Posted tagged ‘advice’

We know best?

December 7, 2011

Advice: often asked for, not always followed

Whilst attempting to remain within the bounds of anonymity, I am happy to share the fact that I have two children.  They are at the age when they not only have their own opinions, but they are increasingly willing and (more worryingly) able to eloquently explain how their opinions differ and are superior to my own.  Where they are explaining why their choice of music is better I’ll smile and wave, but when they try to explain why you can eat a diet of nothing but fast food and still stay healthy I can’t help but disagree.

In my mind, and despite their protestations, there are simply some situations where I know best.  I can disagree with them about what I perceive as small things, but when it comes to more major issues like their safety or their health I am loathe to let them make decisions which I have clear evidence to support my assertions that they are wrong.

This head to head battle came to mind recently when I witnessed a version of the same struggle taking place between an officer, some local residents and a handful of councillors.  To provide an outline, the former had recommended a course of action for a project which was different to the ambitions of the residents and therefore against the wishes of the councillors.  This had been going on for some months, and eventually resulted in the elected officials simply noting the officer’s concerns and overruling them.

In this situation, both sides were both right and wrong.  The officer felt that it was entirely within their role to robustly defend their position and push for their professional opinions and recommendations  to be followed.  The councillors felt it was their job to represent the interests and desires of their constituents, and the residents simply wanted the project to be delivered as they believed that it would make a positive difference to their area regardless of the contrary advice from the professionals.

It seems that there are those of us who are officers who are generally very happy to engage with the public on either of two areas; where we expect the end result to match up with what we are recommending, or when the issue being discussed is non-controversial or not actually that important in the grand scheme of things.  Of course, it goes without saying that there are many who take a more enlightened view and offer multiple and real opportunities for residents to get involved, but those who don’t usually see engagement as a part of their job description often aren’t as willing to do so.

Essentially we are happy to discuss things when it addresses what residents want, but not when it addresses what they need. (more…)

Advice for the newbies

November 10, 2011

Don't use too many post it notes

I was trailing through our new twitter followers the other evening (@welovelocalgov by the way) when I noticed that a surprising number of them were recent entrants to the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP).

Obviously, I was delighted to see that so many new entrants to local government were a) making use, if only in a small way, of social media and b) that they were taking the time to follow the ramblings of myself and my colleagues.

With this in mind I thought it might be nice to write a post specifically for them and not being able to come up with anything more original here is my top ten tips for any new graduate:

1)      Talk to people. When I first started in local government I was scared of ALL managers. In actual fact I have discovered that if you show an interest almost every person in the authority will happily sit down with you for half an hour and chat through what they do.

2)      Work out where the money comes from. Councils are pretty complex and if you want to have a career in local government it will really help you if you understand how the council is funded. (Clue: it’s not as simple as understanding council tax!)

3)      Work out where the money goes. Understanding how the council sets a budget and how each service manager then works out, and monitors, their own budget is such a central part of being a manager that it is best to get this sorted as soon as possible. There are so many managers who don’t know how to manage their own budget, let alone how the council’s overall budget works, and it definitely holds them back.

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How to survive the local gov plane crash

September 2, 2011

Place your head between your legs and kiss whatever you find goodbyeLast week I saw a link to what looked to be a very interesting article on a community of practice I’m part of. It was titled ‘How to survive a plane crash’, and showed up as having several replies already.

Wow, I thought, this could be interesting. Obviously they must be using a plane crash as a metaphor for local government, and its crash as the financial challenges councils are facing up and down the country. This must be a guide to how to survive your career in a situation where the plane looks like it’s going down in flames and might crash and burn any day now.

So I clicked on the link and signed in to the CoP, navigating directly to this potential treasure trove of advice and guidance and expecting a certain degree of enlightenment.

Only to find a picture of a plane, and advice on where to sit in case it crashes.

I may have been expecting too much, but the advice wasn’t even particularly good, apparently just sit at the back. However, it’s inspired me to produce our very own WLLG guide to how to survive the local government plane crash.

Step 1: Identify your exits (more…)

And now, the end is near…

August 19, 2011

Pack your bags and stuff that memory stickUnlike our forebears, who joined local government in the knowledge that they would probably not leave until they were handed their golden carriage clock and a retirement card, those of us around today have to accept a slightly different situation. Our jobs are slightly more transient, with individuals more likely to move about within and between organisations far more frequently.

