How your culture can promote innovation

(Almost) everything I love about Bromford summarised in Paul Taylor’s latest post.

Paul Taylor

“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals, which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organisation.” – Richard Perrin

I spent a wonderful day in Belfast this week with a group of Housing Organisations. It was refreshing as I got to talk not about tech and social media – but of leadership and culture.

We often bemoan the lack of adoption of innovative practices across the public sector and local government. But less often do we examine the reason why. 

One of them is they just aren’t ready for the latest innovation.

The culture of some organisations is superbly designed to repel anything new. Even if you let it in the organisational antibodies would surround it – killing it in no time. Like the common cold – you may get away with being a bloody great irritant for a while – but against a…

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Fat Girl Goes to the Gym – by Michelle Beardshaw

Girl with dumbells250

I knew I had to do it, I had put it off for long enough, I had been overweight for too long, I needed to get fit, start to look after my body better.

I work for Bromford Housing and as part of the annual flex benefits choices, Gymflex had been added – discounted gym membership. Well it’s now or never so I became a member of the local leisure centre. I also chose to add my husband to the membership – well if he is going to get a new woman I think it’s only fair I get a new man!

We have a little boy, he is nearly four, he is a lively, active and loves running and playing football. I want to have more energy to keep up with him so he is my inspiration to do this.

My plan was to start with swimming a couple of times a week and work my way up to workout classes and the Gym. Before we could get started though we were booked in for an induction at the gym so there was no avoiding it. Although I am a confident person I don’t mind sharing I was nervous about that first time, would people look at me, wonder what I was doing there…. In fact I had nothing to worry about. I felt comfortable, was not judged, was amongst others in the same position as me, there to make some changes. Yes there are the regulars, those that love it, that have all the right gear, that are trim and buffed. Oh yes, I have discovered people watching in the gym has its advantages!

I got 5 personal trainer sessions included with the membership and Ali has been great in listening to me, my needs and then setting me a programme that is both challenging and fits in with my available time.

I have been going to the gym and swimming for just 6 weeks now and tonight was my review. I was ecstatic to learn I have lost 13 cm’s already, not off my height gratefully as at only 5’3″ I can’t afford to lose any there but from various points around my body – I won’t go into the detail…..

Suffice it to say this is the motivation I need to carry on, yes I will continue to love chocolate but I hope to soon love the gym too…… I might even treat myself to some new “gear” ….. Did I mention my other passion is shopping?

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Going For Gold – by Michelle Beardshaw

Earlier this week I attended a networking event “Going for Gold” run by Housemark and supported by Campbell Tickell, both of whom are organisations that work closely with the Housing Sector.

Like many of these types of event there were guest speakers in attendance to share their experiences with the audience as part of the day’s itinerary.

I have wanted to do a blog for some time but the right subject has, so far evaded me.

However I have come back from this event so inspired by the people as well as their stories so have chosen to blog about one of the guest’s stories.

So did he or didn’t he?

Cast your mind back to the early summer of 2012, where were you? What were you doing? Let me help you out…… Did you experience the Olympic Torch Relay that passed through the country? 15 million people turned out to get involved, even if you weren’t one of them you would have to have been on another planet to have missed some of the footage on the news, social media, pictures and individual stories in the newspapers. Many people have their own stories to tell and many of these have shared their stories with Deborah Hale MBE. You might not recognise her name but she was the Producer of the 2012 relay, she lead a team of 365 people who worked together to put on a great spectacle that was emotionally charged and was the catalyst to pull everyone in Britain together to welcome the Games to London.

Her story started years before 2012 when she was asked to do this and it took every ounce of energy she had to make it the success it was. Talking with Deborah though you can’t fail to see the pride she feels in what together with her team she achieved and feels it was the best experience of her life. The relationships she made with colleagues whilst working on this project appear very special and I suspect many will remain friends for years to come.

The relay has been confirmed as the largest consultation in the UK since Dunkirk and involved working with many stakeholders and engaging with every CEO of every Local authority in the land. She asked 2 questions when consulting with them…..

What do you want us to show and we will try to.
Invite us to your LA and we will try to come.

As a result they all invited the relay to their part of the country and the team worked tirelessly to ensure they included really key places on the route.

Deborah proudly shared that 95% of the population lived within 10 miles of the route, 1/4 of population came out to join the celebration, 8000 torchbearers and 8000 miles over 70 days.

Whilst on the road for 70 days the team only spent 7 nights together in the same hotel, so keeping them motivated and informed for the 10 week event when they were away from their families and exhausted was a challenge. Deborah sent hand written notes to each of her team, reminding them why they we’re doing this, spotted when they were dropping and picked them up. She also made sure once a week they all got together and read letters from well wishers, watched DVD footage of the relay and had updates from London so they continued to be part of the plans there.

