The talented Mr Martin and viral impact

I wrote about Talent Works when the scandal of a £300k leadership training contract turned into £5m spoondoonies for Chris Martin and crew first broke. Since then, a few staff members have got in touch to describe their experiences of the training. Not good.

I went on Going Viral while at SHFT. It was compulsory regardless of how busy you were. Insistent on overnight stay in the hotel even though I lived 20 mins away. It was awful. Crap management twaddle. Every session we had to “check in” no thought for people like me who were not comfortable sharing in public. I gained nothing from the whole hideous experience.

Yes I’m embarrassed to admit I’m a Southern Health employee. I don’t have anything to whistle blow, and I’m sure no satisfaction to offer you and similar families but suffice to say there are a lot of us within my immediate colleagues of middle management and below who find no surprises in the latest round of revelations of farcical nonsense. Some of us have been on Going Viral and Gone Viral (there really is no opt out for certain pay bands) and while of course finding some of it interesting and sort of useful (especially meeting clinical staff and even patient advocates and hearing about their challenges) have come away feeling it’s too much corporate nonsense with ice breaking tasks and dreaded role play scenarios.

Apparently it costs £6k per person to attend, is compulsory and you have to stay the night at an expensive hotel. (Sloven spent £135k on accommodation in 2013/4 for staff to attend.)  Here’s the Talent Works partner, Sarah Law, talking about the Going Viral programme two years ago [cringe warning]:

I know Katrina is really keen for everyone to get the chance to get involved in this...” Yeah. Of course. At £6k a pop. Sadly, she wasn’t as keen for staff to be trained in epilepsy care or to remove ligature risks.

What the training involves isn’t clear. But hey ho. A little look at the Talent Works website reveals more work with Sloven who were one of the pilots for this gig:


Bizarrely, Talent Works evaluated the pilot themselves (yes, really). Eleven staff took part in the pilot but only 7 provided feedback on it. That, in itself, should get alarm bells ringing somewhere but apparently didn’t. And the farce continues with this nonsense:


So, there was no way of effectively evaluating whether the pilot was effective or not. Asking people to remember how they felt before doing something is simply ludicrous. One person was apparently worse after the intervention, the others the same and yet this is a ‘successful pilot’. This reminds me of the equally nonsensical appreciative inquiry gig Sloven funded recently. The senior management/exec are clearly not very bright if they keep swallowing this shite. And, as always, NHS Improvement are hands firmly clamped over the ears and eyes shut.

Meanwhile, at Sloven’s annual public meeting last week, the finance bod, Paula Anderson, was asked about the Talent Works contract (from 1:01:46):

She clearly states; It’s fair to say when we’ve looked at it we’re not happy with the procurement process and there are issues with that. Stating the bleeding obvious but there’s definitely no governance issues here, are there Mr Smart?

So a little summary of what is deeply wrong:

  • The contract was originally awarded to the CEO’s mate for £300k.
  • Sloven eventually paid Talent Works over £5m.
  • There is no outcome measure to know if there is any benefit of doing the Going Viral training (and given the leadership failings, I think we can probably say there ain’t much benefit at all).
  • Apparently this doesn’t matter and Talent Works are being funded (by who? NHS England?) to extend their biz across other trusts…

It’s truly, truly obscene. And in one last little joining of the dots, one of Talent Works partners is, erm, the charity set up in memory of Percy’s brother, Iain’s, sailing partner. Another grubby, sordid little tale.

Update [23 September 2016]

In addition to the illuminating comments below (including evidence from John Green that the Going Viral course is rubbish), we got sent a copy of a timetable…


And this analysis:
3 overnight stays, = 6 days lost + 2 days for launch and review + 2 0.5 days for learning sets = 9 days of work lost. On one course, there were three consultants. Assuming they were newly qualified, it would cost around £5.6 of service loss for the 9 days on the course. If at the top of the scale, £7.5k (not to mention the loss of outpatient appointments or the cost of backfill).


Talentworks removed their website today. Shortly after their tagline was shared on twitter:

‘Meet the Talentworks team… hired for our large brains, love of psychology and impeccable dress sense’.

Removing your website can only be an admission of guilt…

The Sloven senior exec allowed £5m of public money to go into the pockets of Percy’s mates. For training not fit for purpose. In the meantime, they failed to ensure that staff were trained in the basics and that the environment was safe.

This is sounding increasingly criminal to me.

46 thoughts on “The talented Mr Martin and viral impact

  1. I bet lots of us can identify with this – hours of shallow jargon delivered by hired hands with not a clue about the actual workload, culture or environment of the pressganged people they were supposedly “training”.
    A friend of mine was once disciplined for pointing out in one session that what the trainer was saying was wrong. (It dealt with her own area of research and was inaccurate & misleading)!

  2. The NHS is blighted by this sort of meaningless managerialist nonsense – I always find it extraordinary how the UK NHS which is going so dreadfully wrong in so many areas right across the country can continue to bang on about ‘leadership’. Good clinical staff and other practitioners are completely alienated by this new public management rubbish. I have explored the rise of new public management but I still cannot understand why it found such fertile territory in the NHS in particular – the NHS is a cash-strapped organisation dominated by professions whose day to day work has nothing whatever to do with ‘management’ and ‘leadership’. Exactly how did Percy et al and their laughable philosophies rise to the top? Anyone got any ideas or useful references? Thank you for exposing this idiocy…

    • It’s a very good question and difficult to answer. Looking at Southern, it is clear that the huge gap in effective governance was one of accountability. There were none of the checks and balance that exist in other organisations (my experience is mainly in the private sector). At Southern, we had a previous Chair with deep concerns that were ignored, a CEO who ruthlessly ignored the (in any event) appallingly lax Board oversight and a powerless Council of Governors whose meetings were/are, quite ridiculously, chaired by the Board Chair – a screamingly obvious conflict of interest. And meanwhile, NHSI sits on the sidelines as a wholly ineffective regulator, interested only in damage limitation and protection of vested NHS interests. It may be cynical to say this but no large organisation thrives unless the executive team are monitored and, when required, dismissed. Look at the banks to see what happens when hubristic executives take over.

  3. It’s hilarious. School kids would be laughing at having to sit through such bullshit. How on earth were so many intelligent professionals fooled by these farcical presentations. “The emperor’s new clothes’ situations are still alive and kicking.

  4. I can’t imagine consultants falling for ‘time wasting tosh’ ..
    I can imagine them saying… minutes in…when they all get up and leave.

    I wonder if they were included..?

      • Oh I can tell you right now Sara. It was definitely compulsory for all consultants and many of us walked out. Some refused to attend altogether. Others made excuses (those pesky patients had to be seen after all…). It was well known that Katrina did not want consultants to have a voice or be influential. She wanted a health service that didn’t need or value doctors.
        Whether the new(ish) Board decides to value doctors any more, remains to be seen. We have all voted to do away with the viral programme as we have endured cuts until there are two nurses left in some teams, no decent clinic places to see patients, no admin support (how is it good use of consultant time to type their own letters?!) and best of all, middle managers who stop anything going up to Board – these are career managers who Katrina nurtured in her own image.
        But consultants are feeling beaten down because any sign of dissent and you get slapped with a disciplinary. Southern is a grim place. But many of us stay on because of loyalty to immediate colleagues and most of all, our patients.

    • Yes. Really. The trust pays the minimum towards training of doctors (needed for appraisal and revaluation) but wasted £5 million – MILLION – on nonsensical leadership training.
      Doctors are fighting back now. The senior medics have met and are debating a motion of no confidence in the Board. I don’t think it will succeed but we are so sick of working in conditions where directors make decisions and take no notice of clinical views. I know for a fact that nurses and other staff too feel the same.
      How did anyone in NHS Emgland and Monitor think it was sensible to allow a group of people, not one of whom had any expertise in mental health or learning disability, lead a trust that is mainly mental health and learning disability?! I work in adult mental health and am appalled at the conditions in which I peace now. I would NOT allow my family to be treated in these conditions. It breaks my heart.

      • Your comments are a real education! I have watched a failing mental health service in north Wales for thirty years now (where certain doctors and nurses created serious problems as well as managers) and I well remember the period of time in the early nineties where scores of not very able ‘administrators’ suddenly became ‘managers’ and within a few years seemed to gain an enormous amount of power, despite a very obvious lack of relevant knowledge. But they only seemed able to do this because they had the backing of certain consultants – other consultants who were very unhappy with the gross mismanagement left their posts. How on earth did Percy et al manage to carry on regardless without the backing of senior clinical staff at all?? And where are the BMA in all this? They usually vigorously defend doctors corners…

      • The BMA can only do something when doctors’ t&c are threatened. In a toxic set up like this they can’t do much. They an defend Drs when disciplinary hearings are threatened but the situation in Southern has been one of insidious undermining. Did Percy et al have the backing of some consultants? Maybe. But the vast majority of us just wanted mental health and learning disability services to be safe and understood, neither of which Katrina cared about.
        I will be treating some of my patients for many years. That is the nature of adult mental health services. I just want the Board to stop paying lip service to them and actually strengthen the clinical voice. I want a senior clinical person who actually cares about patients not the bottom line or reputation to be in charge. Not these career managers. They have destroyed any chance my patients had of a decent service.
        Someone is bound to come along and say that I’m a bitter consultant with an axe to grind. I have to axe to grind other than demanding that my patients are treated with respect by the Board. And that senior clinical people with experience are put in charge.

      • Thank you. We all know there are professionals with integrity (including managers), and you doctors took a Hippocratic oath.
        We all must get the system on track – the truth is very helpful.

  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did have an axe to grind having been subjected to Going Viral when you no doubt had far more pressing concerns. I have seen the damage that toxic talentless managers have done here in north Wales – but as I said, they did have the backing of certain consultants. The dynamics in north Wales were complex – junior doctors were certainly at the mercy of managers but more senior ones seemed well able to fight their corner and even collaborate with managers. There were certainly consultants like you who despaired of the whole situation and they were the ones who gave up (two left the NHS entirely). The Health Board here has such a toxic reputation that they can’t recruit – I presume Southern will now be encountering that problem. Thanks for your insights; I remain staggered that Southern managers wielded so much power in the face of such opposition from senior clinical staff, particularly when so much money was wasted – its usually financial irregularities that do for managers.

    • Reputation? We can’t recruit nurses. They apply then drop out saying that they don’t want southern on their cv. The adult psych ward in Southampton is closed for lack of nurses. Senior directors are pissing about as usual. Patients complained about katrina’s picture on feedback forms – yes, really, she put her own face on feedback forms! – so they are being removed.
      I would leave and work in Dorset or Sussex but actually I owe it to my patients to stay and fight.
      ( my views as expressed above are well known to my colleagues so I expect to be hauled over the coals tomorrow. A director will give me a lecture about making things worse for patients by saying such things no doubt)

      • Katrina’s face on a feedback form would be entirely consistent with her world-view – it will probably count as ‘inspirational’ or ‘branding’ or some such idiocy. I have just braved Linked-In to see how she describes herself (and I came across Tim Smart on wiki) – it is deeply depressing that these two utter clowns were put in charge of a healthcare organisation and have not been removed. So Katrina is an ‘inspirational woman’ and Tim is a ‘businessman’ – and a load of patients died. Margaret Thatcher – who started all the managers-in-healthcare saga – was someone who always seemed to subscribe to the ‘professions are a conspiracy against the layman’ theory. I’m not sure that even she envisaged this chaos when she dreamt of managers and businessmen running an NHS with an internal market…

      • The saddest thing in all this is that patients have been harmed and although the directors have pissed about in the name of ‘learning’, nothing useful has been learnt. The same mistakes are still being made.

        And you know, being a ‘leader’ in healthcare is not that difficult. Here’s my three point guide:
        1. Understand healthcare – which means you probably need clinical experience. And should still be doing some clinical work. “Leaders” who stop doing clinical work stop understanding clinical work and are irrelevant.
        2. Care about patients and their families. Imagine yourself and your family in their shoes. (I shouldn’t have to elaborate.)
        3. Care about staff and listen to them. They have done the training and most of them are doctors and nurses because they want to be.

        Maybe I should write a management book for aspiring NHS managers? No need for £5 million – Available free.

      • Nina, I hope you are not reprimanded
        In August 2013 I was phoned at home during sick leave and asked to review my tweets and Twitter bio due to retweeting some of Sara’s mydaftlife blog.
        Thank you for your commitment to patients
        I have been a patient and staff member
        I no longer live in southern health trust area
        The loss of admin staff had a severe impact on all service areas, then the ‘mutually agreed resignation scheme’ loosing a third of clinical staff at the same time as a complete reorganisation of teams.
        I read the bios of the talent works teams, all seem to have ‘training in psychometric assessments’ yet the paragraphs reviewing the going viral are laughable. I think only one staff member told the truth in the questionnaires, the others showing no change were probably too scared of big management working out who was filling in the feedback. I studied statistics at ‘A’level and I would have been ashamed of such a design and then manipulation of feedback of the course.

  6. I salute you Nina.

    You are a breath of fresh air. Would’nt it be great if all the medical professionals had just a tiny bit of your integrity.

  7. It just gets worse doesn’t it? As an experienced learning and development consultant I am horrified by this perverted approach to staff development, on top of all the previous malarkey..

  8. I am so happy to read Nina’s comments above. We are not in Southern area, but as a relative of people with mental illnesses all I want is good clinical care. I think good clinical care should be consultant lead ( i know this is heresy in some mental health circles) . Good clinical care is essential, everything else is a nice to have. Thank you, Nina , for speaking out. In mental health provision people have no choice where to get services from,and often no choice about what services they will receive, although I do know some people do move house just to be able to change provider, which is a wicked state of affairs.

  9. The bit about overnight accomodations being compulsory, you don’t think they were on backhanders from the hotels as well? That aside sounds like the Kings clothes to me.

  10. Just heard those words , impacts patient quality? What does that mean , same as all the other words , nothing , absolutely nothing ? Load of mumbo jumbo .

