When flexibility is not a good thing

Can you be too flexible?

Thomas Jefferson once said “In matters of principle, stand firm; in matters of style and taste, swim with the current.”  This is something I’ve recently begun to grapple with and something which I’ve noted many others around me also working on in recent weeks.  This is especially true as the financial pressures mount, and older, more experienced staff leave to be replaced by young, less experienced but sharp and keen staff who’s careers are more before than behind them.

Regular readers of this blog will know that some of our writing team (or ‘crew’ as we have also recently been described) have begun to explore this wild waters of middle management.  Stepping up into such a world puts you in strange places.  No longer are you a minion, making the thoughts and ideas of your managers a reality no matter how random, neither are you in a position whereby your whims are other’s commands.

The beauty of local government of course is that being in this position has little if anything to do with how much you earn.  We all know examples of those paid exorbitant stipends with little authority or work scope, whilst others on a pittance seem to be the spider at the heart of the web, with influence far outweighing their hierarchical position and the ability to really shape their part of local government.

It’s where that tipping point comes though which is currently interesting me.  Learning to argue (constructively and professionally of course) with your manager and other staff above you on the organisation charts is something which doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially those of us who’s natural inclination is to find ways of making things happen, no matter how difficult it may be to do so.  I have found myself in the past agreeing to work on projects that I didn’t believe in when my manager told me they wanted it to happen, and trying then to suppress an ‘I-told-you-so’ smile when for reasons outside of my control the project failed.

There comes a point however where this is no longer an option, when one has to stand up and say “no, this project is a bad idea and it simply can’t happen”.  Likewise, fighting out why a project should happen despite opposition is also a tricky balancing act; the realisation that just because someone is higher up than you doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about really can’t come soon enough.

Without trying to flog a dead horse too much, we live in difficult times financially where local authorities simply can’t waste money on bad ideas, nor can it afford to miss opportunities for a lack of foresight from those in positions of authority.  Local government officers – myself included – need to stand up for their beliefs and argue them out, to realise that we get paid as much for our opinions as our skills and to ensure that all sides of the argument are heard, whether they are trendy or not.

After starting this with a quote from one great American I shall finish with another, and one which I aim to install as a core belief for the future.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.  Abraham Lincoln

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3 Comments on “When flexibility is not a good thing”

  1. Ed Hammond Says:

    What if the person who you’re saying, “no, this project is a bad idea” to is a member?

    That’s always good fun and can get a bit “Yes, Minister”.

    • localgov Says:

      Well, perhaps in that case you’d put your best Humphrey voice on and convince them that it was a great idea, making them suspicious about your support and leading them to change their minds…

      The games we play!

  2. […] we recently explored, knowing when to have a backbone and being able to stand firm is tricky enough for junior managers, […]

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