Brian’s enduring drive is to unpack the seemingly inexplicable behaviour of people, groups and organisations and explain it so that it can be replicated, if positive, or changed.
He is one of the few people who understands the dynamics of the NHS, and the special case of Mental Health. In the private sector, he helped a property developer remember that its success depended on its dozen land buyers, not the thousands of construction and sales people that were occupying its attention. And he stopped an insurance company from moving into an activity that was antithetical to its culture.
His work is often ground-breaking such that his clients remember the phrases he coins: ‘showcasing’ – how senior executives (should) describe their juniors to others; ‘pushing at a pool of mercury’ – the sin of over-controlling people; ‘three-cushion shot’ – the art of getting others to compliment work well done rather than grabbing the enjoyment of giving it directly. He popularised the phrase ‘like herding cats’ by using it to describe the difficulty of managing in partnerships and similar knowledge-based organisations.
Between 1980 and 1990 Brian was the main change agent at Arthur Young (now Ernst & Young). He turned the training department into a profit centre and built a team which moved from ‘classroom’ teaching to working with business leaders on their problems. (Those who worked with him now run their own businesses.) He drew on Gallwey’s ‘Inner Game’, Huthwaite’s behavioural research, Porter’s theories, and much else to underpin this.
Along with Mairi Eastwood, now of Praesta, he opened up the UK market for MBAs. What he learned and what he created in this period (he transformed the training programme for 4000 people) enabled him to build his own practice of the kind of clients shown below. He continues with ground-breaking work and is currently engaged with the problem of re-invigorating the engineering profession, and getting the NHS to make therapy more easily accessible.
Brian seems to attract the intractable. The new financial system in the Prison Service was going nowhere until he ran a series of seminars for the Governors. ABC News (USA) used him to solve the dysfunction of their top 250 people. And with his help the managers of Aberthaw Power Station agreed on re-engineering that left two thirds of them without jobs. ‘Turkeys can vote for Christmas’ was their slogan.