When the empty seat is more than a consumer…

… according to the world of business folklore; i.e. it must be true now because so many people on the internet have said it, retweeted it, shared it, quoted it, you get the gist, Jeff Bezos, he of Amazon fame and one of the privileged travellers on Russell Brands diamond encrusted billionaire hosting fun bus, well he, Jeff that is, apparently insists on having an empty chair at each of the meetings that is held within Amazon. The idea of the empty chair is that it represents the customers interests in the meeting, the presence of the empty chair is to help people in the meeting maintain a focus on the ultimate purpose of what they are doing, it encourages them to remember that the purpose of what they are doing is to serve the customer…if it adds no value to the customer then it serves no purpose to the business. Sounds like a useful tool to employ in the course of running any organisation. We all occasionally need a gentle reminder that the purpose of our businesses, whether in the Public or Private sector, is to serve the needs of our customers.

ALISON-IMG_20160423_135637The picture on this post is of my sister Alison. Were she still alive she would have been fifty today. There are two things that could have helped her stay alive, one is the simple act of communication; if people in the NHS Trust that were supposed to be looking after her had communicated to each other and to their managers about what was going on, then action might have been taken to deal with it. The second thing that could have helped was the sharing of information from her medical records, back in the late 1980’s the systems and technology did not exist that would have enabled Health Professionals to share and access the information that could have helped. Alison saw three different health services within the space of a few weeks and none of them were able to join the dots and make the links that could have helped her. The significant information that was sent from the hospital to her doctor never made it to the consultant that was trying to help her with her mental health. The actions of the health service employee that appear to have led to her being in hospital, were apparently never revealed to her consultant and whether out of guilt or coercion she did not share her experiences voluntarily, we may never know why.

Right now in the NHS we are attempting to introduce technology into our organisations, we are at last trying to bring our businesses into the 21st Century…for me there is something deeply empowering about being involved in this process, there is also something incredibly frustrating about seeing just how far behind the game the NHS has become. And this is where our book selling hero Jeff Bezos and his team of talented IT gurus really come into their own…when I look at my purchase history on Amazon, as you may well do yourself, I can visit each and every purchase since 2001, that’s fifteen years of purchase history and interactions that I can look at using any internet browser or the app on my phone. I have never had security concerns about my Amazon account, my information has never been stolen (famous last words Bell I hear you say) and all this functionality has been offered to me, to you and to the wider world by a bloke, albeit a very clever bloke, that started out by selling us books online…just dwell on that thought for a moment, a bloke that set up a business selling books and who called this business Amazon, well this blokes website contains more functionality and personal history online than the National Health Service presently offers its patients, tax-paying patients who fund it to the tune of over one hundred billion pounds a year.

When did we reach a point that our expectations of Public Sector services became so low that we thought it was acceptable that we should be offered less user-friendly online services from the Public Sector Services we fund than from the private sector companies that only serve us well because it serves their balance sheet and their shareholders to do so? For me, the idea of having an empty seat at the meeting table is perhaps more poignant than most, but the concept is solid, the notion that we all need a subtle reminder that it’s all about the customer, be they called a patient or service user, the customers of the services we provide are the real reason our organisations exist; Public or Private.

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