What can we learn from Larry the Downing Street cat?

Sylvia Doyle Director, Reward First People Consulting & Partner, Reward Consulting Partners LLP.   

In preparing this week’s CIPD reward blog I scanned the news for themes that may impact reward. With the binding vote on executive pay being implemented today, the Government’s legal challenge against European Union (EU) plans to cap bankers’ bonus has also been launched. However I was equally fascinated to learn about the antics (or lack thereof) of the Prime Minister’s cat.  It seems that Larry the Cat who is ‘employed’ at no. 10 Downing Street to catch mice may not live up to his Chief Mouser title, a role now shared with Freya, the Chancellor George Osborne’s cat at no 11 who is deemed to have a better rodent track record. However despite Larry’s poor record of fulfilling his primary purpose of mice catching the bookies have odds stacked in favour of Larry the Cat staying in situ longer than David Cameron. 6-4 for Larry compared to 1-2 for David Cameron.

 However the Larry story reminded me of a recent interview on the BBC Today programme where top performing  NHS hospital managers will be drafted in to help turn around failing hospitals. The idea being that the super managers will mentor and guide those at struggling hospitals to help implement change on the ground. It appears that NHS management consultants were tasked with diagnosing the problems but this only addressed the simple diagnosis or design part of the issue. As you’ve guessed, some failing hospitals have a good grasp of the problems while the major stumbling block of ‘making change happen’ falls short. While this attention on mentoring is not necessarily ground-breaking it can offer huge merits for the NHS to address the implementation challenge. Hmm.. perhaps Freya, the Chancellor George Osborne’s cat at no 11 could give Larry at no. 10 a few tips?

So you may wonder what this has got to do with reward? The point being that like any organisational change or transformation of which reward is often an integral part, it needs careful handing as a complete process. This flows from making a correct diagnosis to design, implementation as well as evaluation so you can test it works in practice. Reward gets to the heart of the issue, it  touches upon core beliefs and values including ‘what I’m worth’; ‘what my boss thinks I’m worth’ etc. and therefore any reward change needs to address the following:

  • Diagnosis – Consider the issue as part of the big picture or overall context now and going forward
  • Resources – Evaluate who is best equipped to deliver reward change bearing in mind budgets. This may be in-house; external consultancy or mentoring or a combination
  • Involve stakeholders – Let’s not forget that staff and managers are unlikely to ‘buy-into’ change they have not been part of so it’s important to avoid this *mouse* trap
  • Approach – Focus on best fit in preference to  generic ‘best practice’ or what has been implemented elsewhere

So while the rodent problem at Downing Street was correctly diagnosed the implementation of the ‘solution’ i.e. a cat who actually catches mice (without the unwanted behaviours of leaving cat hairs on the PM’s suits) has proved to be more problematic…

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  • Great blog Sylvia and I love your use of the story to bring it to life - now I must go and give my cat some feedback on her mouse catching performance. Should I reward her?