Designed to Last


My Dad was, for a long time, an Estates Manager – managing large country Estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system – ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex eco system.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” – basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a Dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the Dairy Manager….During those “rounds” he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My Dad had a real sense of custodianship about the Estates – he & we were only here for a brief time – the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just Management… it’s just being a good person.
A good person in a particular context.
Which might change.
But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom – especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.
Listen. Talk.
Pay attention to the here an now.
Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were other.
Understand what we do & why we do it & how we could do it better for the long term.
Look to the future.
Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.

5 thoughts on “Designed to Last

  1. Reading about your father, I’m reminded of what happened when the ancient oak beams in the roof of the great hall at King’s College Oxford needed to be replaced. The architects worried how they could find wood to match those 400 year old beams. They were introduced to the university forester who took them to the woods and pointed out the trees that were planted to replace the ones cut four centuries ago to build that hall, against the time they would be needed. And, when those in turn would be cut, they would replant for the next time. That is a system built to last.

  2. Loved reading this Julie, being from a farming family and daughter who has been out on the rounds with her dad – best activity to do with a farmer dad, I get it. Coming from the English language teaching sector there is a lot of discussion about building good habits, autonomy in learners and how a teacher should step back. Naturally, there comes the counter argument about the way we can elegantly intervene and guide, that we are still needed to extend or challenge learners and nuture the learning where it’s happening, like good gardeners. Speaking of gardening, I’ve been thinking a lot about permaculture recently and how the idea is to find that balance between letting nature do what it does best and intervention to nurture growth. I will tell you about my artists residence sometime. Thanks for your support.

  3. Hi Julie
    I like the idea of ‘personship’. I guess your father doing the ’rounds’ is the equivalent of ‘walking the floor’ in management speak. But is your vision based on an old fashioned idea of ‘jobs for life’? I’m not sure that we live in a world where ‘designed to last’ is a prevailing ethos. Just think of the so-called ‘gig economy’.

    • Hi Adrian – I love this.

      we may not live in a prevailing ethos of “designed to last” – and perhaps I’m behind… or maybe ahead, if all things are cyclical, the current trends of thinking….

      I wasn’t thinking of job for life – from the point of view of the individual in the organisation, I was thinking of a life with many jobs (& rather than sit through the same auld stuff, 8 times in 8 different orgs, we looked at a model, where then emphasis is on the person, their tailored needs and how the learning systems in the org support those needs)

      I was thinking about organisations as longer-lasting things – beyond the work-life span of the individual, beyond the tenure of this CEO or this Board. Businesses that live and breathe and hopefully flourish beyond the individuals….

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