Upside Down Management

I can’t count the number of times I’ve said that to get public service right, Guv need to put the power to change stuff in the hands of people working at the front line. Most recently, in this piece in the New Statesman, I wrote:

“You cannot fix society with computers. People fix society, if you let them. That means freeing nurses, teachers, social workers – and their clients – from the relentless tyranny of Whitehall’s cravings for ever more information. A benevolent state must have a human face, not an unblinking screen.”

So I really enjoyed yesterday’s edition of Peter Day’s always excellent In Business, which is about the management structure of Timpsons, the chain of over 500 cobblers and key cutters.

Chairman of the business, John Timpson, gives real power to the people who run each of his shops, including giving them up to £500 to solve a problem without having to ask up the chain of command, and setting their own prices. He sees his job as spreading the individual innovations this leads each store to come up with across the entire chain.

It’s also interesting to hear Timpson’s attitudes towards digital tills – despite the fact that this technology has “revolutionised modern retail” (Day’s words) Timpson’s shops don’t have them. He believes they get in the way of the customer relationship.

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