Sometimes I wonder how sad I am… other times I know exactly and last night was one of those times.

Not only was I listening to Radio 4, but I was enjoying it, too!

The programme was called In Business and the programme was Hell for Leather. You, too, can be as sad as I am by going to the Radio 4 website ( and looking up the programme. For those of you who don’t want to be that sad, I’ll tell you what it was about.

John Timpson is the Chairman of Timpson’s, the shoe repairers and key cutters that can be seen on high streets all over the country.

Mr Timpson and his son, James, who is the Managing Director, spend as much time as they can on the road, visiting stores up and down the country and have a team of area managers doing the same thing. Not to check up on the store’s performance, but to find out what support they need to do more business.

John Timpson calls this Upside Down Management and has written a couple of books about it. I have to say, as I listened to the programme, the interviews with the store workers were very revealing. Without fail, they knew the numbers behind their business – something that we talk about a lot on our courses… the more they have a handle on the numbers the more successful the business person – and they all said the management style worked.

However, there was a caveat.

Many of the people involved said that, as a management style, it’s tough and takes some getting used to, although they seemed to like it. There’s a very simple reason for this.

It’s quite easy to say to someone ‘You are empowered!’

It’s more difficult to get someone to pick up the reins and act with empowerment.

For example, John Timpson says that it’s very difficult to train ‘customer service’. After all, every situation is different and the store worker has to be able to deal with a variety of situations. At Timpson’s every store worker can sort out a complaint up to £500 without referring to anyone. I wonder how many people actually use their discretion… the programme didn’t say

To get someone to work with such discretion does take some training – parameters have to be set – and there has to be an element of trust that they aren’t going to get a bollo… a telling off if someone at Head Office doesn’t agree with them.

John Timpson has developed his own solutions – he delivers the Leadership programme and he has made sure Head Office knows its place.

Great! I wonder what will happen when he leaves?

Actually this Upside Down Management isn’t new and it isn’t unique. Jan Carlzon did something very similar in 1984. You can read all about it in his book Moments of Truth.

Whether it’s new or not, John Timpson and his Upside Down Management seems to work.

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