World Mental Health Day

WARNING : this is an emotional read

World Mental Health Day 10th October 2021. A day to raise profile of mental health issues. A day we are all encouraged to check in on each other and reflect upon ourselves.

I present my lowest day in the short-story below. The person described is gone – I stand in his place. I therefore share this as a moment long past. A little piece of my history now at peace.

Take care of yourselves. Look out for those you love. Those who may act fine. Those too proud – too unworthy – or too sunken to care – prepared to do anything but raise a hand and instead determined to be alone with their despair.

Final WARNING! – this was my lowest moment of despair

—//—

A bridge too far

A fun day.  A relived Friday to follow the last three with same upbeat revelry.  But these events, this last months’ worth, had been the first in a while.  And this one only a few days since doctors had confirmed what had been suspected.  Exogeneous depression.  A diagnosis that surprised no one when thought of retrospectively.  Circumstances made this diagnosis easy to accept in hindsight, but the demeanour of the man (me) was such that surprise to many it still was.  A stubborn resilience, at least on the surface. Typical of middle-aged men – hiding all until eventually broken – revealed.  Unavoidably, it was forced into view.

This trip along the Thames walkway had been made hundreds of times.  It was a commuting option often taken in the summer, from the insurance district of EC3 to London Bridge.  This evening however, drunken euphoria and prolonged endorphin rushes of laughter, were all too quickly being replaced with the sobering melancholy of life and challenge.  I stopped at the railings of the tow path.  There was estuary salt, diesel, and demons in the air.  A blanket of gloom descending like the pea-souper smog of London’s distant industrial past.  A thick imagined smog, now resting upon my shoulders, pushing my head forward and all hope back.

Onward a few paces and I am surprised to be looking into eddying waters below.  The steps leading back up to London Bridge pass over a narrow inlet, where the river draft was deeper.  The clop-clop sound echoed below. The ozone heavy air lifting a faint smell of urine into the nostrils of unsuspecting tourists and absent minded commuters alike. Keeping good cheer subdued.  I leaned over the metal banister. A cold imprint upon my shirt clad chest quickly prompting hands to take some weight.  The water was churning below, mesmerising, hypnotising, an anaesthetic to sombre mood.  The urine smell however was overpowering, and reason enough to walk on.

Crossing London Bridge could present challenge or wonderment in equal measure.  There was a rush north in the morning, and a rush south at 6pm.  At these moments you walk against the flowing stream with care or impudence, but either way can be assured of a healthy shoulder charge somewhere along the way.  This time of night however was easier to navigate – other than the odd meandering homebound reveller or two to second guess and steer clear.  These are the moments for a wonderment. A look over to the left offers a reward that many forget to claim.  For Tower Bridge with a moon behind, or just lit up by standard lights, is a view many pay to see just the once.  I typically took this in, but today was not one of those moments.  My mind was awash with devilry, hopelessness, and despair.  I halted short of the far end.  I was still on the bridge. I had not yet past the crowd control barriers and concrete blocks – state paid vandalism now littering many of London’s streets – the new anti-terrorism norm.  I was leaning over the thick wall, hoping to once again be swept into the hypnosis of eddying waters below.  No such luck this time though, for low tide on this side of the bank meant mud flats, and ebbing waves.  “No matter”, I thought as a I maintained a downward glare. 

Except it did matter for some reason.  I took several sideways steps along to where the water was imagined to be still, and black, and undoubtedly cold directly below.  I leaned over and stayed starring into the black.  The mesmerising eddies were what I had hoped to see, but instead the blackness, the stillness, held all my thoughts in suspended moment.  There was a stillness that appealed.  A silent emptiness. No feelings of duty, obligation, or expectation.  It was intoxicating against the drunken ramblings in my head. The replayed discussion being reworked, rephrased, in the echo chambers in my mind.  All had quietened. All was still. No thoughts of deadlines. No concerns for what medical need awaited at home. No to-do-list of pointless chores.  It was a peace.  It was my sweet silent siren to the fallen.

That’s the moment it appeared. The temptation to make good on promises of recent past.  More spontaneous than a hangman’s rope, I thought.  Less violent than opened veins.  Less fashionable than being ripped up under the wheel sets of a train.

I did not even notice when my feet had left the ground. Leaning over so far that the corners of the thick metal topped wall were pressing hard against my pelvis  I seemed to be allowing the sirens to win this time, and there was nothing within finding means to intervene.

A bus roared past and sounded its horn.  Pulling my mind back from the black and filth below.  Standing back a little from the barrier now.  My adrenaline fuelling a sobering but befuddled and despairing mind. I digested what had just happened.  This one had been different.  This one was not a cry for help, this one was a willingness to maybe just let go.  This realisation made quite the impact.  Not the messy, muddy, emergency services called impact.  A cerebral shock moment. A beacon or alarm that therapy had given warning to.  But only in this moment had my realisation of possibilities of self-harm truly been understood.

My quiet mind began to race again. Can I even get onto a train now without fear of temptation’s return? It’s not even 11pm yet, so maybe I can just get to the station and think it through.  Possible dangers were recalled. Those macabre secretly imagined options – of terminal methods and means – held in mind on those bad mornings as I wrestled to get out of bed. I did have a winner in mind, and knots in old rope lay as evidence of same. Knots learned in my youth, mostly in jest. The other options were all at home too so each was slowly swept away as no threat here and now. The only one of concern was my least likely to enact. Train track death was concluded to be a rotten way to go.  So, my decision to board a train was quite straight-forward. Diving under one had been dismissed in every scenario I had contemplated.

Now however was the bigger question.  For I now had to admit something new to myself.  A questions now answered, or an answer now changed.  Suicidal thoughts had just been scaled up.  Ticks in boxes not ticked before. There were twenty-five minutes of a train journey to debate the next move.  And they were all used with a trembling finger hovering over the Samaritan helpline already logged in my iPhone.

As I pulled up at my station, a decision had been made.  iPhone back in pocket.  It was time to come clean. To make good on better recent promises – those of transparency.  Already a month into therapy, but now a less guarded discussion was going to be had.  And it was going to be had as soon as I got home.

From my journal

—//—

That event was a Friday in July, 2019. Today I am pretty much back to a fully recovered state of mental health. Normal. No easy journey, but the subsequent bounce back reflects the depths of the fall.

Normal – whatever that may mean. I am still on 100mg of Sertraline a day. Those London Bridge beers were my last. I meditate or contemplate every morning. My twice a week therapy is now just once a month. All now just part of life – just like the gym is for some – a place of transformation becoming part of the maintenance routine. I work hard to be fine. I now know how. I have a clarity on my why.

Journaling is also part of my new normal. Blogging a natural progression to take. I have been writing daily for nearly two years. It was late January 2020 that this short-story appeared. It is all true. Detailed to ensure it stays real. It was the first moment I felt bold enough to replay this event in full. To face it. Own it. Understand it. Accept it. Accepting me. And now daily, knowing a little better the best version of that I can be.

