Monday, 3 June 2013

Mission Statement

Like many other people, on Mr Parry's first day in charge. I will be celebrating the arrival of a new hand on the tiller at CaRT headquarters. There are signs already that the new CEO is warming to his mission. The acceptance of a "private" day out on a narrowboat has been a positive start. A change of mindset which embraces the ethos of the private sector might well bring a welcome breath of fresh air into the stale atmosphere of Ivory Towers. Certainly a move away from  the current modus operandi of the public sector would be a good change of direction. While it will take some time for a new CEO to set a new direction. I am sure that others will be looking to their laurels and might just be considering jumping ship so to speak. 

Some years ago I had the new experience of a new "uber boss" being appointed. With a proven track record of success working in the private sector. He came with a remit of turning around a public sector business that was making losses that amounted to millions each year. The first thing that happened was a whole layer of management disappeared in a matter of months. The second was to change the structure of the business into one that devolved responsibility down the chain. So that the ones that did the work were the ones that would choose when, where and how. His door was always open to anyone. He made sure that he was known to all his staff. He broke down barriers that had developed over the previous few years. He told everyone what he wanted and expected. He also pointed out what they would get in return.

One of his key moves was the management of the reporting structure. It had to work end to end - top down and bottom up. So when a message was cascaded down, the thoughts and the experiences of the troops on the ground had to be reported back up the chain of command. Sometimes he would check with people at both ends, about the message passed down and their understanding of what was being said.

It was stressful and difficult three year period. Every expenditure had to be justified against the business plan. Excesses of some were reigned in and slack attitude in others was not tolerated. I sat in on staff meetings where people were charged to do a task that they opposed but did not have the intestinal fortitude to say so. Some would visibly squirm in their seats. At next months meeting they knew that they would be expected to report back on the changes and the progress being made. Ultimately it was a successful outcome and as the saying goes nothing breeds success more than success itself. But mindsets had been changed, individuals felt empowered and anyone thinking that they could just stand around marking time stood out like a sore thumb.

It was not always a good experience. There were difficult periods where necessary change in working practice was opposed and so the changes had to be enforced. But there were also willing changes taking place. People tended to stay behind and work a bit later into the day. It was not uncommon for people to come in to work at their desks at weekends. The business was revamped and the old was replaced by new content. I suppose an analogy would be replacing the tried and tested paraffin lamps with new LED technology. 

He asked everyone to set a one year mission statement for themselves. Then produced one for himself that he shared with everyone. On reading this also set his expectations for the senior staff around him. It was a sobering wake up call for some. 

I hope the new incoming CEO for CaRT will have a personal "My first year in office" mission statement. I know that mission statements are frowned upon in some circles. However I would be asking that the Trust should cascade this down the management structure. 

I am sure that many people would like to add, items to the personal mission statement. However, If I was given the opportunity to draw up a list of includes for the new CEO it would go something like this.

In my first year I will:

  • In my first month in office I will consult with the waterways users on the cost of moorings and the bidding process. 

  • The one problem that I constantly observe around me is moorings going up in price in localities where there are a plethora of empty berths. The whole auction process needs revisiting and made fit for purpose. The charges levied should be itemised so the berth holders can challenge what they see as price fixing done with smoke and mirrors.

  • In the second month in office I will put an end to the us and them culture.

There is a perception, rightly or wrongly that there is within the senior management of the trust a us and them culture. I would like to see an end to such an ethos. This in itself is damaging to the trust and its ambitions for a self funding future.

  • In my third month in office, I will encourage more proactive restoration of the infrastructure.

Vince Moran has explained that there has been a plan of targeted spending over the last ten years which has concentrated the funding on "reactive" remedial work in the D and E categories of maintenance work. The trust should be congratulated for their efforts in halving the amount of works needing attention. However, a more proactive effort should also be targeting maintenance to works on the principle of a stitch in time before the works become an even bigger item on financial resources.

  • In my fourth month in office I will meet the public on the canals so that I understand the role played by recreational boaters.

I don't know why but as a boat owner I feel disenfranchised from the trust. I read much said about various waterways users. But boat owners as a group pay a significant amount of money. Where walkers, cyclists and other users contribute very little. I have heard the old story about walkers, cyclists being taxpayers. This is an ill thought through standpoint, because boat owners are also taxpayers as well.
  • In my fifth month in office I will encourage the conservation of all land and buildings for waterways use.
I despair every time I hear or read about another loss making investment or just speculating in the property market. Trust owned properties and land should be earmarked for development that will reap rewards in the long term and short term. Pubs are not a good investment for a business centred around the welfare of the inland waterways. First get the infrastructure right and the pubs will flourish from demend.
  • In my sixth month in office, I will encourage development of independently operated  facilities.
I am a believer in encouraging  small businesses to provide services to boat owners and visitors. These will never amount to more than small scale operations. I have in mind businesses who provide floating facilities such as the coal boats. Whilst at the same they also provide character and an added interest. I would like to see the cost of operating such businesses reduced. Larger businesses such as hire boats should also have their operating costs reduced during a period of economic downturn. Its important to protect what we currently have in the hope of a resurgence when times improve.
  • In my seventh month in office, I will encourage a joined up business model by removing barriers between directorates.
From my experience, the two directorates that have a direct contact with boaters (moorings and operations) are not working. I feel that operations such as mooring management should be returned into the operations fold. I am dismayed by the attitude amongst some staff in either directorate that a customer request is outside of their remit. We need to return to everyone being an employee and not sited within a notional silo, with the accompanying "silo barrier" mentality.
  • In my eighth month in office, I would identify a stop all blue sky projects which take money away from restoration and development.
Typical of such developments are the proposals to install CCTV cameras at all CaRT marinas. I cannot see where a return on investment can be made from such a significantly expensive development. Especially where a consensus of all moorings holders have not had the opportunity to  cast a  vote after meaningful consultation on such an installation.
  • In my ninth month I would put in place a plan to improve communication with waterways users.
The trust is slowly improving at communicating with its clientele. Twitter and Facebook might pay some lip service but do not meet the needs. Especially in a time when the Internet has made such issues comparatively easy to achieve. 
  • In my tenth month, I would ensure that consultation with users about issues is meaningful.
The recent moorings consultation is a good example. A questionnaire that seeks answers to a preordained outcome is not in my opinion genuine consultation. When the clientele organise a petition against the actual consultation, its never going to be meaningful or acceptable outcome. It would be good if the staff were singing from the same hymn sheet. Facts are given on the hoof which later prove to be incorrect and just cast even more doubt on the rest of the consultation.
  • In my eleventh month in office, I would put in place a paid membership scheme for the trust open to everyone.
I will never understand how the transitional trustees came to believe that members of the public holding a membership of the trust would not bring any benefits. I still can't believe that this ill founded idea is still holding sway. Typical of such charitable trusts are the RSPB and The National Trust. Some charities have turnovers that would put a major company to shame. Almost without exception the trusts have a membership from the general public. Donations and purchases, which includes membership dues and legacies, account for around £14bn of charities' total income.

  • In my twelfth month in office I will be an advocate of transparency.
When the trust was in its early transitional state the trustees wanted to avoid the transparency that would have been brought about by embracing the freedom of information act. There are areas of the business where such information would hold either confidential or business sensitive data. I accept that there should be boundaries. However, I would like to see a commitment to expanding transparency as a trust ethic. Transparency being the norm.
  • My first annual report will report back on how well my "personal" mission statement has improved the inland waterways, their management and the infrastructure.

I look forward to a bright new future for CaRT. Its long overdue and as the saying goes "you only get one chance to make a good first impression." I do hope that I am not disappointed.

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