The coalition government has set off to a good managerial start by setting clear but ambitious priorities. By so doing they may avoid the death by policy approach of the 1997 government where there was a naïve belief in the correlation between policy volume and service improvement. However, having started well the coalition’s next two managerial tests will be tougher: implementation and responding to opposition to change.
Implementation is harder for governments because unlike policy creation where they have hands-on control, implementation relies on wider networks and relationships for success. However, there is one lesson from the past - the dramatic reduction in NHS access times during the last decade (surely the most symbolic improvement to the NHS) is a positive testamont to government and managerial focus.
Responding to opposition is often a learning and potentially bruising experience for government as it can be for managers. The managerial adage is that opposition to change is best met head on otherwise dissent will grow with increased risk of failing to achieve. This doesn’t always mean confrontation but it does mean not being afraid to have the difficult conversation, including where necessary a willingness to seek a compromise solution.
It is good to see the coalition’s managerial approach extending to not being led to believe that reducing expenses, freezing recruitment, eliminating quangos and the like will not in themselves meet the budgetary objective. These are soft targets that don’t result in sustained success which only comes from cultural and systemic change. Tougher, more draconian policies will be required to achieve that including, as we now see, proposed structural change. It’s unfortunate that it’s only four years since the last change but events force it once again.
Finally, let us hope that there’s not over reliance on the current savings programme and that some ‘plan Bs’ have been produced. If 70-80 percent of current plans are delivered then government and managers will be doing well. However, pulling plan Bs out of the hat when some plans inevitably start to fail will shore up the probability of greater success.