Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Down at the coalface

Day 45 (Thursday 14th January 2016)
45 rpm vinyl phonodisc records and a bakerlite player were introduced in 1949,
by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), as they were seen as being smaller, more
durable and providing a higher fidelity recording than those produced on the traditional 
phonograph cylinders or 78 rpm gramophone records made of shellac.
Jon Bartlett is the author of today's post. Jon was one of the people I got to know soon after I first joined Twitter and, as well as being in contact via social media, we now meet when we can IRL, and I am proud to call him my friend. The three glorious photographs of sky-high drama and showers of sparks like a comet's tail, used to illustrate the year just gone, are all taken by Jon - as many of you know, he is a talented photographer. You can see more of his pictures on his work website: Project Libero, as well as getting a better feeling for him and how he operates. Jon is a coach, trainer, specialist mediator, mentor and one of the UK's recognised experts on mental health and related issues within the workplace. Jon writes an excellent blog at


When I started my business I had a vague business plan about helping operational staff rather than executive teams. My experience in organisations led me to the conclusion that many of the frontline teams had management “done to them”, rather than it being collaborative or generative. I wanted to show staff how to manage upwards, how to take the initiative and become leaders themselves.

Along the way I got pleasantly side tracked into delivering a lot of training and consultancy on mental health and the organisational challenges (and opportunities) of managing this well. When I started this, I naively assumed that leadership teams would want to, well, lead on these issues. The reality was somewhat different. So as I look back and reflect on 2015 I realise how much time I’ve spent at “the coalface” this year. Not for me the comet trails of the C-suite but rather being down in the coal dust at an operational level. The place where lots of people want to see change, where they are willing to embody that change and push it upwards. With teams who are ready to seek forgiveness rather than permission.

This year

I’ve stood in front of a 15 strong SMT who all agreed that something “must be done” and were somewhat lost, until I pointed out that presumably we had all the necessary decision makers in the room…  And had their junior staff get on with setting up a knowledge sharing lunch and learn session.

I’ve had a senior operational leader discount my training to their staff as “more time with the men in white coats”….  And had their support staff make amazing adjustments to keep people on the team and bring them back to health and productivity.

I’ve heard a senior executive ponder on whether “we have those sort of people round here”….  And had 60% of their management cadre sign up for training and another 10% ask to be on a waiting list.

I don’t count those as my successes. Sure I was involved but I didn’t lead those initiatives. Good HR and L&D teams did. Motivated staff did.

My successes? Well the nature of my work these days mean that I spend a lot of time with people going through tough and frightening situations. Getting some of those people to look up and start to aim for the comet tails, for their own personal goals is reward in itself but perhaps my happiest moment was the time when someone talked to me about 10 years of self harm. The first time they’d spoken to someone other than a clinician and the trigger for them to ask for help from their employer to prevent it happening again.

All in all a successful year and with the prospect for more of the same in 2016, that’s enough to keep me chasing comets.

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