Deborah talked about breaking rules where they could and one of these was around agreeing with the sponsors that the torchbearers would be members of the general public – “ordinary, extraordinary people”. This went against the norm as sponsors usually involve celebrities, their contacts and the people who work for them. Deborah agreed for London 2012 that 90% would be members of the general public and this is why a small number of celebrities were also involved such as Will.I.Am – one of Coke’s choices.

Another rule break was when she agreed last minute to allow the daughter of the police officer shot by Raoul Moat to run with a blindfold on in memory of her father, who after losing his sight later killed himself. The rules on not adapting the uniform are very strict but sometimes you just have to do what you know is the right thing.

The 10 week relay journey started for Deborah with a flight in a helicopter to Lands End and looking out on 10,000 people who had made the early start to see Ben Ainslee on the first leg. She knew then that their meticulous planning and hard work had ensured the tour was a success. Every day that followed involved many tears for Deborah and her team as these 8000 extraordinary people completed their mile.

The final stage of the relay, day 70, was the opening ceremony and if you remember David Beckham was seen driving a boat up the River Thames to deliver the torch to Sir Steve Redgrave….. So in answer to the first question….. And the one most frequently asked of Deborah

Yes he did drive the boat himself.
And yes he is lovely.

Deborah has quite legitimately taken some time off since completing her mission although has often given presentations on her role in the Olympics. She is now working on some new opportunities and has kept strong links with the people she worked with.

The closest I'll get to Olympic Gold .......

The closest I’ll get to Olympic Gold …….

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A Chance to Dance – by Jayne Barnsley

Picture the scene, It’s the late 1990’s; As a prospective customer, I’ve been invited by a personal development trainer to view at first hand a seminar he is running for sales consultants.

I arrive at the agreed venue with a colleague but with no pre-conceptions of what to expect and I’m ushered into a syndicate room, where I’m greeted by a flurry of activity. The room is buzzing with people on their feet and working in pairs. So what is their task? It’s attempting to break through sheets of A4 paper with their palms.

Instead of being offered a seat, I’m quickly allocated a partner to work with. Plunged into the deep end, it is explained to me as I go that the objective of this lively endeavour is to perfect the so-called ‘paper break’ in readiness for the real challenge – the ‘wood break’.

After about five minutes of practice, we are called to sit back down and the room is suddenly filled with sound; the theme tune to Mission Impossible. This is day three of the programme and many of the participants have already achieved their wood break challenge, but there are several stragglers, one of whom is summoned to the front of the room to a chorus of encouraging whoops and cheers. The contender steps up to the mark; the plank of wood is broken cleanly; the room erupts with deafening applause.

Now for something else I didn’t expect – I’m up next! I’ve not met these people before and I’ve had scarcely 5 minutes to grasp the concept, let alone practice. This is presented to me as an invitation but as my brain goes into overdrive to process my options and the likely outcomes, it is clear to me that there is only one real response. I have to say yes.

So once again Mission Impossible rings in my ears and I take my place centre stage, the focus of everyone’s attention. I’m supposed to give three lunges, following through with my hand on the third count and already I’ve decided I’m going to hit this piece of wood as hard as I can muster. I can barely conceive that it will break but I’ve concluded that I’ll bow out graciously, having at least tried.

The seminar leader holds the wood aloft; on ‘three’ my hand makes impact; there’s the sensation of pain; but nothing else. The wood is unyielding. ‘Oh well’ I think, and then something else happens. There must have been a hairline crack, because the trainer snaps the plank into two and holds it out triumphantly to the group, who react with much handclapping. My own hand hurts, but my dignity is intact.


This is the story I recently recounted to my team at our Away Day as part of a group presentation on ‘being brave’ – one of the strands of Being Bromford.

But what is being brave? Sometimes, when thrown into a situation that holds fear and is without choice, we can respond with courage. But the brave in Bromford’s ‘Be Brave’ I believe is more about making a conscious effort to move out of whatever our comfort zone is, on a regular basis.

A recent internet definition of comfort zone described it as a ‘behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition.’ What keeps us here is more than likely either habit or irrational fear of what might happen if we step outside. In my case, I’ve come to realise that if I’m prompted, I’ll try to break the wood. But opportunities like these aren’t frequent enough and to change this, the impetus must begin with me.

I need to reject the idea of my comfort zone as a safe haven. Upon reflection it’s nurturing in the same way as a well-intended but stiflingly overprotective parent. And notice that when people stretch themselves they develop transferrable skills that they can apply to other situations. This confidence enables them to set themselves more challenging goals and to achieve them. Right now, the comfort zone is a bit less appealing than it was.

