Top-Level Appointments Process – Adding Deck-chairs?

RTE reports proposed changes to the Top Level Appointments process for senior Civil Service vacancies. Instead of 4 civil servants and 1 external person, the Top Level Appointments Commission will have 4 civil servants and 5 externals, one of whom will be the chair.

I went through a Top Level appointment process (unsuccessfully) in 2007. I have no doubt that the person appointed was better qualified for the job than I. However, changes to the process are undoubtedly needed. As Paul Cullen reported in the Irish Times, of 300 Top Level Appointments vacancies between 2007 and 2010, only one external candidate was successful.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure that the proposed change is the right one:

Firstly, I don’t see how a panel of nine people could possibly interview a candidate in any effective manner and sitting on the other side of a table from nine people would seem to be quite intimidating. Of course, it’s possible that a sub-set of the Commission will form an interview panel – that would be a further change and not mentioned in the RTE piece.

Secondly, it implies that all that is wrong with the process is the people running it. From my own experience, many of the questions I was asked could only have been answered ‘correctly’ by an existing or former Civil Servant. Indeed, a significant theme of the questioning was to see if I could fit into the existing system rather than contribute something new.

I fear these changes are simply putting out more deck-chairs on the Titanic.

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Sign Language Interpreting Service

For over a year now, I have been looking for a way of making more of a contribution to society. I have used the excellent Boardmatch Ireland service to find organisations looking for contributions at Board level and I am delighted that I have now been asked to serve on the Board of Management of the Sign Language Interpreting Service.

Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS) is the national agency for the provision of sign language interpreting services in Ireland. It is supported by the Citizens Information Board. It is an independent voluntary body with its own board of management.

Sign Language Interpreting Service has been in operation since April 2007 and was established to deliver high quality sign language interpreting services to the deaf community, public and private services and to individual members of the public.

I was interested in SLIS because a) their need is for someone with skills like mine and b) because I felt a personal connection with its mission. Both my paternal grandparents were Deaf and, while I never met them in life, my father told me many stories relating to their deafness when I was growing up.

SLIS has gone through a number of changes recently and has a new Strategy – so more changes are on the way.

I must admit that I am nervous about getting involved: nervous of failing do a good job; and nervous of being inadvertently rude in my dealings with Deaf people. But I am also excited. My first Board Meeting is tomorrow afternoon.

As I write this post, there are 311 unfilled positions available on Boardmatch Ireland with voluntary organisations all across the country. I would urge anyone of you who feel you could make a contribution to civil society to register with Boardmatch and find a role where you can try to make a difference.

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Time for ‘Open-Book Government’

‘If you want to create a culture of citizenship, people have to understand that they have a direct role in creating the kind of society they want, and that creating such a country is their responsibility and the ultimate goal of the country, the end results of all their efforts’

Pretty good stuff, eh? Not a quote from Fintan O’Toole, a French philosopher or the President of Ireland but from a business book. I just replaced ‘ownership’ with ‘citizenship’, ‘company’ with ‘society’ and ‘enterprise’ with ‘country’.

I just finished reading this book, ‘A Stake in the Outcome‘ by Jack Stack. It documents the amazing journey of Jack and his colleagues in SRC, their engine re-manufacturing business in Missouri. SRC is not a global brand or household name but it is famous in certain circles for their practice of a style of management called ‘open book management’.

SRC is an employee-owned business where all employees have the opportunity to become owners and are provided with the education and career development opportunities to help them think like owners and not employees. I would recommend ‘A Stake in the Outcome’ as a fascinating read on the journey of SRC. Jack’s earlier book ‘The Great Game of Business‘ describes the management system in more detail and I have that on order.

Open-book Management companies encourage ‘ownership thinking’ so that the people who work there consider the big picture and don’t focus on their own narrow sectional interests. Maybe if we had had more ‘citizenship thinking’ during the bubble years we could have avoided the worst effects of the recession?

I found numerous nuggets of wisdom in this book – some quite general and some very specific advice regarding situations I’m facing in my business life at the moment. But what really struck me was the extent to which the thinking in this book could be applied to politics or society at large.

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The Value of Feedback that Questions your Assumptions

As I mentioned, I’m involved in fundraising for Akari Software at the moment. It’s been very busy for the past while, and even more intensively so for the past couple of weeks as we perfected our 1-page summary, our pitch slides and our business plan.

I’m lucky enough to have a great network of contacts and, between myself and @eoghanol, we’ve send the 1-pager to over 30 people. We’ve been getting good feedback and some indications of interest in investing. It’s all been very positive.

The most valuable feedback, to me, has been from people who have been down similar paths themselves before. They don’t provide feedback on the order of bullet points or question why the costs go up in year X – they say things like “you’re undervaluing the company”, “you’re not being ambitious enough” and “why do you need external funding at all?”. This kind of thinking that questions our fundamental assumptions is liberating because we’ve spent so long on this process, we’ve almost forgotten that there are other paths to the same destination and, even, other destinations.

I’m looking forward to seeing where we go next 😉

What about you? What’s the most valuable piece of feedback you ever received? And did you take it on board or not?

