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A hero inside every worker

A new TV programme will advise bosses to tap grass-roots expertise
At a time when management seems to be getting ever more complex, Sid Joynson sticks out like a sore thumb, writes Roger Trapp.

With little enthusiasm for common three-letter acronyms, such as JIT (Just In Time), TQM (Total Quality Management) and BPR (Business Process Re-engineering), he offers his own "ultimate three-letter acronym" - BCS (Basic Common Sense). It might well be Mr Joynson's watchword.

He believes that, even after years of bowing down before the gods of Japanese management practice and supposedly welcoming in such notions as employee participation, British companies still exhibit a tendency to see the workforce as the "hands" - tools to be used by the management "brain" without consultation or, it would seem, much concern for their thoughts or feelings.

It is a contention that seems to be backed up by many of the workers he meets in his travels around the country. People tell him that they hate their work, complain about not being consulted and claim they are not regarded as people.

But, he insists, it need not be that way. He and his wife have spent the past 14 years teaching companies how tapping the talent of the workforce can improve their productivity. Now television viewers are going to be able to see how he does it.

Sid's Heroes, a series of six half-hour programmes that begins on BBC1 on Sunday, aims to celebrate the work of what he calls the "grass-roots experts". These are the people - often in such lowly positions as janitor or machine minder - who really know how the businesses are run, he says.

In acknowledging their role, Mr Joynson is also recognising that hands- on experience is not as inferior to intellectual training as is often assumed. "I used to think like that myself until I went to Japan and studied their way of doing things," he says.

Inspired by the examples of such organisations as Toyota and Nissan, he has built a successful consultancy practice. The TV programmes are his way of thanking the people who have made him, he adds.

Although he might be regarded as the catalyst for change in organisations, he insists that he actually does very little practical work, other than provide the figurative wire-cutters to sever employees' chains.

"Every worker, every person, has a hero inside them," he says. "If you handle it correctly, you can transform them into people who can make a great difference."

He hopes the programmes will demonstrate how quickly people can be turned on to the approach. He is reluctant to suggest a religious link, but he admits that it has been influenced by the Zen way of learning that he came into contact with in Japan. Indeed, he says his business took off after he visited the country eight years ago.

The series covers a range of organisations, from a hospital to a shoe factory via a cross-Channel ferry. In most, viewers see Mr Joynson's methods transform a situation.

For example, the medical and clerical staff at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester are deeply frustrated because as many as 60 files of case notes disappear each week. His answer - to set up teams to track down the files - seems obvious. But it has satisfying results.

Likewise, low morale at the Lambert Howarth shoes factory in Lancashire is improved by turning old assembly lines into working cells in the way of the Japanese model.

But it is not all plain sailing. At Videoprint, a manufacturer of CDs, audio and video cassettes based in Ipswich, he manages to overcome the workers' scepticism to increase productivity by 20 per cent. But he fails to convince the managing director, Brian Bonner, and the programme ends in a fierce exchange of words.

Mr Joynson would rather the episode was not screened. But he accepts that it demonstrates how delicate a balance there is in such exercises. "People just grow in front of your eyes. But you can destroy them in 20 seconds," he says.