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings’.” [Dave Barry].

The Art of Co-ordinating Care

Person-centred (2009)
Person-centred (2009)

Care co-ordination, the role of the care co-ordinator, has become a challenging function of our care and support services, attracting more than its fair share of negative connotations. A genuine tension exists between the passion and artfulness of human relationships on the one hand, and the pursuit of a scientific basis for interventions on the other. The science of research seeks to impose a sense of reassurance by means of consistent results when defined sets of circumstances are observed or applied.

By contrast, the quality of an artful endeavour may be measured more by its emotional characteristics and the feelings it engenders in those involved or observing. In reality, the experience and practice of mental health and learning disability services is primarily a study of people’s emotional experiences, feelings and behaviour patterns. So we should be wary of any attempts to understate the elements of artfulness and passion; and we should recognise the potential impact this may have on our enjoyment of the work, as well as our motivation for doing it.

Arguably, one of the most crucial effects of the evidence-based practice focus of research is that it undermines the art of relationship-building. The pursuit of a rigorous scientific rationale places a clear priority on the cult of numbers. ‘How many?’ and ‘How frequently?’ and ‘How quickly?’ become the valued quantitative outcomes of an efficient service. But what is the cost of this, in terms of an effective, good quality experience for the individual service user within this wider research picture? Or, indeed, what is the cost of its impact on the qualitative experience of the work that, for many practitioners, is their motivation? Ideally, we need to strike a careful balance between art and science in the delivery of good quality care and support.

Check out my 2009 publication The Art of Co-ordinating Care, written with Andrew & Roberta Wetherell, for the best practice to achieve person-centred working and delivery of care and support.

Targets, what targets?

Person-centred (2009)
Person-centred (2009)

How can we make more effective use of targets as a means of developing best practice? Perhaps a more pertinent question is: ‘Can we make effective use of targets at all?’

Nothing drains passion more effectively than constant demands for information to meet apparent targets, asked without consultation or explanation, and with no meaningful returns in the form of useful feedback. Auditing everything has become an industry – but to satisfy what? The function of co-ordinating care, specifically the Care Programme Approach (CPA), has become a focus for quantitative returns that seemingly have little to do with the quality of the working relationships and everything to do with numbers and signatures. As many service users, carers and practitioners will testify, presence at a meeting and signing a form does not necessarily reflect influence, involvement or even truthful agreement with the documented outcomes. Yet, the bureaucratic process keeps requiring the numbers with no apparent reciprocal benefits for practitioners and teams.

I wouldn’t argue against the need for auditing practice; but it does appear from conversations with many practitioners that there are widely differing perceptions about priorities between the management of services and the deliverers of services. Anecdotal sources suggest that most practitioners feel they only receive feedback from audit sources when things go wrong, and that good practice is not confirmed or highlighted when it happens. If practitioners, service users and carers were asked to define the parameters of what needs to be audited, there would be some disagreements between them but the priorities would probably look a lot different from what currently occurs. Most people in the real world are concerned about relationship-building in order to support people to be more self-reliant through identifying and working with their own strengths. Audit needs to be of practice and for practice, with a focus on sustaining current good practice. But that would only put an awful lot of middle management and auditors out of a job, for their focus is ‘change’ for its own sake; as long as the merry-go-round keeps moving they will have a purpose.

See ‘The Art of Coordinating Care’ publication for a detailed framework on delivering a service user-focused, strengths-based, bureaucracy-busting approach to real practice. It has been developed as a reflection of what good practice looks like, but will challenge all practitioners to step up to the mark to deliver values-based personalised services based on working with people’s strengths. Failure to do this leads to the alternative… the more usual current situation of an over-regulated system driven by the need to satisfy the politicians and public that if anything goes wrong ‘it will never happen again’. What the current system can ensure will never happen again is the enjoyment and creativity fuelled by the passion of people who want to make a positive contribution to service users lives.

Feel free to add your own comment about any issues raised above.

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?” [Frank Herbert].

Playing with numbers

I am often mindful of the need to criticize the quality of leadership and management in health and social care services; particularly the obsession with numbers, the tick-box mentality, and the blind faith placed in targets for driving change and daily practice across services. I am surely not a lone voice in this critique, but is it valid or just a reaction against the sound of the pips squeaking?

I do believe that an absence of targets or defined outcomes, and a failure to establish high standards for provision of services only leads to inconsistencies between practitioners and teams… what is often referred to as a postcode lottery. Service users don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of either stressed out practitioners fearful of constant criticism, or laid-back practitioners doing their own thing. Audit and regulation have a place, but surely they need to be clearly joined up to practice, not existing in a vacuum somewhat disconnected from the realities within which good practice has to operate.

The ever-growing chasm between person-centred practice and business-focused managerialism does little to promote a culture of organizational collaboration that may encourage a more engaging form of audit and regulation across services. My solution would be to eliminate most of the current audit requirements imposed on practitioners and teams, particularly that which they experience as wholly time-consuming and unhelpful. So far so good, say the practitioners amongst you; please do share your thoughts, but read on before you do…

Over the last 12 years, through the Practice Based Evidence initiative, I have been developing tools designed specifically for use by practitioners and teams. These tools have flexible uses: personal reflection, individual supervision, team development and team evaluation. Used diligently they should be able to provide a host of qualitative and quantitative data, which in turn should offer useful feedback to practitioners and teams for practice development purposes.

Updated Risk Resource (2013)
Updated Risk Resource (2013)

The Risk Decision-Making publication includes examples of these tools, and a specific example of data emerging from their use in a specific organization to help identify good practice and priorities for further development.

So, the sting in this tail is that practitioners and teams need to own the processes of audit and regulation if they are to reflect and develop good practice. For those auditors and managers fearful of losing their jobs if Practice Based Evidence emerged as the norm, you could always make use of the data to tick your boxes; better still, you could prioritise your time more effectively by getting in and alongside practitioners and teams to support a quality revolution. You might then be in a stronger position to challenge and inform the thinking of the inter-galactic warlords from distant planets a.k.a. commissioners, Department of Health, Care Quality Commission.