In a recent address to Bromford colleagues, our CEO recited lyrics that concluded;

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

Maybe this is my call to action to step beyond those boundaries more often.
Perhaps for all of us, this is our mission, should we choose to accept …..

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Cholesterol Confessions of a Skinny Minny – By Tanya Guest

It’s been almost 3 months since my Wellbeing Check flagged I had high cholesterol.  It was going so well: blood sugar – tick, BMI – tick, lung capacity – tick, cholesterol – high!

“Perhaps you’ve had a glass of milk before the test” the Occ Health Advisor asked. “Er, no?”, “Have you eaten some yoghurt?” “Yes, I have yoghurt every day for breakfast”  “Low fat?” “God no!  Thick and creamy, full fat every time – those low fat ones are full of goodness knows what!”  “Hmm, I see” she continued, “what about cheese?” “What about it?” “How do you eat it?” I must have looked confused because she added: “Do you grate it?”  “Erm, mostly I just chop off a chunk and eat it, but I will grate it for sandwiches”.  “Hmm” she said, “what about fat on meat – do you cut it off?”  “Heavens, no!  It’s the best bit, I eat that”  “And what about chicken, do you eat the skin?” My mind cast back to the previous evening’s meal out – chicken chasseur, covered in creamy sauce and yes, the skin was on – oh dear!  “Yes” I replied meekly, beginning to spot the trend……….. “Have you ever grilled a piece of chicken skin and seen what’s left?” she asked.  I felt my brow furrow, “no?” I ventured.  “Well, you should try it and see how much fat comes out, there’s literally nothing left, my husband feeds it to our cats.”  Slam dunk !!  “Not to worry though” she said brightly, with a few tweaks to your diet, you’ll be able to get this down naturally, without medication”.

I headed back to HR, processing the info: I probably do eat far too much dairy and I have been saying for a while I should stop eating the fat off meat but I also say that I should make more effort with my hair or paint my nails once in a while and that doesn’t get done either!

“I have high cholesterol” I tell my colleagues, “no way!” they say.

I get home from work and rummage around for last year’s Wellbeing results as I have a faint recollection that cholesterol was mentioned then.  I find them and yes, it was “slightly high”.  So, that’s it, it’s on the up – numbers don’t lie!!

I ring my dad and tell him about my cholesterol, he’s been on statins for high cholesterol for a few years and commiserated with me, telling me he thinks it’s in his side of the family.

I speak with my brother who tells me that when he had some random blood tests done his cholesterol was so high the doctor put him on statins immediately!  He’s surprised our cousin Michael doesn’t have high cholesterol as he eats all things bad, and even puts butter on his bacon and egg sandwiches!!  Hmmm, I think: I put butter on my bacon and egg sandwiches!!

I sulk all weekend.

I visit my in laws and share the story with them, father in law is also on statins for high cholesterol (does anyone have low cholesterol?!) he gives me a fact sheet he was given to help him make better choices with his diet.  My eyes scan the A4 sheet which is divided into 3 columns: eat with abundance, eat in moderation and the last column: avoid.  I realise that the last column could easily be my weekly shopping list!!

A few weeks down the line I have some blood tests done with my GP, “you’re cholesterol is higher than I would like” she says. “Isn’t it split into good and bad?”  I venture, hopefully.  “Yes, but yours has more bad – it’s a common thing with skinnies, I see it all the time” Dietary tweaks should sort me out she says and recommends some re-tests in about 6 months.

Having been in total denial and continued with my 40 odd years of eating habits, it finally takes a lamb shank to make the change.  I take a fork full of lovely juicy meat and fat and as I pass it up to my mouth I think: not the fat, quickly followed by: oh, it will be OK and that’s when I have the light bulb moment: got to start somewhere otherwise nothing’s going to change!  Brain engaged!  So I put down the forkful, discard the fat and eat the meat.  We have begun!!

Slight set back at my next grocery shop at Sainsburys, my favourite full fat thick and creamy yoghurts are 25% off!!  The aisles seem to be full of goodies that I just can’t have – this is what it must be like to be on a diet I muse – sad face L

So, I switch to soya yoghurt, I no longer slap mayonnaise all over my sandwiches switching instead to hummous, I cut the rind off bacon, stop having butter on bread, take the fat off meat, switch to skimmed milk on my breakfast cereal and no longer eat chunks of cheese – gone are the days of salami and brie on all butter croissants for Sunday breakfast!!

I am so hungry!!!  Fat, it seems, keeps you full!!  Who knew?