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Raising Funds for Akari Software

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Digital Crew Ltd. and, especially, Eoghan (Eugene) O’Leary in relation to Akari Software. Akari is the name for Digital Crew’s suite of software aimed at managing and streamlining the process of Curriculum design, approval and publication for Higher Education Institutions.

Having worked through the planning, operational and legal issues involved in spinning out, we’re now in a position to raise €500,000 in funding from private sources and (hopefully) EI.

Akari is an unusual startup – it has products, customers and revenues 😉 In fact, that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. I’m looking forward to a crazy few weeks while we contact, meet and pitch to various funders. If anyone out there is interested in hearing more, please contact me.

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NOBODY expects the Green Party!

With apologies to Monty Python.

McWilliams: Trouble at banks.
Honahan: Oh no – what kind of trouble?
McWilliams: The Banks are illiquid and probably insolvent
Honahan: Pardon?
McWilliams: The Banks are illiquid and probably insolvent
Honahan: I don’t understand what you’re saying.
McWilliams: [slightly irritatedly and with exaggeratedly clear accent] The Banks are illiquid and probably insolvent
Honahan: Well what on earth does that mean?
McWilliams: *I* don’t know – Commissioner Rehn just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the banks, that’s all – I didn’t expect a kind of Green Party.

[The door flies open and Minister Gormley of Dun Laoghaire enters, flanked by two junior cardinals. Minister Ryan has goggles pushed over his forehead. Minister White is just Minister White

Gormley: NOBODY expects the Green Party! The task we will do in government is publish the 4-year economic plan…publish the 4-year economic plan and pass the budget…pass the budget and publish the 4-year economic plan…. Our two tasks are publish the 4-year economic plan and pass the budget…and negotiate with the IMF…. Our *three* tasks are publish the 4-year economic plan, pass the budget and negotiate with the IMF….and pass the Finance Bill… Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our tasks…. Amongst our task list…are such elements as publishing the 4-year economic plan, passing the budget, negotiating with the IMF and passing the Finance Bill…. I’ll come in again.

[The Party exits]

McWilliams: I didn’t expect a kind of Green Party.

[The Greens burst in]

Gormely: NOBODY expects the Green Party! Amongst our tasks are such diverse elements as: publishing the 4-year economic plan, passing the budget, negotiating with the IMF, passing the Finance Bill, and Metro North – Oh damn!
[To Minister Ryan] I can’t say it – you’ll have to say it.
Ryan: What?
Gormely: You’ll have to say the bit about ‘Our chief tasks are …’
Ryan: [rather horrified]: I couldn’t do that…

[Gormley bundles the ministers outside again]

McWilliams: I didn’t expect a kind of Green Party.


[The ministers enter]

Ryan: Er…. Nobody…um….
Gormely: Expects…
Ryan: Expects… Nobody expects the…um…the Green…um…
Gormely: Party.
Ryan: I know, I know! Nobody expects the Green Party. In fact, those who do expect –
Gormley: Our chief tasks are…
Ryan: Our chief weapons are…um…er…
Gormely: Publish the 4-year economic plan…
Ryan: Publish the 4-year economic plan and —
Gormely: Okay, stop. Stop. Stop there – stop there. Stop. Phew! Ah! … our chief tasks are publishing the 4-year economic plan…blah blah blah. Minister, tweet the charges.
Boyle: U r hereby charged that u did on diverse dates commit heresy against the Coalition. ‘My old man said follow the…’
Ryan: That’s enough.
Boyle: No – I’ve got another 28 characters
[To McWilliams] Now, how do you plead?
McWilliams: We’re innocent.
Gormley: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!


Boyle: We’ll soon change your mind about that!


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OutSource Technical Concepts

OutSource Technical Concepts (OSTC) provides design & technical expertise to the medical device, pharmaceutical and manufacturing markets.

I am currently managing a Fusion technology transfer project between the company and Queens University Belfast based in the dePuy Innovation Centre in Loughbeg, Co. Cork to develop capabilities in relation to the non-destructive inspection of materials including polymer used in medical devices.

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The Racing Post

The Racing Post is a British daily horse racing, greyhound racing and sports betting newspaper, appearing in print form and online.

In October 2007 Trinity Mirror sold the Racing Post licence to FL Partners.

Working with Resources Global Professionals, I assisted the IT Director to select an offshore software development partner and to prepare a paper for the Board setting out the required IT infrastructure investment to support the paper’s business strategy over three years.

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Teagasc is the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland. Its mission is to support science-based innovation in the agri-food sector and the broader bioeconomy that will underpin profitability, competitiveness and sustainability.

Following a public tender, I was retained to carry out an ex post review of the implementation of Teagasc’s IT Strategy and to make value for money recommendations. I used PRINCE2 for project management; ISACA’s CobiT and ValIT for benchmarking maturity; and an approach based on the UK OGC Gateway Review process in the assessment.

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Resources Global Professionals

Resources Global helps companies solve a range of business problems, from the immediate – reducing cost and improving efficiency – to larger scale, enterprise-wide, transformational initiatives.

I worked with Resources Global on a number of client projects including:

  • specification of requirements and selection of an offshore software development partner for the Racing Post;
  • production of a Board paper recommending a three-year IS infrastructure investment for the Racing Post;
  • specification of requirements for a sales reporting suite for Kaymed; and
  • a high-level IT review for ATA Group.
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