This is rarely a simple or straightforward task, and one which few if any training courses can prepare you for. So, as it’s Friday, we thought we would present the We Love Local Government guide to things to do when you leave your job. Of course, additional suggestions are always welcomed in the comments or on Twitter (@welovelocalgov by the way).

1. Raid the shared drive

Over the course of our jobs we write a lot of stuff that’s useless. Reports (with at least a dozen draft versions), photos from events, spreadsheets and random notes fill shared drives all over the country; however, hidden amongst all of this place specific information are some real gems. (more…)

Throw a little conflict into the mix

August 17, 2011

Conflict isn't always bad“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  It’s not often that a quote from the renaissance man that is Eminem bears any relevance to life in local government, but this phrase rings true for many in local government.

We’ve spoken before about the difficulties of knowing when to stand up for yourself, when (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln) you need to find somewhere solid to stand and plant your feet firmly and when a little more consensus and apathy might be a better course of action.

That being said, conflict in the workplace is a much maligned and misunderstood beast.  Most of us being flock animals are people who want to run with the crowd and who like to be liked.  Few revel in being hated and reviled, although most of us can put up with some mild dislike from time to time.  For the majority however it’s an easyish life we are after.

The underlying issue being avoided is that of conflict.  Most people labour under the impression that conflict is always negative, and are more than able to reel off countless examples of fights, arguments and disagreements which turned sour.  Whether personal or professional, all of this conflict has ended up creating a sense of negativity and disappointing outcomes.

What’s more difficult is to ask people to think of times when conflict has actually been helpful. (more…)

Managing upwards

August 16, 2011

Do they really care about your project?To err is human; to blame it on someone else shows management potential.

Perhaps a little unfair on the huge number of expert managers out there, but this simple sentence nicely sums up a recent situation I found myself in which I’d like to share.  It may be a trifling matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve learnt some valuable lessons along the way, and a problem shared and all that…

Picture the scene: a young, bright eyed officer is tasked with setting up a borough-wide project involving senior managers from across the Council and every service area.  Brimming with excitement, she is then brought back down to earth a little by being told that she has just three weeks to go from nothing to completion.

Undeterred, our brave and intrepid officer begins her journey towards success:  research and benchmarking is done, case studies are sought and a plan emerges from the shadows.  Meetings are booked, including the first one with a very senior officer more than a few rungs up on the treacherous corporate ladder.

The meeting is a great success; in fact almost too successful.  The senior officer backs the project wholeheartedly, sharing that they have been involved in near identical enterprises in the past and know exactly what to do.  They and their own team have all of the information to hand along with the relationships with others to complete the job, so effectively agree to do the work.  This is noted, agreed and shook upon, whereupon our officer leaves them to it. (more…)

Training needn’t be a chore

August 4, 2011

Train yourself to be a better trainerThese are tough times. Costs are being cut and savings made, whether they are for long term gain or short term balance keeping. Basically, if it can be cut without raising an outcry, it will be.

Unfortunately, one of the first things being cut from many Council spending columns is the item marked ‘staff training’. If it used to be delivered externally then it is now being brought in-house, if it was in-house it is being scaled back. Many managers are refusing or ignoring applications from their team to attend training sessions as they simply don’t have the time available to release them for a day or more; fewer staff and greater workloads is squeezing this training time out.

With central training teams feeling the pinch, officers who perhaps have never delivered training before are being forced to take on the burden of sharing their skills with their colleagues. They often have little experience of doing so to groups of people, being more experienced using their skills rather than teaching them.

Training others effectively is a very, very difficult skill to master. It is more than simply talking in front of people with a powerpoint behind you, it is about helping your audience not just understand the theory but getting excited about putting it into practice. It is about encouraging them to question themselves and their working practices and supporting them to learn something new which will prove useful in their daily working lives.

The following observations stem from some of the many training courses we have experienced over recent years. Some have been excellent and left us enthused and more knowledgable than when we started; others have made us want to have a standing argument with the trainer and shake them until they realise that we will never recover that lost hour and a half. (more…)

The Hidden Barriers of Leaving Local Government

June 16, 2011

What? There's no detailed person spec to answer?

Here at welovelocalgovernment we try to cover all elements of the local government experience. And so, when we were contacted with the offer of a guest post (we do love a guest post!) that would discuss the problems local government employees might face if trying to leave the sector we jumped at the chance.

If you’ve got an article or topic you’d like us to share with our readers send it in to welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com, but not until you’ve enjoyed this from the ‘mysteriously’ named Headhunter.

