Six degrees of council management
Before he was an uber-mega star Will Smith starred in the ‘great in concept; ok in execution’ film Six Degrees of Separation. The films underlying idea, based on some academic research I believe, was that basically we are all only six steps away from knowing every person on the planet.
The reason I mention it is that being in Local Government often has the same feel to it except that where I said ‘we all’ I meant ‘the junior officer’ and where I said ‘every person on the planet’ I meant ‘the Chief Executive, Cabinet and other decision makers.’
You see the only way to get things done is to get the approval of those at the very top of the organisation but often the only way to get their approval is to go through every intervening management grade on the way up. I call it the ‘six degrees of council management’.
Obviously, this is not always the case but an example from the past week has reminded me of why the hierarchy is so damn important. Basically, and here I am cutting a long story short and taking a large amount of credit for work completed by a team of people, we had been working on a project specifically for the Chief Executive. She was in charge and it was by her hand that the project would live or die. We were jumping over the six degrees of separation and found ourselves straight at the sharp end.
The report, my manager and I, jumping over several levels of responsibility had met with the CE and had quickly been shot down. She liked our work but hated our report which was, ‘overlong, over-complex and lacking structure.’ We were sent away to improve the report; we did so and received the assent of the big boss to take the report to the Councillors.
However, the report had now been circulated to our team of Directors and having been out of the loop (we were reporting straight to the Chief Executive after all) they were keen to challenge our working. Fair enough to be honest but suddenly they had a stack full of questions and were concerned that our report was ‘too short, lacking detail and too simplistic’.
So, with only three days to go until the report had to be finalised and sent to Cabinet we were reworking bits of the project and writing a new report, not for the CE (she already had her report) but for the Directors. This is despite the fact the report would never go to more than 7 or 8 people.
Local Government is inherently a bureaucratic organisation. I don’t necessarily mean that as a negative, more just a fact of doing business. However, this means that when you try and jump some steps it will catch you out.
If you go through the slightly longer process and get each step of the six degrees of council management right and each manager on board then the chances of everything going Pete Tong at the end are much reduced. It might be frustrating but resisting the clarion call to skip over managers is definitely the way to get things done.