Normal blogging resumes again tomorrow. The Samaritans own this story now. I just wanted to give it some World Mental Health Day context and air.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Personality or group?

Here is sneak peak at the introductory remarks in my social psychology discussions this week. Already putting what I thought I knew on shakier ground.

Behaviour first

The work of the Behaviourists. Pavlov may ring a bell but this moved into areas of positive reinforcements before becoming more integrated with less observable matters such as feelings and belief. Or the social learning theory which still feeds the perhaps exaggerated thinking that we imitate what we see e.g., TV violence makes us violent. None of these theories seem central to what I am being prepared to learn next.

Cognition first

Cognitive theories are still on trend. It is being taught as a separate subject this term in its own right. It is also dominant in social psychology where our cognitive processes may translate into attitudes, the modelling we initiate, and behaviours they influence.

Related perhaps is the neuroscience that gives markers and imagery of brain activity. And biochemical interactions within the brain or hormonal markers we can extract. All being considered against associated socialised thinking and behaviour.

Genes first

Evolutionary theories where perhaps particular traits or complex social behaviours offered advantage to some who became genetically dominant.

Group first

Or this final either/or reflection which really caught my attention tonight. Whether the individualistic traits or personality differences we all consider to be settled science are anything but. That perhaps it is not our personality that determines how we behave in socially constructed groups. But that it is the socially constructed groups that we then internalise and by which become behaviourally normalised to us. We all behave differently in situationally determined ways. That is current research and exploration at large in the evolving science of psychology.

Are we managing our projects, or our projects managing us?

Just as our project management world is beginning to embrace trait theory. Our red leaders in DISC, or our ENFJs in Myers Briggs. Our Big 5s and our psychometric tests. Just as our projects start adjusting our behaviours to account for our traits, is psychology going to turn us about? To tell us we need to adjust to our projects, as it is our social groupings that are determining how we behave? Not starting with how we behave, or the traits we think we own, but determining how the projects we inhabit influence how we behave.

Stay sceptical and look up

All I know for sure right now is my “mediator” traits, as both an Enneagram Type 9 and Myers Briggs INFJ, are both seeking to diplomatically find some middle ground. My DISC yellow is just enjoying the chance to talk it through. But just like Arthur C Clarke, we both draw the line at star-signs. Both being Sagittarius we are far too sceptical to fall for that…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

v | b | t in research projects

How was the first week back in big school?

This MSc is going to be a little different. Here’s a few early observations about being back at university again.

42 students together in spirit. Globally spread. No lecture theatres. No face to face time at all. This is designed to be a remote access, part-time, anytime course. It seems to be a great way to learn.

My first week in psychology, and immediately being pulled away from my understanding of psychology so far. I was all about Jung vs Freud, trait theories, psyche and Self. Early modules are promising Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, and a double helping of research method and advanced stats. This is going to be different.

I have a personal tutor. My third visit to university, but my first tutor that is formally assigned to me. Normal practice at Nottingham. Certainly not seen before by me. This is going to be different.

The introductions to each subject have dived straight into the discourse. The contemporary debates. The touch points with other disciplines. The cut and the thrust. Sociology sits here, psychology sits there. Or do they? What an insightful way to start. This is going to be different.

All in all I am pretty happy with what I’ve seen. There is energy. There is freshness. Contemporary papers immediately in hand. Experiment and free discussion, psychological safety to throw around ideas. The standards are high. The discourse necessarily hard. This is going to be different.

v | b | t

Visibility seems high. Behaviours expectant, challenging – but with controls intentionally set to safe-mode. No doubting the trust. The selection process was thorough, and we now seem in the best of capable hands.

Against such scrutiny, access to learning, and contemporary challenge and research now at my door, the biggest threat to v | b | t right now is probably the concept and all its hidden flaws…

This is going to be different.

Already I think, so am I.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Giz-a-job, Mister

The answer was the question

1994. How quickly I forgot how hard that first step was. To land that first job. Looking back at my old notes, this is why.

Amongst my old papers, where long-lost school certificates lay hid, lay a small note book I had completely forgotten. Through half a dozen double pages it reflects a few life lessons I had to learn.

I share these brief notes. Maybe someone out there is also pushing hard at locked doors. Maybe this story can offer a little cheer. Reason to keep knocking. To persevere. You never know what is around the corner. Or what you are learning along the way.

Yellow Pages – long lists of Ship Brokers

Easter 1994 – Portsmouth is not looking promising. ABP to Zurich, letters, calls, applications. “Try in October”, or just “no”. By July, BSc 2:2 in my hand, it’s the Central London Yellow Pages. Photocopying a whole section of the directory – ready to start making cold calls.

In 1994 calls were made at the ‘phone box. Tea breaks or quiet moments in summer jobs. Then bar work. Soon the dole. Most firms were polite – a few just hung up. Plenty offered advice. The odd CV sent, but all told me “no”.

Page after page of no
Notes are untidier but tone has changed too

By October a little progress made. Second calls. Discussions. Follow up letters and CVs. I had my first interview – speculative and in sales. 2nd interview. 3rd Interview. Fell at the last but not bad for my first show. Most shipping firms are still not recruiting. Two more interviews. A bunker barge broking firm invites me to pop in.

10th November 1994 – my Maritime Studies university have a lead. 22nd November – Interview with HR, Jardine Insurance Brokers (JIBL). Last entry 25th November – 2nd interview JIBL Marine new business Director. Soon to become was my first boss…

Favourable winds

Maybe that was just my dumb luck in the end. All those calls and in the end it is a referral from my university department. But I took on many new skills as I persevered. Cold calling was naivety. From ACM Shipping Ltd, through to Zenith Research and Shipping Services, that slowly sank in. But these became stories to tell in their own right. I did not scupper my plans. As I slowly learnt to be more strategic with my planning, my networking, my following up. The better second questions to ask.

v | b | t

My regular discussions with people full of knowledge, full of helpful advice, but no jobs to give. This was all practice, and learning more by the questions I asked. People are generally helpful and responsive to a question. It was increasing my visibility of what to expect. It was refinements of behaviours. It was trust in myself to keep going. Mostly however it was about learning. Understanding more of what was out there. What others needed. How I might fit. Why I did not.

Learning by asking

It actually mattered little how many calls I made. It matters only that I kept making them. Each discussion a new factoid, or new contact, new perspective availed. Each time a moment to learn a little more. In the end, it was the quality of my questions that improved. That was my dumb luck, and how it turned in my favour. I think that is what pulled me through. If you are not probing for that better question, what is it saying of you?

Is the answer another question?

There is much to be said of someone by the quality of their questions. I think much more so than the conviction of the response. Interviews taught me that. Thirty years later, it still pays to ask why.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Guest blogging

Project Chatter Podcast

My blog is here today. I am delighted to have been invited to guest blog with my friends at Project Chatter Podcast. Pop over and check them out. I’m still at my desk, and back here blogging daily.

