Friday, 18 February 2011

It's NOT the money

In the West we've slipped into believing that all change requires extra money to fund it. Eric Pickles begs to differ.

Ten years ago young Brazilian film maker told me he had made 6 films already and that students at the National Film and Television School in the UK seemed to think they needed £25,000 to make a film. He made his first work by offering a friend with a cine camera a bottle of vodkha for the use of the equipment. "In Brazil we are accustomed to bureaucratic restriction and meagre resources, so we learn to duck and dive."

The head of a tiny community association operating out of a portakabin with one paid member of staff found ways of dealing with bureaucracy imposed by funders and monitors. He asked an IT friend to design some software to read barcodes on the association's membership cards. Each time they ran an event, they were able to swipe the membership cards and generate the required statistics for the local authority as the gathering ended. Other community groups engaged volunteers to deal with the paperwork in assembling demographics to meet the local Equality Unit's specifications, but this organisation had automated the process in a low cost way.

I've coached professionals who tell me that laborious procedures, irritating and costly to the customer, can never be changed for safety reasons, or because supervisors will resist the change "That's the way we've always done it." When I ask them to consider the purpose of the exercise, it becomes easier for them to make changes and explain them to staff. For example, the NHS recalls people for a number of appointments to check on progress (such as fractures and breakthrough bleeding on skin in elderly people's legs.) Changing the system by telling the patient: 'Come back in X weeks time for your final appointment, but if ANYTHING happens to worry you in between, come straight back', reduces the number of appointments and improves patient satisfaction.

Some organisations undertake customer surveys and employee suggestion schemes, but often fail to engage people. Cynics may believe that any effort put into participating may well be put into a set of amalgamated graphics for a Board meeting rather than leading to any meaningful change.

One of my favourite examples of a successful approach is featured in Factor Four: Doubling Wealth & Halving Resource Use by Weizsacker, Lovins & Lovins. It comes from Dow Chemicals and Ken Nelson, a canny engineer, who devised a self funding scheme to save energy, reduce waste by organising a contest in his division. No managers were allowed to participate and submissions were peer reviewed. The most promising and profitable ideas were implemented. The figures are startling. In the 10th year of the contest (after 700 projects), the 109 winning projects averaged 305% ROI and in 1993 140 projects averaged 298% ROI with savings of $37 millions and more.

'The scheme involved no management thory or fads, but a practical shop floor process that translated volunteer ingenuity into saved money.'

The only reward staff received for participation was the satisfaction of doing something for themselves without management interference and a sense of tangible achievement. Sadly Dow chemicals dropped the scheme when Ken Nelson left.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has a long history of standing back and considering purpose instead of continuing to do more of the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment