Dynamic Accountability

Timpson Marlow


I was drawn to Tim Harford’s book ’Adapt’ by its theme and subtitle “Why Success Always Starts With Failure” which lies at the heart of my other online exploration. The author, Harford examines a range of failure dynamics and how to manage them. You can never really avoid them so the best prescription to acknowledge and embrace them and then cope with, if not exploit, the consequences.

One of the case studies he examines is the retail chain Timpsons. The progressive leadership by John Timpson has resulted in a number of organisational innovations as you might expect with a company that embraces risk taking, but the one that caught my eye in the context of Dynamic Work is ‘peer monitoring’. The walls that Dynamic Work breaks down are not just geographical and chronological, but also potentially organizational. Peer Monitoring is a powerful concept provides an alternative to conventional Command and Control hierarchies. People are becoming more familiar with the fundamental concept as it is a common one in the digital world of online communities…

Peer monitoring is closely associated with the virtual world: it’s the fundamental building block of Google’s search algorithm (giving weight to how popular a site is with other sites), phenomena like eBay (which relies on buyers and sellers rating each other’s reliability) and Wikipedia (in which anyone can edit anyone’s else articles), and the open-source software movement which has delivered such successes as Firefox and Apache. But as Timpson shows, it’s applicable far behind the cutting edge of crowd-sourced technology…I witnessed [another] striking example of peer monitoring on my visit to the Hinkley B nuclear power station…Just as [our group of senior executives] were about to leave the meeting room, a portly middle-aged lady in a hard hat walked in pushing a trolley laden with sandwiches. She took one look at us and politely but firmly admonished our host that we’d left our shoes in a place where they constituted a tripping hazard, and asked us to move them…The instant correction of a problem, no matter how small and no matter what the hierarchical relationship might be between the head of safety and the tea lady.”

Whatever Timpson are doing it works for me as I am a regular and delighted customer at my local branch in Marlow