This (#S4E62) was my #Fanzone appearance on their show a few months ago.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Unknown unknowns

Unknown unknowns ~ plausible deniability

Donald Rumsfeld passed away on 29th June 2021. I wrote this piece on 2nd July 2021. I chose not to join the cliché caterwauling and pithy rehashing on social media at the time. Tempted as I was. This seems a less crass moment to let this one loose. Risk and leadership sentiments co-exist here. As does what it is to be a leader, rather than simply own the title and have authority.

Donald Rumsfeld, born 9th July 1932, ended up owning “unknown unknowns” but he did not invent the term. He just showed a generation of leaders how to make it work for them. With this rediscovered slight-of-hand, our leaders now have new language to disown information gaps with ever greater ease. I argue elsewhere that it is for all of us to demand they take back this accountability, but starting with some more wholesome demands of ourselves.

Not allowing any of us to be excused. Excused when failing to comprehend how we are served, and how we ask to be lead. Life is uncertain. I argue we are all here as agents of time-bound intended change. There is reason to think we can never know all, and therefore we progress with an imperfect crystal ball. We live with risk. Unlike other animals we have means to manage it, make effort to account for it, not just react to it. We also have more means to create it from reasons unknown. In shared effort therefore, leadership is about accepting uncertainty, and being accountable for the management of unknown risk anyway.

Lucky Generals or good ones

Let me add a little historical perspective a moment. Donald Rumsfeld was many things. I would say one of those things is lucky. Not as Napoleon would have his generals but more in what deed his tombstone seems destined to have him best known. His hawkish leadership of US defence framed a career. 1975-1977 under Gerald Ford. 2001-2006 under GW Bush. That’s thirty years of adult learning. Thirty years of influence in the complexity of control and command. There are many leaders with less experience who more quickly understood their decision-making comes face-to-face with unknown unknowns. Yet that is the posthumous headline he now owns.

Great wisdoms and cliché I present more squarely toward other people’s insights. He just happened to wear the phrase at a momentous point of history. He was openly mocked. Then in time the notion he spoke was given new air. And with it better understanding, perspective, and now a societal acceptance anew. The are always unknown unknowns. What stuck to Rumsfeld is a classic tipping point in action. He had Bandwidth. Connectivity. Relevance. Which in time is heard with resonance. And ultimately realisation. He became the inadvertent agency of this truth. The catalyst to transmission and with it a change.

Excuse me

We now have shared awareness and acceptance of unknown unknowns. But what is less clear to me is our collective understanding of that truth. If anything, it has become a transmission of a new excuse. To the decision-maker wannabes who feed upon statements like “how were we supposed to know that?”. The furtherance of career self-defence. An enabler to park tough decisions. Or defer to “the science” to ensure leadership is offered without risk of blame.

This is isn’t about you, it’s all about you

So says a man who knows what it is to be a leader. So all you wannabes of power out there. Be careful what you wish for. Because we’re learning. Soon we’ll be measuring. And then accountability will be coming back, ready or not.

We know you do not know. Yet we still expect you to serve us in your leadership. There is no delegation of blame.

Leaders must know that unknown…

RACI to the top

We are all responsible to uphold accountability better

Accountability – not a pass down but maybe its a pass-back.

This is a long read. It has been a long write. If you invest a little time with this paper you may come away with new and challenging questions for your client or your boss. If you are the client or the boss, you may find reason to take these same questions and ask them to whomever that is to you.

The project management and organisational tool principally addressed in this article is collectively referenced as a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), of which the RACI is perhaps most generally referred. RACI is further detailed herein.

Introduction

If you initiate a project – but have need of expert others to deliver it for you – what happens to the accountability?  Who owns the success or failure in realising the change intended by this project aim?  Is your accountability able to be delegated?  Has your accountability been passed down from your boss? What about the responsibility for specific stages or tasks within the project?  Is this the same thing?

As leaders or managers, if we do not clearly define roles and hierarchy in what we oversee, we fail.  If delegations are assigned without defined parameters of autonomy, we fail.  All attempts at management of projects, risk and people become incomplete.  Implementation of internal controls; assessment of capability; adequacy of resource; assurance of governance; decision efficacy; all becomes inherently fragile, confused, and incomplete.

This article gives background to how our project literature, industry, and our academic class represent the means of defining roles between project actors.  It highlights where some of this thinking funnels us into a colloquial interest mindset, and with some of the contemporary academic research to hand, I present what appears a rather dramatic example of modal confusion.  Dramatic because it seems almost universally framed.  The good news is, a simple solution is available, and one practicable without much change to existing tools or practices required.  Tools such as RACI can be better framed, better contextualised, and keep us all actively part our project(s); not sitting at distance with our divided interests to defend.

One academic perspective

A clarity of what academic literature presents in addressing these questions has been prepared by a series of peer reviewed published work of Steve McGrath and Stephen Whitty from the University of South Queensland. Writing a number of related papers from 2015 to 2020 in the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business. In 2018, McGrath and Whitty outlined the sparsity of literature attempting to examine accountability vs responsibility. This paper specifically sought to clarify meaning for these two terms.  Beginning with an extensive database interrogation of 48,006 search results; reduced to 426 peer reviewed original articles; each with relevant responsibility or accountability context.  Of these 426 articles only two were determined to offer suitably generic definitions.  These two articles were Ieraci (2007) and Cornock (2011), (McGrath et al 2018, pp689).  Their 2018 paper was a follow up to McGrath and Whitty (2015), where the wider subject of definition confusion had been applied to governance more generally.

The following extract presents a useful context for this articles UK focus, taking us right back to historic origins.

The system of government in Britain, following sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymead, evolved over centuries by way of constant tension between King, Nobles, the middle class and the Church (Macfarlane 2000). There was a constant struggle for power within an institutional system where no one group could ever completely dominate the others, as happened with monarchies in Europe until the French revolution. So, accountability was embedded within the British system via a means of everyone protecting their interests, rather than via any moral obligation on a king to ‘be good’.  The concept of accountability is highly relevant to organisations whose shareholders (or taxpayers or members) need to be able to hold their agents to account and with whom there is some form of obligation or contractual or legal relationship or responsibility. Introducing the concept of accountability at this point is a suitable means to accommodate the change in boundary conditions that adding the prefix ‘organisational’ to the word ‘governance’

McGrath and Whitty, (2015 pp780)

This 2015 paper concludes that we need to account for hierarchy or levels of governance that exists.  Therein, better definitions can “separate the how (governance and process) from the what (content and strategy); remove the incompatible influence of competing frameworks; [and] do not confuse or mix (subversive) democratic and authoritarian artefacts (competitive and cooperative structures)”  (ibid pp785).  Of the areas of potential definitional confusion, “responsibility and accountability” are stated expressly (ibid, pp786).  This then connects to their follow up paper of 2018 from which I draw upon in application to commercial projects, particularly those of large scale construction..