So, 3 months on how am I doing?  Well, I’m good thanks, my cholesterol and what I’m eating no longer occupies my every thought, I’ve got used to the new choices I make and don’t really think about it any more.

So the morale of the tale is this: I really must start making more effort with my hair!


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Are You a Generalist or a Specialist? A Question of Prioritisation

Home Improvement; Self Improvement; there is a pandemic of television programmes, DVDs and books out there, all professing to show us the correct way to live our lives. Why? I’ve a sneaky suspicion that they exist to inform, entertain and render slightly paranoid even the best of us, by giving us utopian glimpses of what we should strive for, offset against examples of the worst cases of what not to do (or wear, or cook ….).

TV programmes are the worst culprits as they infiltrate our living rooms unexpectedly, warning us of the catastrophic risks of not cleaning our homes sufficiently or eating a doughnut too many, in a way that could turn someone from being gastronomic to macrobiotic.

Don’t get me wrong. We all have our individual interests and if making your home your castle or your body your temple is your big thing then that is perfectly acceptable, admirable even. But when we are bombarded on a daily basis with reminders of how to raise our kids, dress for our body shape, reach our ideal BMI, improve our IQ and stylise our homes, it filters into our subconscious, and there it gets embedded – a vague picture in our heads of what we should be doing, but aren’t. Mingled in with all those latest catchphrases; you know the ones; no such word as can’t – be your best and raise your game.

It all adds to perceived pressure, but in my opinion, we simply can’t be everything. I’m looking at it realistically; even if I set the alarm for 6.00 am so that before I leave for work I’ve already descaled the kettle and cleaned the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, it’s still not going to leave me time to soak the mung beans and go for a morning jog.

It comes down to serious time management and prioritisation of our own values and preferences. That is why I’ve decided not to beat myself up for things I can’t achieve on a daily basis. And I’m doing this by asking myself for each particular area whether I see myself as a generalist or a specialist. If I generalise, then it’s perfectly acceptable to make some shortcuts and if I specialise I can feel proud of something I’ve achieved to a high standard.

But mentally deflating myself? That is not allowed. Come to think of it – I’m not sure there’s a TV programme on how to deal with that one yet …….

Jayne Barnsley

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Of Life, Snow and Pickled Onions

This very week in January, years ago when I was 17, it snowed. I know this because I was at the house party of a friend who was celebrating her birthday. She’d left school; I’d stayed on; but we were still in touch.

I attended with a mutual friend. As a teenager I rarely turned down an invitation for Saturday night, but when we arrived we realised that in the space of one school term things had moved on considerably. We knew no one and for some reason felt out of our depth. I’d said yes without thinking things through. Not to worry – we sat at the food end of the room, away from the snogging. Shortly afterwards disaster struck. Someone came along and placed a jar of pickled onions on a shelf just above where my friend was seated. Within seconds it had wobbled and tipped over, leaving my hapless companion with onions and cold, pungent vinegar cascading down her hair, neck, shoulders and clothes…… it was a fluke you’d be hard pressed to recreate.

I picked up the onions (no, they didn’t go back in the jar)!

She went to the bathroom to look for a towel. To her surprise there was just one, spread across a lidded laundry basket, but it had already been claimed by a large, black tom cat, who sprawled across it in territorial fashion. We asked our birthday host if there was another. She replied, rather unhelpfully, that we should use the one in the bathroom.

At this point it was blatantly clear that we should leave. We said our goodbyes and ran, shivering in the thick, slushy snow, to my house, where there was a clean towel, shampoo, hairdryer and hot coffee. My Saturday night was over but I no longer minded.

I still laugh about this and I’ve been to many parties since, some weird, some wonderful, but there’s a wider point to the tale. You see, our cameo appearance at this event taught me a universal lesson about being selective. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage into adulthood when you realise that you can make your own choices and walk away from situations that aren’t to your advantage. I went on to turn down second job interviews where I’d not liked the organisational culture (better to stay where I was and keep looking) and I was increasingly defining my own subset of wants, needs and pre-requisites. I’d changed from easily pleased to discerning.

Recently though, I’ve overturned this assumption. Things have almost gone full circle.

Here’s my rationale:

Yes, we should be selective, but the flip-side of this is that our ideas can become so preconceived that we take a one-sided view. We lose the ability to see things objectively, and ironically we also miss out on choices because we reduce opportunities that are available to us.

This January I’ve decided to turn things on their heads a little, by asking myself the question; “what will happen if”? This way, I can weigh up all the possible pitfalls and benefits before deciding.

Hopefully it’s a good way to reach the best decision. You see, I’ve learned equally that there is more than one way of skinning a cat, but it’s still sometimes best to let sleeping ones lie.

Jayne Barnsley

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