A blog recording the thoughts of a mum of one who does a lot of voluntary work because it's more fun than resuming her career and is a bit worried about the state of the nation.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Good to Great?

I have been reading the Book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins: it has been highly recommended by diverse friends. Once I had got over the fact that one of Jim's top eleven successful companies was Fannie Mae, the sub-prime mortgage corporation that helped bring about the whole global recession (he wrote the book 10 years ago), and another was tobacco empire Philip Morris, I began to enjoy his analysis.

Apparently there are a number of factors which an organisation has to have in place to move from doing OK to being really successful(all this is measured in financial performance terms with no reference to how caring or green it is hence the inclusion of Philip Morris where the senior staff apparently see themselves as freedom fighters!).

Successful companies have leaders who are quietly inclusive but very focused with small egos; they get the wrong people "off the bus" and the right ones "on the bus" before they decide on their strategy; they spend a lot of time debating things; and most of all they develop a "hedgehog concept". This means that they decide what they are going to specialise in by creating a synthesis of what they are passionate about, what they think they can be the best in the world at and what they can earn money from; then they stick with it.

My colleague tried applying this to our local environmental network but the synthesis of being passionate about saving life on earth, being good at getting people to do things for free (possibly not the best in the world though compared to Jesus Christ, Lord Baden-Powell, headteachers of primary schools etc.) and, err, hoping some money would come along from the Council, indicates that more synthesising is needed.

But at least I now have the winning formula to apply to my own faltering work life (I think calling it a "career" at this stage would be over-egging the pudding). I can see how women end up running very specialist little businesses eg. supplying cupcakes to the Russian embassy. I will be synthesising saving the planet, gardening, eating, chatting, correcting other people's spelling and punctuation, drinking tea and trying to spot the money and will see if it gets me anywhere.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Holiday comings and goings

At this time of year friends who used to live here come back to visit with their kids, friends pack up to leave, either permanently or temporarily, and friends reappear in time for the new school year after an absence living elsewhere.

I find it interesting to see how their children deal with the upheaval. I remember a moment of terror during my own childhood when it was suggested that we might move to Dundee. I cowered at the thought of going to a new school where I would sound funny and it would be really cold. My own daughter has announced that she wants to live in our house "forever". She finds even the idea of moving down the road deeply traumatic despite her desire for a bigger garden filled with lavish guinea pig accommodation.

Some children just don't seem bothered. My daughter was quite indignant when one of her classmates left to move to Australia last month because the girl failed to cry, unlike all those she was leaving behind, including most of their mothers. The fact that the departed one has an Australian mother and granny plus cousins and aunts, has often been there on holiday, will be living near the beach in a bigger house, presumably with masses of room for guinea pigs in the garden (or the equivalent marsupial), so presumably will feel very at home very soon, made no difference to my daughter's view of the situation.

The young visitors who seem to get the most out of the toing and froing are those who go for two to three years and come back at least once a year to visit. Their visits are a social whirl of picnics and sleepovers, and often they go into school for a day or two to rejoin their former class. They also keep in touch via their mums' Facebook efforts. I've seen several returnees slip back into the swing of things so effortlessly that it's made me wish we'd bunked off somewhere warmer for a couple of years.

The unknown timescale and destination are unsettling. One family left quite suddenly last Autumn. Their first destination was the East Coast, but it was likely to be the West Coast after the first year, or possibly they might come back again, or maybe they would go somewhere else (the husband is a change management consultant!) My friend reported that her eight year old daughter was at first very homesick for England, and then entered a state of existential crisis about where "home" was which she is only gradually emerging from now it has been decided that they are not moving on again but are staying in the same place on the East Coast.

Another friend took her children to live in Cambridge five years ago when they were eight and four. They often asked to go home (meaning the house they had sold here) for the first few months but gradually adjusted. On occasional return visits they claimed not to remember anything or anyone very much. Now they have unexpectedly come back to live here aged thirteen and nine and it feels like starting again as they haven't kept in touch with many people. (Of course you always bump into people who say "Haven't seen you for a while, what have you been up to?")

So the key to moving with children seems to be either to convince them that they are going on a series of giant holidays punctuated by yearly deja-vue trips back to school and pals, and will be returning, or to convince them that they have never been at home where you are but are now going home. Sorted!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Dripware and Dementia

Have spent the last few days in Wales helping to sort out my father-in-law's entry into residential care. He suffers from Parkinson's disease and dementia and is not easy to care for so large numbers of social workers and medical people have been involved in supporting my mother-in-law over the years.

It has felt like there has been a certain amount of resistance to taking him into full time care as he is only in his sixties and likely to be there for many years which has big cost implications at a time when the local authority and NHS are facing massive cuts. He needs medical care and close supervision and has proved difficult to manage in some of the local residential homes which he has sampled during respite breaks. I'm afraid most homes are more geared up for pleasant older ladies who enjoy singing than former engineers who are too shaky to feed themselves one day but capable of dismantling fire extinguishers and walking out and hopping on the bus because they are bored the next day!

So, having elected to accompany my mother-in-law to the care meeting, (the other option was staying at home to put flat pack furniture together), I found myself at the local hospital in conference with five psychiatric social workers and nurses. He has been attending the day centre there for several years and they have done a wonderful job of keeping him reasonably happy, partly by convincing him that he is working there as the gardener. The centre attempts to raise some money from selling items made by the attendees and I was particularly drawn to some teapots decorated with multi-coloured drips of paint. But I don't think dripware teapots are going to go very far towards funding these facilities which are sanity-saving for carers like my mother-in-law. They can only use unqualified volunteers for very limited tasks like making the tea so the Big Society can't help much.

Luckily everyone at the conference agreed that the moment for residential care had arrived. We managed to wade through the forms and find the right bank statements and letters from the benefits agency in time for him to take up a place which had come up at a home ten minutes down the road where he will hopefully be happy. However, even understanding the financial position has been difficult and led to us needing help from the Parkinson's Society who is having to negotiate with social services about how much of a financial contribution mother-in-law will have to make. I can see that volunteers who understand benefits, pensions and the difference between NHS and local authority funding are badly needed.

Meanwhile my daughter spent a dull couple of days helping with the flatpack bedroom suite and deciding which clothes her granny can make for the Build-a-Bear teddies now she has more time on her hands.....