Here are the definitions of accountability and responsibility McGrath and Whitty (2018) present. I short-cut over a significant and thorough examination of lexicographic and academically derived appropriation of best fit. Definitions as follows:

Responsibility: an obligation to satisfactorily perform a task

Responsible: accepting responsibility i.e., accepting an obligation to satisfactorily perform a task.

Accountability: liability for ensuring a task is satisfactorily done

Accountable: having accountability i.e., having liability for ensuring a task is satisfactorily done

McGrath et al (2018 pp701 – 702)

McGrath et al (2018) then further indicate that sources of liability referred could reflect origins of organisational, legislative, contractual, or informal (in social setting) as a wide array of possible source.  However, in attempting to reflect this transient nature of accountability through these levels of organisational or contractual management, this makes any universal tool open to misunderstanding or confusion (ibid pp702).  It is therefore recommended by McGrath at al to exclude accountability from RAMs completely, separately noting formal localised accountability in a separate matrix if such a need still exists (ibid pp703).

Professional bodies perspective

In conclusion to the McGrath et al 2018 examination of accountability and responsibility, the 2018 paper’s constraints of enquiry are again presented, “…this paper dealt solely with the question of definition and made no comment on any other normative aspects of responsibility or accountability as applied to any field.” (McGrath et al 2018 pp705).  For context therefore, I present some additional examination of industry text as applicable to UK Project Management.

What follows is critique I have prepared for contemporary context, plus summary of findings from McGrath et al of earlier versions. I have critiqued the most recent Book of Knowledge from the APM, 2019.  McGrath and Witty (2018) have critiqued PRINCE2, and PMI, 2004 (as the earliest origins of PMIs use of RACI language defined below).  A summary of each critique is offered here.  I finish this section with some specific observations related to the UKs HM Treasury 2020 Construction Playbook.

Association of Project Management

The 2019 version of APMs Book of Knowledge (AMPBoK) principally addresses accountability as part of Governance.  A responsibility assignment matrix is referenced as the tool which clarifies role accountability and responsible for activities and decisions (page 32).  Governance informing delegated authorities and escalations.  The term accountable is used 14 times, accountability 15.

The Sponsor is accountable for realisation of benefits and validity of business case.  Potential for delegation or independent check is acknowledge (page 40, 44).  In deciding to continue across decision gates, sponsor and the wider governance board are accountable (page 77), the sponsor is then accountable to ensure authorities are in place as compliance requirements of teams (page 77), governance (page 32, 40, 233), decision communication (page 200), tracking benefits (page 10, 92) and close-out reports, perhaps as delegated responsibility via a PMO (page 96).  The transient nature of accountability that is permitted by this APMBoK therefore at odds with the shifting between organisational levels that McGrath et al are seeking to avoid (McGrath et al 2015 pp703).

In my view, the APMBoK is not intending to address the interface into construction.  It instead parks up on the edge of the construction phase, but does not drop into this space.  It separates the contractors ‘project’ (page 24) and Section 4.3.2 Contract Management presents a series of controls and contract management supports but with client in mind (page192, and figure 4.3.2).  A principal contractor’s engagement of second or third tiers of suppliers is further acknowledged (page 38) but only considered in terms of balancing internal organisational talent development. This seems an important omission to raise, as I believe much of the modal confusion I write of elsewhere see construction folk talking to buyers of their services in the same language but with different levels of hierarchy on their mind.

To this end the APMBoK reference to a responsibility assignment matrix (page 32) is perhaps also intended to be through this narrower lens.  The APMBoK use of the term Accountability presents further reason to suppose this is the case.  Different people may have accountability for permanent and temporary organisational structures (page 46, 24), embedding change, or extending life-cycle, may require retained accountability of a project team (page 92, 211), accountability for achieving the project success criteria at time of project handover resting with the project manager and thereafter benefits realisation with the sponsor (page 154).

In APMBoK language this enables accountability to therefore be separately identified at two or more levels.  First, the organisational level that much of our project management literature truly focuses upon.  Second, the construction contract becomes an interface by which we can separate the “temporary organisation structure”, in place to deliver this phase. Accountability free to move across these interfaces. This is problematic, as McGrath et al would agree.

PRINCE2

Defined roles and responsibilities are one of 7 principles of PRINCE2, it is also the focus of their organisation theme.  In my opinion PRINCE2 is not a useful reference point for construction project management. It lacks a clear means to manage the interfaces of key project phases like Construction, where significant and influential factors of control would be passing over commercial boundaries.  Notwithstanding, McGrath et al (2018) references to PRINCE2 conclude it is failing to make adequate distinction between responsibility and accountability (ibid pp689).

PMI 2004 and RACI

McGrath and Whitty (2018) present the PMI PMBoK (3rd edition 2004 pp206), in reference to the responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) commonly known as RACI.  This edition being the first introduction of the RACI model. As McGrath (ibid) explain, RACI is coded:

R = Responsibility

A = Accountability

C = Consult

I = Inform

McGrath et al then offer a case study where the A for Accountability becomes problematic. The modal confusion I reference elsewhere evidenced by an example of a multi-functional Government Department.  McGrath et al explain the department’s attempts to apply such a RACI matrix across management levels within the organisation was frustrated by the difficulty in applying accountability at more than one level.  Only resolved when attempting to address RACI differently as it is expanded into a multimodal form.

HM Government Construction Playbook

UK HM Treasury, Infrastructure and Projects Association, “Construction Playbook” version 1.0 was issued December 2020.  Herein “the Playbook”.  This is the most contemporary document reflecting how government are now setting themselves up to procure construction. In the UK this playbook is how construction projects are intended to be brought to market.  This is what it has to say about roles and responsibilities.

According to the Civil Service Chief Operating Office, Alex Chisolm, the Construction Playbook reflects upon the delegation of responsibilities and working together, aligning efforts, and ensuring actions are consistent and reinforced and is “the result of extensive collaboration from across the public and private sectors to bring together expertise and best practices” (ibid pp1).

I read the motivation in the Playbook to be not one of granular operational clarity, but rather of general representation of role allocation within Government areas. Policy 4 of 14, is “People and Governance” (pp28).  This section addresses compliance, approval processes, Senior Responsible Owners (SROs), cross-functional teams, Major Projects portfolio, and opportunity framing workshops.  This is supported by cross-reference to an appended introductory section (pp72 ff) which includes Figure 4 outlining roles and responsibilities (ibid pp73).

Accountable Senior Role Owners (SROs) are said to own the business case but the language used within the Playbook here indicates the same interchangeable use of both accountability and responsibility that McGrath et al had observed as a hitherto normalised conflation of different terms.  Page 26 of the Playbook, the introduction of the Senior Responsible Owners and Cross-Functional teams, states “Project or programme senior responsible owners (SROs) own the business case and are accountable for delivery of the project or programme and its benefits and outcomes. They should fully understand the governance and approvals process and commit sufficient time to lead the project or programme through approvals and delivery.” (ibid, page 26).

