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  • Writer's pictureNeil Keeler

Florence Nightingale 'the lady with...' an illuminating pie chart

I hadn't realised Florence Nightingale was primarily a statistician. Who applied principles of a entrepreneur and organisational development consultant long before such useful roles existed!

Think big, address the whole system, pilot interventions early (fail fast & recover quicker), use the media to influence people of power, master public opinion by sharing data in an understandable way, that fully engages others, who are then able to mobilise to support it. Wow.

She rightly insisted on evidence based practice informing her work, applying scientific rigour and methodical approaches to root causes. Analysis helped her identify that only 1 soldier in 8 died of wounds from the Crimean war, the other 7 deaths were entirely preventable by ensuring better living conditions i.e. shelter, food, hygiene and simple sanitation.

These principles (ultimately) influenced public health, arguably ensuring the very foundations of the NHS were aligned to evidence based approaches. The way she presented data, seemed to be her real means of illuminating insights, somewhat sadly overshadowed by her usual linkage with just 'a lamp'.


In reflecting on these principles (7 'preventable' : 1 'unavoidable' ratio) in terms of work, especially in regard to peoples mental health, I think of the critical role of the front line manager.

I spent eight years earlier in my career managing a mental health rehabilitation service. Supporting people with a wide range of mental health needs to get back to work, some with conditions associated from very challenging experiences at work, usually of being poorly managed.

Many of our primary mental health needs are best fulfilled at work, at its very best 'meaningful work' (that which motivates, inspires, excites and challenges us) gives life purpose. When rewarding our efforts, recognising our skills, knowledge and abilities, work generates self worth and satisfaction, that we are adding value and making a difference.

The critical role of front line managers who manage that space, to manage their people well and deliver those benefits is increasingly challenged. Especially when roles become de-skilled, responsibilities reduced and budgets and time for development of managers stretched or not prioritised.

To manage their people with clear goals, to support fully and delegate correctly, to check in and give helpful (nourishing) feedback, focused on improving performance, clarifying choices and encouraging thinking, requires a significant range of skills.

When I consider developing managers to manage people well, and, ideally to progress on to becoming engaging leaders, I passionately believe that developing effective coaching skills and behaviours has to be part of that journey.

Poor bosses are simply very bad for your health, worse than smoking. In developing hundreds of managers to be 'better with people' I have personally seen how coaching skills and behaviours can have a significant impact.

Coaching directly and indirectly reduces anxieties for people, from ensuring standards are clear and goals are realistic, surfacing damaging and unhelpful beliefs with support to challenge and overcome them.

Encouraging different thinking, ensuring an evidence base informs decision making, that thoughts precede actions. Ideally that better thoughts, precede better actions for (its not complex really?) better results.

Enabling effective action plans that engage colleagues/other teams (both at the right time and in the right way - preventing conflicts and forging co-operation!) supporting team working in (increasingly more complex/systemic, multi-organisation) transformational change.

That expectations of personal responsibility are demonstrated by our actions and our results are measured, celebrated and acknowledged.

Coaching encourages reflection and understanding - every action generates learning and the very best learning, often occurs from taking different actions.

If you accept any relevance to the 70:20:10 learning 'model' then the ability of a manager to pro-actively support 90% of an individuals learning at work, is another reason for investing in line managers.

Ensuring they have the skills to review, reflect and coach their people to grow and deliver results are the two most basic outcomes of coaching, enhancing future performance too.

I do feel some slight concern over some companies (very well intentioned) approach to invest in a much wider range of remedial interventions for stress, anxiety and poor mental health, to support people (sadly) after distress or ill health have occurred.

Promoting the positive behaviours of your line managers, the most obvious and influential 'hygiene factor' of everyone's working environment, preventatively i.e. first, shouldn't ever be missed.

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Welcome to my blog

Hope you will find something here to really get you thinking. Topics will be on any of my passions: Organisational Development, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Organisational Improvement and Transformation are the key themes.  

If you have a topic or suggestion for a blog, or maybe you'd like to do a guest spot on here (!) drop me a line. I'd also like to share some of my experiences in moving from 32 years of working in the public sector to starting my own business!

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