Decent Management?

Posted on June 15, 2009 by Aidan

Some of the public sector management stories remind me of a something I came across about the battle of Balaclava in 1854. Famous for the charge of the light brigade and “the thin red line” it became a logistical nightmare. While the British soldiers were up to their waists in water and cholera in summer clothes during the Russian winter, eating their own horses and dying by the thousands, the supplies they needed to survive languished in their ships for months – just down the hill from the front line – because the paperwork had not been properly done.

Front line staff  in public sector organisations are in my experience mostly doing their best often with back end management unable to meet their needs – not because there are too few but because there are too many. And I am beginning to believe that most of these poor managers are not aware of their capabilities and how bad they are.  And their managers are not helping by filling in review forms (where reviews are done at all) in a manner which rewards mediocre performance.

Listening to people who work in some areas of the public sector there are stories of mind boggling bureaucracy and failures. Improvements are resisted by a culture where positional power is taken so seriously it becomes the target of management rather than customer service. This leads to interdepartmental barriers, territoriality and lack of joined up thinking. I often wonder how old the process are in these organisations – did they every go through the BPR’s of the 90’s and are we dealing with systems put in place over 50 years ago.

I was at a hospital clinic some time back and as often happens I and about 20 others were kept waiting in the outer area for the consultants to arrive. There was a young woman on the front desk who was constantly getting enquiries about how long people could expect to be waiting. Of course she could not help – willing as she was – because she had not been informed. So she sat there working on her computer while 20 pairs of eyes stared at her and as people got more and more annoyed due to the delay and lack of information. I could feel the stress in the room and I felt quite sorry for her. I happened to sit down beside her and I asked how often it was like this …

“Oh” she said “every clinic”.

I kindly suggested that she should get a privacy screen so she could do her work without all those eyes burning a hole in her head. She confirmed that she had in fact asked for one and it was coming.

“Really?” I asked “when did you order it”.

She replied “3 years ago….”

This is a complex problem overall and will have to be resolved because the inefficiences generated by this culture drain our countries tax revenues at a far greater rate than is recognised I believe.  A little compassion for those who work for you might be a good start.

Aidan Higgins