Spring cleaning


Time for a tidy up in the office?

Today is big day for us, and a big day for everyone.  The budget announcement, which may just be the last big hurrah for the coalition government, will affect every person in the country and have a direct and indirect affect on the work of local government.  As all this is such a big deal we won’t be attempting to cover it ourselves yet or sharing our thoughts on the blog until we’ve had the chance to digest it a little (although I’m sure we won’t be able to resist spurting out a few thoughts via Twitter – @welovelocalgov).

So today is something of a holding day, and we thought we’d take the chance to look at something a little lighter.  This weekend sees us all losing a precious hour of our days with the coming of British Summer Time, and along with this will be the inevitable demand for a spring clean around the house.  Dusters will be pressed into action, those jobs which have been put off will be tackled and old junk will be thrown out, leaving us feeling (in theory) happier, leaner and ready to face the summer.

It’s not only home that can benefit from this approach of course, so here is the WLLG guide to performing your very own workplace spring clean.

1.  Dig out your budgets

It is surprising how few people actually get to see the budgets for their own areas of work.  Some managers guard these spreadsheets and figures jealously, permitting nothing more than glimpses of the overall numbers and no more.  Some staff see this as more than enough and trust others to see them through.

Take the opportunity to have a look at your budget and get to know it a little.  If you are a manager take a closer look at it, perhaps blocking out some time to do so with a friendly finance officer (they are friendlier than you think, even if they often spiral into technical detail).  Ask them to explain all those acronyms, ins and outs and idiosyncrasies that have been confusing you, on however small a level, for years, and ask them to do so without making it all sound like gobbledygook.  And take the time to go through every line to look at what it actually means for you and your team; does it all add up.

If you are not a manager, then ask if you could see it.  You having a firmer grip on the financial constraints you are expected to work within will only help you to understand your position more, and could help you get your head around why you can or cannot do certain things.

2.  Open your stock cupboard

Some places no longer have official stock cupboards and stationary stockpiles, but few places haven’t got unofficial reserves of pens, pads and binders squirelled away for a rainy day.  Trouble is, the majority of these items are usually random at best, and often have been awaiting this rainy day longer than the South-East of England.

And it’s not only old-fashioned goods either.  Often there is old ICT equipment laying around which no-one really has ownership of, nor a need for.  Dictaphones, foot pedals for audio playback systems, old mice and keyboards, laptops even: if it’s been in there for eighteen months and no-one has used it, get it out and get rid of it.

With all of this though, don’t just throw it away.  There will be plenty of community groups who would be very willing to take it off your hands and put it all to use, so speak with your local CVS or third sector team and offer it out there.  Better being used by your partners than wasted in your cupboards.

3.  What are you doing?

Over the course of a year it’s incredible how many projects are picked up which have nothing at all to do with anything we are paid to do.  Some of these come via requests for support by beleaguered colleagues, some are simply interesting projects we enjoy and others are simply added to workloads through circumstance.

List out both the projects you have completed over the previous year and those you are working on at the moment.  How many of these are those you should be working on, how many will benefit you in different ways and how many have caused you nothing but headaches and achieved little?

Now list out those projects you are expecting to work on over the coming year and store this somewhere safe.  The next time someone comes to you asking for help take a look at this list and decide whether in a years time you’ll be listing it on the last of these categories.

4.  Spruce up your project teams

Just like a lick of paint or a new cover could brighten up a room or sofa, so could a reshuffle of your most important assets – the staff you work with – breathe new life into a project.  There are a number of ways to go about this, but to start with go back to that list you put together of the projects you are working on and add the names of other people you are working with on them.

Now check out those people and who is absolutely needed on each of these projects.  For anyone else, see if any of them might be interested in a swap with a colleague.  Obviously don’t force anyone to change, but sometimes a new pair of eyes and a new perspective on a project might very well unlock new reservoirs of energy and overcome hitherto insurmountable challenges.

It may also be worth looking at the skills and interests of these team members, and of yourself as well.  Thanks to circumstance you may be missing out on a wealth of untapped potential just due to the way projects have been allocated; make sure that the blend of people working on projects matches what both the project and the team members need.  If you see an opportunity for yourself, don’t hesitate to go for it.

5.  Keep on dusting

It’s easy to rest on laurels, especially when work is progressing as expected.  Like dust, this attitude can settle imperceptibly, until it starts clogging things up and projects become lost under layers of complacency.

Don’t forget that it’s easier to make lots of little changes than it is to make a few big ones, so try to get into the routine of checking up on things and reviewing your work on a regular basis. Some do this via monitoring reports and RAG reports on a monthly basis, others simply talk with colleagues and ask others for an outside opinion.  Schedule in these reviews, getting your peers to help you, and you’ll find yourself with less to do this time next year.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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