What should also perhaps be noted here is the intended cross-functional interactions between central and local government outlined in the Playbook.  Page 72 presents additional explanation as to whom the Playbook is aimed at, and the list reflects the areas of Commercial, Financial, Project Delivery, Policy, and wider professional parties.  The Playbook addresses all professionals across the contracting authorities “who are responsible for the planning and delivery of public works projects and programmes”.  These aims go on to state “the key is ensuring that we have joined-up teams with input from the right functions early in the process”. Nor is this Playbook to be read in isolation.  Approvals follow HM Treasury Green Book and Orange Book requirements.  Accordingly, the Playbook is also presented as a useful reference for others with decision-making, approval, or assurance need.  This list includes Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Accounting Offices, Commercial Directors, project sponsors and SROs (ibid pp73).

For this Playbook, the key delineations of ownership are within figure 4, pp71.  The acronym OKUA is used:  Owner (or Joint-Owner); Knowledge experts; Understanding; Awareness.  Ownership can therein be split between several functions with J-O used to indicate cross-party sharing of Ownership.  Reading from this figure 4, it is of some note that the Commercial function has at least part ownership to all but three of the 14 categories; sharing four of these with Programme and Operations, and two of these with Finance. McGrath et al (2018), advise us to avoid shared allocations as it relates to Accountability (to which I would infer Ownership within the OKUA best reflects). 

The final observation to reflect here is that the OKUA matrix in the Playbook is therefore only representing the functions of Public Sector.  The external delegations between contracting authorities and the supply chain are dealt with in Policy 6.  This is entitled, “Effective Contracting” (pp38 ff).  Allocation here is in the context of procurement strategy and specifically which party (e.g., contractor or architect or the Contracting Authority) is to be made responsible for design, coordination, and integration (ibid pp41).  Contracting strategy thereafter requires documenting decisions on contractual roles and responsibilities (ibid pp42).

Combining these accounts into one

The Playbook is offering a distinction between what is being delegated by contract, and what is being allocated by the OKUA metric.  If working from highest levels of interests to lower, the Accountability appears to be OKUAs “Ownership” as allocated, most frequently, to the Commercial department.  Policy 6, “Effective Contracting”, the transferred Responsibility.  Liability for a project phase may legally transfer across this boundary, but the distinction I make here is the accountability beyond what may or may not have legal application.  It is from this position I believe we can seek to use RAM and/or RACI in a multi-layered way to these construction projects being procured via this Playbook. The interpretation of RACI however, needs to then be understood against these wider ownerships. Key to using RACI across these projects is how the Ownership aka Accountability is considered from layer to layer of project organisation, hierarchy, and onward transmission through an elongated construction supply chain.

Accountability only travels up | Responsibility is what is passed down

In cross-reference to both Ieraci (2007) and Cornock (2011), McGrath et al (2018) recommendation pp704 is to keep Accountability separated when using a RAM.  Instead, we can adapt the A in RACI, to mean having the delegated Authority and/or power of Approval.  The example by McGrath et al is a Project Manager in public sector who has authority to approve specific levels of work but not all.  This is as distinct from being Accountable. Accountability does not feature in the RAM. I would argue nor does Accountability move from the Owner roles stated in the Playbook OKUA. What is delegated is authority, or approvals. As McGrath et al argue, attempts here are therefore to create universality of labelling not meaning (McGrath 2018 pp 704).

The context of project then becomes important. For purposes of clarity between contracting parties, the Accountability of the project success sits with the Project Sponsor.  The Project Sponsor however is operating within the parameters of the authority or approvals the power above them has delegated. This continues back up to the OKUA level where the Ownership or Accountability still ultimately resides.

Stepping across this commercial boundary from Project Sponsor to the Construction Contractor, authority and approvals have also been passed via the terms of the contract of construction. This is when the recognition of project as having a nuanced meaning is important. It may be that the Construction supply chain deem this collective of construction activity to be their project.  In which case any discussion by parties within this construction project will be looking to their most senior person as the accountable role.  However, if responsibility matrices are being prepared that are to be shared with the Project Sponsor, and their engagement with this Construction supply chain as tier one, tier two, tier three, etc., it can only be the Project Sponsor who is being deemed to be accountable.  The most senior person within the Construction supply chain is now the first recipient of the delegated authority to act on behalf of the Project Sponsor.  They may have approvals to conduct their business as they see fit, and within legally defined terms they have accepted financial consequence in failing to do so, but that is not to excuse the Project Sponsor of accountability in the context of the project success.  If this subtlety can be accommodated across the layers of project hierarchy, a RAM becomes a tool able to transverse these layers and become a shared tool accordingly.  From within a project boundary the top most position may have accountability.  But when looked upon from outside in, this is Approval or Authority, and the accountability sits there above.

Why is this so important?

This creates a clarity.  Precisely what RACI as a tool is supporting across the project framework of critical controls .  It is the antidote to what obfuscates defensive decision-making (Gigerenza 2014) or any attempts to filter blame.  It places more demands upon the Project Sponsor which compels behaviour reflective of their role.  They re-enter the discussion of what is to be reported but also what it is they can add to the process in what is to be monitored.  What is to be checked by independent means, and why.  Crucially, they are required to have interest and ownership of the control environment of which this RACI is a part.  To be invested in the welfare and effectiveness of the project partners they engage.  No longer is it acceptable to say, “I did not know”.  If you chose not to look, not to ask, not to make sure, that is for you as the Project Sponsor to explain, not be the means to apply the blame. Accountability does not transfer with the contract, the interest in the contract succeeding becomes more important than how the contract can pass the blame.

Contracts remain, but alongside controls

We currently use contracts to replace trust.  That is a poor substitute when the benefits of the project are necessarily put first.  No legal changes to frameworks or duty of care are envisaged.  However, the wider control environment becomes more important than the financial security of the contract.

v | b | t

This amendment to RACI is intended only to change behaviour and attitudes towards the wider project controls.  Particularly in positions of leadership and authority.  If we insist on knowing what the accountable person is doing to safeguard both project aims and all parties within, we can evaluate them based upon v | b | t .

We have means to ask more pertinent questions.  As project sponsor what gives you adequate visibility?  How has the project framework of controls been necessarily attended to, to identify the range of behaviours possible across the project actors?  Are both appropriate to the level of trust you share?  Has procurement strategy and control framework of project been considered to best protect both project aims and all actors involved.  Demonstrate the concern for everyone’s well-being, not just your own.

McGrath and Whitty remarks to conclude

The extension of these same ideas are motivated from precisely the conclusions McGrath et al (2018) make themselves.  The conclusions of McGrath et al read much better than I could offer.  Accordingly, I will lean again upon them for the last word.

