Thank you for reactions to my blog last week. There seems to be a lot of support to improve quality but at the same time questions about how we can achieve it. So I decided to write a further article about this, especially on the back of what is happening at News International. That organisation has also lost sight of whatever quality it was looking for.
Politicians, Hugh Grant and the media are out for blood. Have you ever seen such a self righteous bunch together? For years we have known about the practices of the press and News of the World in particular, yet all these people fell over themselves to be in with News International and it various publications. I read somewhere that they had the biggest stands at the party conferences (whoops – another deficit coming up!); David Cameron even recruited his media adviser from the company when he knew as well as anyone else what they were up to.
In fact we have gained a lot from the practices of the press, whatever we may think of them. Things like MP’s expenses or even such much needed exposure of what happens in some care homes in the Panorama exposé would not have been possible without journalists cutting some corners. Yet we benefited from many of these stories, though I have my doubts about the MP’s expenses.
A challenge is that the press can leave you with a completely wrong impression of what is actually happening. There is little balance in the stories. I was very touched by the Panorama investigation, but combined with what happened with Southern Cross we have been left with the impression that all care homes are bad. Well they are not all bad. I have been to many which provide excellent care in excellent environments. But the good news does not sell, so why talk about it? I have yet to see an article about the good side of care.
The problem is a culture has developed in the media, which has led some to tap into telephones or voicemails which went beyond the boundaries of what some of us consider acceptable. Personally I thought that line had been crossed years ago with Princess Diana, but that is me. The hacking was done as some journalists felt they had to use every avenue possible to give us as much horrifying news as possible to achieve sales. But let us remember, the bulk of the journalists are still honourable and trying to do a good job – just like the Panorama investigation and the MP’s expenses one.
Losing sight of our purpose affects us in all parts of our lives. I was a governor of a school where the education folks from the Council wanted to improve results, so they brought in a consultant. Results improved and exclusions dropped. Impressed? Sure! Until you look at what really happened. Kids were no longer excluded but went through ‘managed transfers’, to they no longer showed up in the numbers. Who are we fooling? The Council refused to listen to the head teachers year after year – I simply resigned, but the practice continues.
Kids were given all kinds of ‘GCSE equivalents’ which could be managed better, so the scores went up. Of course these kids did not get GCSEs, but something else. In fact I believe that the number of real GCSEs actually dropped. So these future employees arrive at a workplace with a piece of paper nobody understands and nobody can be sure what qualifications the potential employee actually has achieved. I could certainly never figure it out, questioned it and was given some wonderful story. I think we failed the kids. I wish the press had investigated, but local papers do not have the resources and they are dependent on the Council for advertising revenues.
Quality is not achieved by simply meeting some paper targets or even having a glorious procedures manual. My Council has more procedures than anyone and they are dismal in even some of their most basic operations. Have you ever seen a happy Council employee yet many have ‘Investors in People’ tacked to the doors their 60s palaces.
Quality is achieved when it becomes a culture in an organisation. When a care home actively seeks to provide a quality home for the residents or when a school really aims to provide a good quality education and grounding to its pupils. As soon as statistics becomes the motivator like GCSE tables, this objective is lost.
In smaller organisations like Enterprise Britain this is easier to achieve as the management has more of a chance of keeping track of what is important to the company. But even in big organisations it works. Look at organisations like John Lewis. Profit and cash flow are critical for all of us, but we need some higher goals if we are to grow and survive in the long term.
Real quality is one of them. Now the challenge is how to achieve it and how to measure it.