Posted tagged ‘management’

Manage to lead

March 26, 2012

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

And with this simple quote, shown up is one of the fundamental flaws in the way we value the people who work in local government.

Having been through restructures in the past, I am well versed in the intricacies of the average process.  The team or service undergoing the changes invariably ends up reviewing their structure charts, placing new teams together and rearranging workloads before or after assigning a manager for them to work with or to lead on their projects and keep things moving in the right direction.  Those higher up this chain get paid more, those lower down get paid less.

But why is this?  Why do those who sign off the leave cards for others, and who record progress via 1:1 meetings get paid more than those who actually do the work, those who make the contacts and those who lead the agenda and projects to where they need to be?

There seems to be an underlying assumption often made that leadership and management is intrinsically linked and that you can’t successfully do one without doing the other at the same time.  On many job descriptions for managers at whatever grade is the ability to lead and motivate others; how many of us are truly inspired by those immediately above us?  If you are one of thee then you are in a privileged position, as many simply are not.

However, many of us do find this inspiration from other colleagues we work with.  Some of these will be more senior than us, some more junior and some our peers.  I for one have been lucky enough to have had one or two inspirational managers, have been enthused by more junior staff and worked alongside some who have pushed me to be better than I  thought I could be before.

I’m sure I’m not unique in having known many of the exact opposite, those who’s jobs may or may not have been to inspire me but who didn’t for whatever reason.  Some of these have been superb managers, who have provided exactly what I needed when I needed it and allowed me to lead myself in my own direction. I didn’t hold this against them, in fact for me this was equally as important a stage in my professional development. (more…)

Me and my brilliant managers

February 1, 2012

Sucking up?

Sometimes it is easy to get jaded in local government, especially when referring to those above you in the hierarchy. As far as you can see your managers make bad decisions and your senior managers lack vision. You wonder how exactly they made it the positions they did and assume some sort of nepotism or the fact that they must have been there forever.

However, the more I delve into the murky world of local government the more I become impressed by many of the people I work for and work with.

Over the past year I have been making a note of some of the really cool things that managers in my, and other organisations, and others have done before and whilst they’ve been in local government.

I’ve met people who have set up their own businesses, ran other people’s businesses and worked for consultancies. I’ve met people with 20 years experience of delivering ever higher quality front line services (with amazing achievements to their name) and people whose passion for the people they serve has led them to go way beyond the call of duty to deliver the best possible service.

I’ve met people whose accomplishments outside of the workplace are outstanding. I’ve met musicians, comedians (funny ones as well) and actors. I’ve met people who run charities and people who run football teams. I’ve met people with PhDs and people with more professional qualifications than I knew existed.


The joy of admin

November 24, 2011

A love of admin - via my computer

When I was a few years longer one of my colleagues did the unthinkable and managed to hurdle a few layers of the bureaucratic ladder and got a job as a manager in another authority. Naturally, we thought this was great but still worthy of a little light ribbing. You can only imagine how much the ribbing increased when we discovered that she had, as part of her new job, a secretary.

Now, admittedly this was only really part of a secretary (and doubtless the job title was something more glamorous such as a business support officer) but nonetheless we decided that this made our friend a grand cheddar and said as much.

A few year’s later and I was in a similar position. I had just received a job at the very bottom of the management ladder and after about a week in my new job my manager apologised that I wouldn’t have any administrative support (much too junior) but asked if I wanted to put in a request for some support from one of the central teams (maybe a day a week was suggested).

I thought about it for a few minutes and literally could not think of a single reason why I would ever need any admin support.


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…)

Manager without portfolio

July 26, 2011

Mandy: A model for Local Government?

In 1997 Tony Blair named Peter Mandelson as the Minister without Portfolio within his cabinet. At the time people thought this was an excuse to give Mr Mandelson a Cabinet position without actually giving him a job.

My guess is that the stated aim of bringing in someone with the soul job of ‘co-ordinating within government’ was probably more or less correct, and if so is something we could learn from in Local Government.