Adoption and use of the refined definitions developed in this paper, together with alteration of the “A” in the RAM RACI code from accountability to approve, can provide clarity of meaning, avoiding uncertainty, confusion, and misunderstanding. This can benefit the community in general and project management practitioners and researchers in particular, saving time, resources, and money.

Through providing greater clarity, these findings also have the potential to improve project delivery through benefiting organisational recruitment, selection, and induction process, providing a basis for motivating and rewarding employees and assisting with staff termination processes. They can also potentially result in greater clarity in contracts, potentially minimising disputes during and after project delivery.

Successful application of the definitional refining method also indicates its potential suitability for application to other contested terms.

McGrath and Whitty, 2018, pp706

Credit and acknowledgements

Much of this article is influenced by the McGrath and Whitty papers of 2015 and 2018 referenced below.  I would encourage a wider read of McGrath and Whitty’s work.  Much of their recent work is freely accessible via Google Scholar, I also provide the link to the published version via Emerald of the 2018 paper.  Access to APM PRINCE2, and PMI BoKs are subject to the terms of each organisation.  The UK Construction Playbook is a matter of public record at Gov.uk

References:

Stephen Keith McGrath, Stephen Jonathan Whitty, (2015),”Redefining governance: from confusion to certainty and clarity”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 8-4 pp. 755 – 787

McGrath, SK., Whitty, S,J. (2018), “Accountability and responsibility defined”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 687-707. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-06-2017-0058

—//—

Further research:

These notes are part of a wider ongoing enquiry into seeking better collaborative ways to facilitate more successful project outcomes.  Using critical controls and tools beyond project contracts, of which a RAM or similar is assumed to be a central part.  Additional research will revisit more specific construction industry literature and guidance.  Wider modelling from psychology are also intended to be introduced.  In the interim these notes are my current findings which have further highlighted where visibility | behaviour | trust also play a part.

Disclaimers:

It should be noted that these notes have been written with an intended academic rigour.  No original work is claimed here, other than practical application of existing academic literature.  This article has not undergone any form of peer review, nor subjected to supervision by anyone with Doctorial or equivalent qualification or experience, or therefore vetted by the ethical standards of a university body.  Stephen McGrath has been made aware of these notes for information, but no representation is made to his approval, or my authority to write in his name.  I have made all attempt to therefore present a visibility of sources and behaviours I consider appropriate to academic writing.  However, judgements upon the academic merit or trust to all content herein, are yours alone to make.

—//—

About the Author:

Warren Beardall MSc, BSc (Hons) MIRM

Managing Consultant, MYR Consulting (Europe) PTY Ltd.

In my consulting work with tier one construction contractors in the UK, the clarity of role allocation is an integral part of the critical control environment being assessed. This paper integrates my own learning in facilitating this consulting, with the detailed examinations of the academic and industry practice I research.  It presents an argument as to why I think modal confusion confronts our industry when these tools are applied.

For twenty years, MYR Consulting (Europe) PTY Ltd and our parent company in Australia, have been helping clients mitigate their risk of professional error.  Often our engagements begin with an introduction via Professional Indemnity insurers.  Sometimes we are invited in before such needs arise.  I would summarise our involvement as helping highly capable people and their internal control environments to be a cohesive whole.  The controls helping the people, the people challenging and determining best practice the control environment reflects.  Both aimed toward the consistent success of the design management processes they support, and the projects they form part.

Within this consulting work, role clarity is an integral part of de-risking process for the benefit of both the company and the wider project outcomes they serve.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Your written word

Remember son, your words travel further than you…

This is the single best piece of advice I have been offered. The best from a long list of the good. Presented to me by my father, when I was still at school.

This was in the 1980s. Long before our written word became the default communication in everyday life. No social media. No email. The days of the telephone as a device intended for speaking, not committing text to the whole world. Your word was in letters, in memoranda, in essays, briefing notes, and reports. Handwritten. Maybe typed. Your words travel further than you – was advice reflecting the care needed in formatting, grammar, clarity, and impressions of professionalism in yourself. Now, it is advice to wear in all of life.

This evening I find myself looking in some wonderment – again – at comments on LinkedIn. Wonderment that my own views must age me, and perhaps define me. At least by the default position I take in communication. It reflects other discussions (mostly verbal) I have had with people seeking my advice. People I have mentored or managed. People I have coached, guided, or just advised via passing remark.

Here is the Linkedin post as to present full content and context. This is what had me a little baffled, tonight. It is written by one of the editors on LinkedIn news.

OMG, my boss follows me on Insta

It’s not uncommon to befriend your colleagues, and many workers follow each other on social media. But what happens when a follow request from the boss lands in your notifications? It turns out, workers are a little more nervous about opening that door into their personal lives, according to a recent study. But it’s “become increasingly unavoidable,” writes Insider’s Sawdah Bhaimiya, who shared these tips on keeping your feed appropriate:

– Know your company’s social media guidelines and culture.

– Consider cleaning up your social media history.

– “Moderate yourself.”

– Keep politics to a minimum.

– Ask yourself if you would say it to someone’s face before posting

Kelli Nguyen editor of LinkedIn News

All comment and advice I think valid and sensible. But for me this is part of wider lessons to learn. Whether on social media or otherwise, always have in mind, your words travel further than you. So now do your images.

Would you say it to someone’s face, is a good question. In the project world when negotiations or critical debates are on email – when temperatures raising and tempers short – I warn people to beware the email bravery. It amounts to the same thing. But also imagine your images or words being shown to your grandmother, or being read at an employment tribunal, or presented as the last thing you said – at your wake. Your words travel further than you, and by extension talk on your behalf when you are not there.

v | b | t

To expand the point, here is the one example I have been using for twenty years. My adaption of the best of advice given to me. In keeping with this blog series, I have found means to frame this example around the three categories of visibility | behaviour | trust

Visibility | b | t

Claire Swire. That is the name I always send people away to look up when I am needing to make this point. This was an unfortunate story from twenty years ago. It went viral as a story. Indeed that was the story. I need say no more. The story is still highly visible and easy to find. It is also debateable as to whether all accounts are true.

v | behaviour | t

The flip side of that same story is the alleged post event behaviours of the parties involved. But also the immediate aftermath and longer lasting impact of impressions social behaviours can leave. True or in jest, the exponential click bait this became was most certainly for real.

v | b | trust

Trust could be considered in many ways here. First, there is contemporary debate as to whether this story is just an early example of fake news. Fact or fiction, it serves to reflect wider issues of trust. Trust between friends breached. Trust in a safe environment misplaced. The trust between employee and employer via vicarious reputations. When name and disrepute can be used in the same sentence, other terms like appropriate conduct or wilful misconduct, may divide whatever trust employee and employer may have otherwise assumed.

The actor in the show

Across all three of these v | b | t metrics, it becomes less relevant whether you have given tickets to an audience, or whether a wider audience have somehow found their own way to your stage. The visibility of your behaviour is increased when freely offered in writing – or any media form you choose to symbolise and express your life – never truer now that our platforms of communication are public and multimodal and one influencer away from being viral. You have no control over where your word goes. The only control is the words that you print, and pictures you post.

