The People Manager
All posts from: March 2012
My colleague on the senior management team seemed surprised, shocked even - “Do you mean to say you talk about me and members of my team during your meetings?” - as if this was slightly improper, unprofessional and indiscrete.
“Of course we talk about you and individuals in your team - don’t tell me you don’t talk about us”.
I don’t mean gossiping or moaning tactics, but if you’re responsible for support services like HR, Finance, IT, or Policy then you are a corporate messenger trying not to get shot. You are asking people to do things they don’t want to do - provide information (form filling), adopt fairer recruitment practises (further delays in post-filling), attend Health and Safety courses (waste of time), do their own data entry (what is admin for?), or respond to a press enquiry or complaint (justify their decision).
At which point, someone always asks: “well how many staff do they have in HR?”, “what do the policy group do anyway?” and, ultimately, “if we need to save money, then why not start with this lot?”
So yes, we talk tactics. Who is the most vocal and why? How do we convince them that this is worth the effort? How can we make them more aware of what we do? What should we do differently so that they appreciate us more?
Collaboration has both negative and positive connotations. Collaboration between public sector organisations and the voluntary sector is generally seen as a positive, whereas collaboration with the private sector is viewed with suspicion.
According to a recent survey by the management consultancy Hay Group, whilst public sector leaders predict an increase in public/private collaboration, they oppose and even resent the trend. In their report, “Relationship Counselling”, they record the concerns of senior managers about the effect such increased collaboration will have on public services, stating that senior managers refute claims that the private sector can deliver public services more effectively.
However, there is a strong feeling in some parts of the public sector that collaboration with the private sector is a necessary evil. Those who have worked their way up through the public sector are very uncomfortable about doing deals with the private sector. In my past experience, many senior managers have been left feeling that slick private sector operators have taken advantage of public sector organisations, their members seduced by glossy presentations and the promise of painless budget savings, and their officers out-manoeuvred by clever sales techniques and smart lawyers.
It is not inevitable that the predatory private sector will rip-off the naive public sector but a long-term relationship will require both sectors to put aside their prejudices and find ways of collaborating which allow for both profit and social benefit.
In the past, social services have tried to frame contracts with the private sector to reflect public sector values whilst accepting that companies need to make reasonable profits. Local Authorities view themselves as model employers with favourable pay and conditions, opportunities for staff development and a commitment to equal opportunities. They have however, found that they cannot tell private sector companies what they should pay their staff or who they should employ.
They have had more success in offering financial incentives to employers who invest in staff development. The idea is that contracts allow for premium payments for organisations that, for example, have over 50% of their staff with an NVQ in care. The argument is that not only does this help “skill up” the local workforce but it also means that staff turnover is lower, thus allowing for more consistency in care from better trained staff.
The two biggest complaints from service users are the high turnover and the lack of experience of staff, resulting in personal care being provided by a succession of inexperienced strangers. Of course, this only worked whilst the premium was financially attractive, and once local authorities had decided they could only afford the basics, then they had no leverage.
And it is this experience which has convinced many that only financial incentives will make private sector organisations adopt public sector values.
How to be unforgettable
Every organisation has its “stars” - people who stand out; those who have a cause, a reputation for speaking up, and for making things happen and getting things done. Others talk about them, stories are told about them, and they make an impression. Sometimes their challenging attitude leads to the sack; sometimes their ability to deliver leads to promotion. They don’t stay too long, but when they go they leave a legacy.
Most of us think we could be a star. Sadly, some of us are as deluded as those who audition for Britain’s Got Talent. Others feel it is within them but are too lazy, too afraid or just too happy, as I am, thanks. Some would argue the secret to a happy life is to be satisfied with your lot. After all, being a star may not be all it is cracked up to be - a lot of effort, a lot of disappointment, the risk of failure and of course, being a constant target for criticism.
If you seek stardom, how exactly do you obtain it? And are you prepared to pay a price?
You must shine. Get yourself noticed and stand-out from “the crowd”. To do this, you must challenge - stick your head above the parapet and risk getting it shot-off.
You must offer your opinion even if it is not requested or wanted. You must be critical but have ideas about how things could be done better. This will not make you popular.
You must seek every opportunity to show off your talents; this means that take on extra work and responsibility.
You must have a cause - something you believe in strongly and wish to champion, something to focus on, because you cannot be effective if you spread your energies too thin.
And above all, you must have confidence in yourself even when others doubt your skill, wisdom and integrity.
Still want to be a star?