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  12. Going Viral and Talentworks

    When I became an Southern Health Foundation Trust (SHFT) governor in July 2012 I had been already studying the NHS for some 4-5 years in my retirement as a result of my experience as a patient and carer. After I joined the Trust I realised quickly how appallingly managed (I use the term ‘managed’ loosely) it was. Whilst I had always observed that the clinicians and front line staff at SHFT were incredibly committed and dedicated to their task it was obvious that the NHS was run by civil servants with little or no business or management training and virtually no training in quality and safety management. Thus I immediately took a great interest in the Going Viral Programme, as did another colleague governor who managed at director level in a Total Quality Management (TQM) culture in the automotive industry, because I was suspicious as to its contents and its value.

    the £ 3million cost of the programme at the time was a massive sum of public money and over a period of 3 years I put numerous questions forward regarding its content – including asking for syllabus details, handouts etc. I was told by Katrina Percy and others at Council of Governor (CoG) meetings that: “ it was not a management training programme”, ” it had no handouts” and that “its content included training in quality management including tools and techniques etc.” All these statements turned out to be untrue. I later found out that It was clearly a management development/team building programme type programme, which contained no training in quality management methodology. I also later obtained a copy of a folder full of course handouts, which in my opinion contained poor quality command and control/leadership management training material. I eventually managed to observe two sessions run by Talentworks, which I considered to be of very poor standard. The second session I attended was a last day of the Going Viral programme where teams gave final presentations as to what they had learned. I was appalled at the results of the programme and what I saw.

    Leadership and values training is an obsession in the NHS and has little relevance to the achievement of world class quality standards, which involves developing customer driven self-managed front line teams all trained in quality management methods with minimal direction from above I.e. with high levels of autonomy. To facilitate this the present command and control management dominated NHS totalitarian regime needs to be dismantled. Middle and senior managers need to become facilitators of change and along with supplier corporate central service departments (HR, Finance, etc) should add value to the teams to justify their existence. Customers and clinicians must drive the service delivery process. At present the Department of Heath civil service tail is wagging the dog.

    Mike Holder, safety expert, in his February 2012 resignation report stated that TQM standards of quality and safety management was necessary for critical safety industries like the NHS and that the SHFT failed to meet these standards and thereby H&S at Work etc.1974 standards for a safety critical industry. Believing that the CEO and executive directors had no intention of meeting these standards he terminated his contract. It turned out he was right, as revealed by Mazars.

    My background is that prior to my recent retirement I was a self employed industrial psychologist and business consultant for some 20 years. I specialised in facilitating the introduction of TQM/world class quality and safety management methods into organisations and necessarily transforming organisational management culture in the process away from command and control dominated management. Prior to that I was a management trainer at the University of Portsmouth in charge of public sector management courses and prior to that (in my 30s/early 40s) a personnel manager (operating at director level) in a local authority. With regard to Talentworks, I looked them up at the time and obtained information on their work. They appeared to be specialising in the use of psychometric/ psychological tests and offered a management mentoring service. They also appeared to have no practical experience of business and quality management and I doubt that the lecturers I saw had much experience of business and quality management training – certainly nothing like to the standard of lecturers/trainers at the University of Portsmouth or those I employed in my consultancy.

    John L Green, Former Governor, Southern Health Foundation Trust (2012-2016)

    • Thank you, John. When they were publicly available, the Going Viral videos seemed to indicate a nebulous, unfocussed series of ‘events’ with no discernible useful outcomes. Although the cluelessness of the presenter and the meaningless responses of his hapless interviewees strongly suggested that the whole programme had a high chance of being a waste of temporal and financial resources, it wasn’t possible to be sure. Thank you for amassing evidence, and for assessing it as an eminently qualified expert. Hunches confirmed. The only remaining question is, was the awarding, running and paying for this waste merely spectacularly incompetent (in which case, why is the former CEO, whose pet project this seems to have been, still employed on a salary of obscenely generous proportions to provide services that add no apparent value?) or was there an element of undeclared interests and corruption (in which case, why is the former CEO… etc)?

  13. Are any of you able to access the web site? All the links in Google just seem to lead to pages of adverts. They are actively working with NHS Thames Valley And Wessex Leadership Academy. They describe themselves as “a virtual consultancy, most consultants employed as associates, so they have low overheads and competitive rates compared to larger consultancy firms”.

  14. Searched and searched and the website seems to have disappeared. It obviously was there and is referred to in Chris Martin’s Linkedin profile. Maybe they have gone to the Cayman Islands …

  15. According to Companies House Chris Martin seems to have 3 active companies.
    Talent Works Psychologists Ltd (management consultancy), incorporated on 15 January 15,
    C & TW Consultants Ltd (management consultancy) dissolved in February 16 and
    Talent Works Performance Consulting Ltd (doing – guess what – management consultancy) and he has been director since 2010.

  16. nothing like a pants down or financial loosey goosey expose to focus minds. Serious concerns territory ? who decides , I’ve forgotten who is in charge.

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