Know your mind.


Name: Peter Gianfrancesco 

Job: Chief executive officer, Norwich and
district Mind.

Qualifications: BA recreation and leisure
management (La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia); registered
psychiatric nurse; BA social welfare (Charles Sturt University, New
South Wales); registered social work practitioner; graduate diploma
in community health (Sydney University). 

Last Job: Standards implementation manager,
department of health – mental health branch, New South Wales.

First Job: PE instructor.Sometimes
organisations get stuck and either fail to notice or, if they do,
cannot see the way out. This is when someone fresh without the
internal baggage can often be the catalyst required.

Peter Gianfrancesco was an outsider when he was appointed chief
executive officer of Norwich and district Mind in 1999. He had been
in the UK only a short time, having left his native Australia to
support his wife’s career move the year before.

Norwich Mind had about 20 staff and turned over about £450,000
a year. But it was paternal and old-fashioned. Was it an
organisation in its comfort zone? “It was nodding off,” says
Gianfrancesco. “There were no policies and job descriptions were
out of date. The way it portrayed itself through its literature,
facilities and public presence for me simply reinforced a lot of
the stereotypes about mental health: that it was second class and
that we ought to feel sorry for people rather than help them to

“Its mission statement said it was there to give friendship. And
everyone was comfortable with that. But how do you deal with that
without appearing ungrateful or insensitive? There was, after all,
a lot of goodwill.”

The new mission statement opens up with “We will promote recovery”.
Gianfrancesco says: “We are about helping people to move on. The
trustees gave me a licence to get on with things. And it would have
been easy to do that. But I wanted to bring people with me. For
example, I was asked to produce a vision for the future, which I
did and which was quite aspirational.

“However, for months after, it was known as my vision. It took a
lot of work to get some trustees, staff, volunteers and service
users to sign up to it as well.”

Actively seeking outside pressure was a tactic Gianfrancesco
deployed clinically: “I came from a culture where funders would
expect outcomes for their money. This didn’t happen here. I found
myself in a really weird dynamic with our funders saying ‘Can you
please expect these things of us, because I need that to help me
change the organisation?’ We also signed up for Investors in
People, knowing that we would fail dismally. But again I needed
that external driver saying ‘You’ve got to improve’. Despite the
demoralising effect on some, this really helped.”

The re-launched Norwich Mind even dumped the charity shop. “It was
a real no-no to close a profitable shop,” says Gianfrancesco. “But
if we are now in the business of promoting recovery and mental
health positively, we can’t have that message associated with a
second-class shop selling discarded goods, even if it is making
money. It was a huge battle to close that. It was a painful
decision for the organisation to embrace because it stood for the
past and for what is good about voluntary organisations – the
goodwill of volunteers and people who donate clothes and so

The message is further sold on reciprocity. “If we get a £500
cheque from a business that did fund-raising we’ll say thanks but
will offer something in return: a free training day on dealing with
stress or free massages at lunchtime. This says, ‘It’s great you
are supporting our work, but our work is also about you. It’s about
one in four who are subject to poor mental health – and that will
include a large number of colleagues in your workplace’. And that
has really helped us as an organisation move away from that
can-rattling mentality,” says Gianfrancesco.

And, in the absence of rattling cans and second-hand board games,
the new organisation is fitter: it now sees 10 times the number of
clients, has tripled the number of staff and has its Investors in
People award. It now has momentum.

Gianfrancesco says: “At first I would have a part in engineering,
encouraging or demanding things happen and now 70 per cent of the
good stuff this organisation does is independent of me. And
sometimes I’m the last to find out about it. And I just think
that’s brilliant.”

TOP TIPS:  Never forget who your customer is.  
Try to bring all stakeholders along with you: if they own it,
they’ll do it.  Look for external drivers to help bring about
change – prove to staff that it’s not just you. 

RUBBISH TIPS:   Find your comfort zone and live
there.   You can’t indefinitely persuade staff to change – best
just get on with it and let them play catch-up later.   Mission
statements and so on are a waste of time and paper.

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