When the private sector recession was happening a lot of people decided they wanted to think about working in local government, and they encountered a number of issues of cultural unfamiliarity, including the vey different recruitment process blogged about recently.

There are analogous, but in some respects worse, challenges for the many people who are now, voluntarily or otherwise leaving LG and looking to the allegedly burgeoning private sector for their next job.  (Any redundant public servant should of course be reading about the journey of the now re-employed redundant public servant.

Surveys have shown that public sector managers are harder to place in the private sector and that whilst people are looking to the private sector for their next job they are pessimistic about getting there.  What does this mean, in practical terms, for individuals making the journey? And how much of that can I realistically cover in a blog post?  I’m a headhunter, predominantly recruiting for Chief Officer roles having been a chief officer myself, but having started my career in the private sector.  This is what I think…

(more…)

In case of emergency… don’t call Eric

December 14, 2010

Lost? Would the DCLG be able to advise?

You just can’t escape the snow; even when it’s not snowing! Here follows our second snow piece in two days; this time from one of our readers who seems a little annoyed by Eric Pickles and the good people at the DCLG.

I spoke to one of my friends yesterday, who asked me to guess how many hours it took for her to get to do her regular journey to work last week… ‘6 she replied, and then 5 hours to get back’, and that included her getting out to help dig a truck that had got stuck in the snow and was blocking traffic.

What I discovered later on, was that my friend has inadvertently acted in accordance with new guidance, helpfully published last week by Eric Pickles and our good friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government… Yes that’s the ‘Guidance on community action during severe weather… The Big Society in Action.’

This provides a helpful guide for those needing additional information about what to do in cases of emergency when dealing with severe weather; except the guidance forgets to include the seemingly helpful recommendation, as proven by my friend, to carry a shovel in the car.

The (not so) subtle message for a society needing to wean itself off local governments’ helping hand seems to be simple, ‘don’t call us – we’re calling you’.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the Big Society ideals that we all now have to pitch in a bit more. And yes, that means you and I need to up our weekly volunteering hours. I’m sure the boss wont mind when you explain the reason you wont be staying late to finish that last minute project.

(As a side note: I wonder just how well it’ll go down with management when people start calling in ‘volunteering’ days, as suggested for those stuck at home in the snow.)

My problem with this sort of guidance is not why have it, but why is this the job of the CLG. Thanks, but actually the CLG publication web page is not the place I would look for the latest info on how to deal with frostbite.

It seems that now is a good a time as any to start to talk about who should be doing what.

The issue of ‘coordination’ seems to be the elephant in the room in all the Big Society chatter. One thing that drives me batty working in local government is the amazing duplication of guidance everywhere. Its seems no-one is quite sure who is doing what, so everyone does everything (and we are stuck reading 100’s of guidance documents, kind of all saying a similar thing, but nothing which succinctly gives you everything you need to know).

I would understand if the CLG wrote a guidance template and told local authorities to update it with the relevant local service information and stick it on their websites.  That would make sense – and, no doubt, be very helpful. Or they could write to volunteer agencies, asking them to promote key safety information and how and when people should contact them.

If the government is going to provide helpful information, surely in the age of austerity, it should do it once and do it well. Not investing in yet another piece of guidance few will know exists, let alone read.

Having said that, thankfully we have now all been reminded…. You do not need a Criminal Records Bureau check to call round and check on elderly friends and neighbours.  So there you have it, now there really are no more excuses for me not to go and introduce myself to the neighbours.

Be a Time Killer Queen

August 19, 2010

Open plan offices are wonderful things.  They encourage people to interact with each other, make us stick to our clear desk and hot desk policies and force us to stay off some more interesting corners of the internet.

What they also do is allow us to become a team of office curtain twitchers, keeping a corner of an eye on what people are doing or looking at.

It’s this ability which recently drew my attention to a colleague.  He was sitting opposite his line manager, so his screen couldn’t be seen by them.  What he didn’t know however was that I was making use of the aforementioned hot desking policy, and was sitting a few desks behind him.  This allowed me to observe as he spent at least ten to fifteen minutes looking intently at his screen whilst opening and then closing folders and files.  He didn’t read them, he didn’t organise them; he spent that long just opening and closing them.

We can all waste time on occasion, and sometimes it’s really valuable to take a break and think about something different (which is where our excellent list of reasons that you know you’ve been in local government too long came from).  Here are some of my favourite ways that I’ve seen local authority staff waste time. (more…)