In fact, I would like to advocate that councils start thinking about appointing managers without portfolio.

In general in Local Government we appoint managers first and foremost to manage their teams. We then gather these individual managers, each appointed to manage their teams, and put them together into a management team. We expect this management team to provide the strategic lead for the council (or for the department they work in), to manage their staff and budgets, to mange projects and programmes, to co-ordinate work with other departments and to look after all manner of complex work.

Despite this requirement at the management team level we still appoint our managers based on their ability to manage their own teams and hope that they will be generalists and therefore able to handle all of the other responsibilities.

However, I think this is perhaps a mistake. I know a lot of people in Local Government and many of them are managers and a few of the people I think should be managers are not. Some of these people are fantastic people mangers, some are brilliant strategists, some are ideas people, some are the people I’d most trust with shepherding complex projects through the organisation and others are the networkers, people who join everything together and are constantly finding ways of making our work more efficient and effective.

But rarely are the combination of skills listed above all present in a management team. In part this is because we value the ability to manage the service above all else when appointing our middle and senior managers.

It is for this reason that I strongly advocate the introduction of managers without portfolio. These people would not be laden with the management of individual teams. In fact they might not even be that good at people management and may have been passed over for exactly that reason. However, due to their lack of service management responsibilities these people would be responsible for doing a lot of work for the department or council; developing strategy, delivering projects and co-ordinating all of the good work that is going on.

Surely this is a role we could welcome in Local Government?

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Delusions of grandeur

April 26, 2011

Sign of success or taking your life away?

About two years ago one of my close friends got herself a new job in a neighbouring public sector institution. The new job was a step up and my colleagues and I were amazed that her new job provided her with a PA. If you’ve got a PA, we thought, you’ve really made it.

I was recently reminded about this as my friend moved on to a new challenge in a new country. So in her honour here are the top five trappings that (really don’t) show that you’ve made ‘it’ in local government.

1)      You have a PA. I have no idea what I’d do if I had a PA; I think I like being in control of my own life too much to be at the whim of someone else. That being said, I’ve done the job and genuinely believe that I played a highly valuable role in keeping my boss in the right place at the right time and ensuring that what he (and yes, it was a man; stereotype or no stereotype) wanted to get delivered was delivered (usually by me). Maybe it’s a mindset thing and once you’re there you know how to make use of them?

2)      You are allowed your own office. Gone are the days when every manager had their own office; now in the world of the open plan, if you have an office you have truly made it. I once worked in a team which wanted to abandon offices altogether and set up a totally office free floor. We then appointed a new director and the first thing he did was build himself (well, we got people in but you know what I mean), and his senior management team, a set of offices.


Six degrees of council management

February 8, 2011

Is Will Smith a Local Government Chief Exec in disguise?

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.


It’s above my head, that

September 29, 2010

It’s above my head, that

Well above my pay grade

More trouble than it’s worth

That’s not in the job description

The above are amongst my favourite sayings in local government. Many times I have asked a fellow member of staff for some help and been met with one of the above.

The workings of local government are constantly slowed by the jobsworths amongst us. An example from this morning and many others from the past exemplify the problem:

As your boss is away could you quickly provide me with the finance information for your department?

It’s above my head, that

I just need someone from comms to sign off this press release/e-mail so I can get moving with this

Well above my pay grade

I know this is short notice but is there anyway you could run the printing press after 4:30 this afternoon so we can get the reports done before the end of the day

More trouble than it’s worth

Any chance of assisting me in fighting the gang of ninjas who are attacking the office?

That’s definitely not in the job description

It’s not just that people don’t want to take responsibility; there is a culture of people being both slavish to their job description and scared to go further. Plus, our managers are at fault too; over-reaching from a keen member of staff can lead to upset senior managers and a stern telling off.

If the Big Society is truly about empowerment then I can think of a group of people who could really benefit: junior local government staff.