Don's Diary

June 29, 2001

Week one
Set off for "an idyllic retreat in rural Hampshire". Meet up with the other delegates on the Cabinet Office Top Management Programme. My group includes a Lloyds banker, a construction company managing director, an National Health Service task force leader and a chief executive from the Lord Chancellor's Department. Test maxim that alcohol is an executive tool. It works, we get on like a house on fire.

Off to BP Amoco for our first live case study. We divide into three groups - one heads "upstream" to a North Sea oil rig, one "downstream" to retail outlets in Madrid and the third (including me) sets off for Rotterdam and Nerefco, Europe's largest oil refinery.

Greeted with enthusiasm by the BP crew. All are impressed with the way the company's core values - to be performance driven, progressive, innovative and green - are disseminated. However, we are less convinced it is fulfilling its corporate responsibility to the environment.

Election day, back in Hampshire. No surprises save for Robin Cook's demotion, an outcome that delights a director from special intelligence. Also discover M is really called C and there is no "licence to kill".

Subdued session with the Commission for Racial Equality. Acknowledge the Macpherson report as a catalyst for change, but highlight lack of intellectual rigour underpinning the document.

Week two
Showered with gifts to excite our passion and express our love. Is this a 1960s revival? No, simply an attempt to get us out of "our river of conventional thinking" and begin questioning our behaviour. Great fun and a powerful reminder that we do not do enough to promote creativity.

Our next case study is the newly established Department for Education and Skills. Fifteen per cent of schools are "pretty disastrous", 60 per cent are "muddling through" and "the worst 15 LEAs should be shot", the ministry director tells us. Depressingly familiar. A complete absence of trust on all sides.

At dinner, the cabinet secretary weaves the domestic news from No 10 - Leo took his first steps the day after the election - with the political: apparently the PM believes that the civil service is deficient in acting strategically and undertaking project management.

Week three
Give presentation on an example of leadership and management failure - an insider's view of a university where I used to be a member. I scotch the myth that its vice-chancellor was the victim of a Quality Assurance Agency witchhunt.

"Individual number six needs to learn," the Cranfield professor intones. "Does number six wish to learn? Certainly not. Will number six learn? No." Our group try to guess the supposedly anonymous case study. The building society director is mortified. Our 360-degree appraisal feedback is under way. The trick is not to take offence but to act - quickly. I am pleased - and relieved - with the outcome. Depart exhausted but inspired.

Peter McCaffery is vice-principal,
Bolton Institute of Higher Education.

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