The witness or the voyeur

From the other perspective, and still using v | b | t , what behaviours are reflected in trying to connect on social media like Instagram? Consider the trust and closed distance assumed when social lines blur too far. How do you appear to others, when looking? What is your behaviour saying of you? What trust are you naively building in friendships, and what could you be building as different trust, better trust, in its place?

Context is all of course, but maybe – as the boss – your staff deserve some privacy. Maybe so do you. Maybe as the boss you should be thinking of the appropriate boundaries to keep. Maybe let your team have time without you. Give them space to freely talk about you, not to you. Or for a few moments, not have to suffer you at all. And accept the discussion may not always be nice. Maybe come to terms with the occasional role you play as the unifying villain, that gets everyone through. They need a leader not a friend. That’s why it gets lonely at the top. And a little creepy to stare.

This balance is hard to manage. The tyrannical boss vs the weakling boss. Only one is likely to come knocking as a friend. But so too may the master manipulator. Either way, I would prefer to be managing father to son, than as the older brother trying to rein in a sibling, or cousin, or a more intimate one. I am struggling to think why Instagram would serve any appropriate boss to employee need.

Concluding advice

To the employee therefore, be mindful of your visibility. Your words travel further than you

To the over-friendly boss, rethink your behaviour. Your actions may one day speak louder than your words

To both employees and bosses on social media, consider v | b | t. If visibility and behaviours are unfiltered, your trust is misplaced. You take unnecessary risks and leave yourself exposed. The only control you have charge of out here, is self-control. Just as it is in any public space.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The tipping point

The Tipping Point : how little things can make a big difference

Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

This blog is a brief overview of another modern day classic. It is my link to the concepts of power and influence, as central factors in time-bound intended change I have yet to formally introduce.

Three factors of extreme influence to change

Gladwell outlines three factors that can become a moment or aggregation that trigger the shift of an equilibrium, or a “Tipping Point” (TPs) of change. Namely: Law of the few; Stickiness Factor; Power of Context (pp19). The relative significance of the points, he argues, are more profound than the weighted impacts that economics may refer to in generalities, such as the 80:20 rule of relative impact (80%) by a smaller proportion of a set (20%). He advises that this is more extreme with TPs.

Each of these three factors become the individual or combined factors that describe complex and hidden determinants of epidemic change. The remainder of the book (ff pp29) introduces particular examples and what characteristics or traits come to reflect each of the three factors in turn.

Connectors, Mavens, and Persuaders

“in a given process or system some people matter more than others”, he advises. He presents examples of particular habits and traits in people that make their contribution to a change more profound.

Connectors

He outlines the small world problem “six degrees of separation” (pp34) as described by Stanley Milgram. But he points to even smaller numbers of key people through whom the many are linked via a special few he terms “connectors”. These are the transient few with skills in retaining contact to many. Page 54 he references Mark Granovetter, “the strength of weak ties”. Gladwell characterises Connectors. They are word of mouth. Socially gregarious. The centre of events. Collectors of people.

Mavens

pp60, unlike the collectors, our “Mavens” are collectors of information. From the Yiddish meaning accumulation of knowledge. They are traders or brokers or powerful databases of facts (page 69). But active in conveying it too, and for no reason other than to help. Less connected than connectors. But their word is more effective, because it is acutely informed. Nor are they persuaders.

Persuaders

pp70 our Persuaders are sales people,

“in a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks, they provide the message. Connectors are the social glue: they spread it. But there are a select group of people – Salesmen – with skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping point of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”

Malcolm Gladwell (2000) “the Tipping Point : How little things can make a big difference” pp70

The characteristics of these persuaders are offered in some detail. I was struck by how nuanced some of them were. Terms like high energy, enthusiasm, passion, and preparedness for the counter-argument seemed intuitively correct. But others (pages 78-79) such as facial cues of the seller, the associated head movements and behavioural cues of the buyer – all reinforcing the influence of message – much less obvious.

To this end, Gladwell’s brief examination of William Condon’s “interactional synchrony” (page 83) from 1966, can be reconsidered twenty years since Gladwell outlined the Tipping Point impacts. This is contemporary research and reflects current areas of enquiry in psychology. If further reading is of interest, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2021, 1–4, Interpersonal Synchrony Special Issue, from February 2021 is presenting a significant body of 21st Century research. Article entitled “Being ‘in sync’—is interactional synchrony the key to understanding the social brain?. Open access link here

The context of Tipping Point in Projects | Within Projects

The notions of power and influence are therefore introduced. The Tipping Point gives a perspective on both that I do not believe Project Management theories fully engage, particularly where risk and the powers and influences are directing project energies toward or away from success. This extends beyond stakeholder engagement, leadership or hierarchy, or command and control. These are the wider powers and more subtle influences that can be market forces, political attitudes, or other socio-economic dynamic shifts in macro-scale. Or the subtle influences and hidden power bases working unchallenged and unseen from within the culture of a project and its actors.

The impacts upon intended (or unintended) change outlined by Gladwell as connectors, mavens, and persuaders, are my first moves towards better examining these nuances alongside visibility | behaviour | trust. In the examination of Project Finance projects in UK PFI, per my 2020 MSc dissertation, the phenomena I hypothesised presents a changing risk profile that arises because of the changing influences (not necessarily power) of differing project actors over time. I argue that the early influence of senior debt lending became less, and the new influences that emerged were differently motivated, and accordingly influenced project energies toward their own goals. One possibility I am intending to revisit is whether Tipping Points can be identified to connect these more macroscale influences upon the complexity of relationships in these projects.

My early efforts to introduce systems dynamics into this idea have been thwarted by a lack of credible and common stock unit that is able to contextually transcend system interfaces. I am therefore considering whether less quantitative dependent metrics of influence may serve to demonstrate a more simple binary direction of attention towards or away from a particular project level and its associated goal.

These may direct attention in two directions, or scales:

First, into bigger organising systems – toward much weightier interactions akin to the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), which can be examined from much wider interacting systems of influence too. Or much as the Lloyds of London LMX spiral of the early 1990s, which I think presented similar examples of the effects of losing touch with exposures. Other macro-scale modelling may also resonate, although with less relevance to intended change. In oceanography for example the Ekman spiral presents surface currents acting in one direction, whilst above and at depth air and water currents are moving the opposite way – the hidden influence of the Coriolis effect demonstrated to nudge layers directionally from one to the next. This becomes part of the multimodal perspective I believe project, risk, and people management all necessarily need to become aligned towards. Each in their way able to be defined in the project vernacular I am developing and the interplays they then reflect. Can some of these resulting identified projects become understood and characterised with similar Tipping Point influences, reflecting directional interest into or away from other projects, and thereby impact risk profile and predict the range of change over time?

Second, into more contained or smaller scale concepts of influence. TPs also offer possible means to introduce another series of comparable and perhaps connected concepts of projects. The projects of mind, and projects of management. Both of which I am separately but ever comparing as modelled in Project Management and Psychology and much else beyond. The influences within.

Gladwell offers more interconnected analysis that gives me reason to keep making such comparison. Here are seven brief quotes from Gladwell (2000) that all give possibilities of directional influences; or constraints to our attentions; or attribute or trait assumed modal confusion; all of which I argue reflect the grey spaces we create through our interfaces of projects | within projects.

pp152 “…essence of the Power of Context is that the same thing is true for certain types of environments – that in ways the we don’t necessarily appreciate, our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances…”

pp158 “when we think only in terms of inherent traits and forget the role of situation we are deceiving ourselves…”

pp160 “Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is the tendency we all have to overestimate the impact of fundamental character traits and underestimate the impact of situation and context”

pp188 couples use “transactive memory” to share the burden of remembering based upon each other’s skill sets. This extends to family units. Over time efficiency is derived from specialism.

pp191 Keeping below 150 rule give organisational tipping potential to remain across shared memory.

pp257 start by reframing how you see the world…it does not afford to our intuition…

ppp258 the human communication has its own set of very unusual and counterintuitive rules.

Malcolm Gladwell (2000) “the Tipping Point : How little things can make a big difference”

This is therefore a first introduction to ideas and concepts that I will be linking to more. Many of which I am certain I am yet to even know exist. My MSc in Psychology begins on Monday, and already my access to university library resources is revealing just how much is there to be discovered. My mind and my theorising forever influenced and changed from my infinite unknown unknowns.

This one book has offered extensive connection between subjects and concepts. It has interest and knowledge and reason to revisit and rethink. It is well written, compelling in its examples offered, and subtly draws you into its persuasive undertones. Tipping Points abound, and this evening it was well worth another read.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The accountability police

A cautionary note

I suppose we can all be forgiven for being human. It is less easy to be so forgiving of those who seem less.

Who can honestly say they wish a police officer well as he finds himself sentenced to life for having used his position of authority to commit crimes against the people he is trained to protect. Women living a little more in fear, men living a little more in shame.

Right now however I sit here appalled by the same shifting of blame we see every time the latest example makes for a momentary headline in the news. I will start with my own. Not an admission of a crime but certainly a contribution to the status quo. I am a part of the society that is emerging too slowly from the misogyny of our past. We are better than that now, apparently. I certainly like to think so. I am not sure the average WhatsApp account would concur.

My own blame probably sits here alive and well somewhere. But it is my shifting of blame that I found myself doing this evening. The very thing I am blogging about and observing in others. Demanding more action orientated being mode, less blame. I bit down hard on a senior representative of an institution I deem worthy of blame tonight. His venting of anger becoming my venting back. His post, ill-advised perhaps or even a little in poor taste, but I think there are plenty in senior places who wear these same shoes. I do not think this one man deserved quite the barricade of abuse I gladly became a part.

Here’s the post, and my reply:

“I have not commented during the judicial process but now Couzens has been sentenced I can. This predator is an absolute disgrace to the police service, and I am totally ashamed that he was ever a police officer.
I am proud to carry a warrant card, but this vile individual’s abuse of that authority has cast a shadow on all those who work within policing. He has brought disgrace to our uniform.
The way he took advantage of Sarah’s trust makes me feel sick to the stomach.
No sentence will ever ease the pain for the family and friends of Sarah or undo the terrible damage this disgusting man has done. He doesn’t deserve to have another single day of freedom and I hope every day he spends in prison is a long one.
My thoughts, and those of all my colleagues, remain entirely with Sarah’s family and friends.

John Apter, National Chairman of the Police Federation, LinkedIn 30th September 2021

I must admit even a few hours later I read John Apter’s words here and cringe. Each paragraph another example of having authority not being it. Having delegated someone a position of authority that was betrayed. Having a warrant card. Having disgust, anger, pain of breached trust. All seems a little too self-orientated by half. Lacking the action orientated, calm, vision of a plan, sentiments that would give confidence that things will now get better. However, this is not his burden alone, and I am not sure my reply will motivate the actions I think necessary beyond this single leader’s brief. Not that it is even his brief.

My reply

I think the family deserve more than your anger, or the wish to be distanced from the stain on a badge.
Like any workforce, it is to be assumed all psychological conditions in the community will to some extent sit within, or develop whilst within, any institutional subset of it. As the National Chairman of the Police Federation I’d be more interested in how closely you have revisited the manner of critical controls, both local and National, and by what metrics give you a confidence or trust to think it unlikely to happen on your watch again.
Is the right framework of control able to identify “predators” within the service. Curb such behaviour by the systems, skills, training, and independent assurance across line-management, inter-company overviews, performance metrics, incident management, early warning, and lessons learned across an adapting set of processes. Processes you are at the forefront of necessary interest and leadership in its updates, efficacy, and change.
Where’s the accountability here that compels you to post what is changing? What lessons are being actively engaged. Not the scale of shame, and the offload of the blame.

My response. Hardly the diplomat I normally try to be

Did one senior representative deserve all of this? I think probably not. Worse, it does nothing positive to encourage more senior people to step up. In any walk of life how many boardroom executives do we see posting content and thought leadership. Clarity of their vision. Being visible. Showing themselves capable to lead, and behave in ways that demonstrate the positive actions of change. Restoring a little of the trust. Why should I single out one of the few who at least volunteers to step up and speak out.

What then of the institution a little closer to these action orientated responses? What of the Metropolitan Police? What was their more stage-managed press-office prepared to say today? The most action orientated statement they made is here.

Here are the actions they listed as most pressing:

publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. This will outline how we will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.   

A new established specialist Predatory Offender Units and since last November they have arrested more than 2,000 suspects for domestic abuse, sex offences and for child abuse.   

deploying 650 new officers into busy public places, including those where women and girls often lack confidence that they are safe.   

stepping up reassurance patrols and providing an increased police presence where it is most needed by identifying key “hotspot” locations for offences of violence and harassment. We are allocating officers solely for patrol in those areas.   

Understanding the concerns of women in London is really important to us and we are undertaking a range of activity so we can better listen and respond.

Metropolitan Police: our response to issues raised…(access here).

This is followed by an observation:

We expect the best of our officers and when they fall below our standards they undermine the public’s trust in us

ibid (access here).

Nothing in these actions is directed toward the revisiting of the internal control environment that intervenes when the individual fails. Am I alone in wondering what permits this simply to be a question of rebuilding trust at the front line? When clearly the trust in need of restoration is in the management and the how – not the who.

No, I think John Apter was deserving a little more latitude than I offered. The tragedy and grieving family left to be. But perhaps the visibility | behaviour | trust issues I found myself raising, and the charges I presented of lacking accountability in leadership, are probable cause for more direct questions to the wider institutions of law and order, still very much at large.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: