The People Manager
All posts from: May 2012
Knowing the meaning of the word manager
Management covers a range of activities: managing budgets, managing information, managing buildings and equipment. But you are not a proper manager unless you manage people. People are challenging, they can be difficult and uncooperative, some people behave badly at work and some are not competent at their job. People get sick at inconvenient times, have lives outside of work, children, elderly relatives, unhappy marriages - all of which you must take account of as a people manager.
Even so some managers are more administrators, others more leaders. The difference is whether you’re trying to run a smooth operation or shake things up. In the current harsh financial climate all managers are expected to manage change. The changes may be to reduce costs, increase efficiency or to run the service with fewer managers. All of which will involve getting people to do things differently.
Whilst you’re busy cutting management posts you are also acquiring a broader span of responsibilities. The result is that your professional background is less relevant and your managerial skills are more valued than your professional knowledge.
Now you’re a manager that manages change but in this climate of pay freezes, increased pension contributions and redundancies can you inspire staff or is it enough that you get them to do what needs to be done?
Didn’t I read that another difference between managers and leaders was that leaders ask questions? Yet in many organisations asking questions can be seen as dissent, even disloyalty. So you can call yourself a manager, but expect means something different these days.
Knowing the value of doing something for nothing
As a parent you will have had that discussion with your child where you ask them to do something that is not one of their routine chores - cut the grass, wash the car - and they respond by asking you: “how much will you give me?”
You will probably have been irritated by this attitude and pointed out how much you do for them. The idea that we should do our bit for the common good and not always expect a financial reward is a value that as parents we try and teach our children.
Doing something for nothing seems to be going out of fashion. I read the other day that there was a shortage of people regularly donating blood and that we might have to adopt the American system of paying people to give blood to ensure adequate supplies. The debate on organ donor cards continues around whether people should have to opt in or out whilst the illegal sale of organs is now big business. In China and India poor people sell their kidneys and middle men make a health profit selling them to the wealthy.
Trying to persuade a materialistic youngster that they should not expect to be paid for doing something for other people is like trying to persuade the government that public sector services should not be subjected to the profit motive. I thought hospitals are about treating the sick, not making a profit?
Are whistleblowers good people trying to do the right thing or are they persuing their own agenda, just trying to get someone else into trouble because they don’t like them or want their job?
Things go on in old peoples’ homes, hospital wards and board rooms that shouldn’t. Those in charge may be the ones responsible or they may want to hush it all up, whether to protect themselves or the reputation of the organisation. It is clear from the scandals that have been exposed over the last 18 months that organisations need a system whereby an individual employee can sound the alarm, bypass line management and expose wrong doing. Anyone blowing the whistle on bad practise risks victimisation so it takes courage and they need protection.
Why then do so employees feel there is something distasteful about those who choose to report their colleagues? The motives of the whistleblower should make no difference to the response to their allegations which must be to taken seriously, rigorously investigated and following the outcome acted on appropriately.
As a senior manager I chaired many disciplinary hearings which originated with a member of staff bypassing their line manager to report serious concerns. In such cases the whistleblower was often subject to considerable peer pressure, often continuing to work alongside colleagues who did not support their actions. I admired the courage of these individuals but it is not always so straight forward.
In one particular case the Officer in Charge and three of her staff were dismissed as a result of allegations made by a whistleblower that were upheld. However a local councillor who had taken an interest in the case and was unhappy that disciplinary action was not more widespread and felt that senior management were closing ranks. This councillor had a long running feud with the director about the way she ran the department and responded to issues raised by councillors. The councillor went to the local press, presented themselves as a whistleblower and claimed that the organisation was covering up widespread management incompetence.
The result was a further independent review of the case which concluded that the line manager should have been more proactive and challenging but recognised that it would have been very difficult for any manager to establish what was really going on in the face of such a plausible officer and a loyal if misguided staff clique.
In the first example the whistleblower was seeking to protect vulnerable service users. In the subsequent actions the so called whistleblower was after a management scalp to prove a point. It’s clear just how unclear it can be to distinguish the whistleblowers who are doing it for the right reasons.
The opening scene of the film The Fall of the Roman Empire pans steeply up to the top of a high viaduct. Along the top, lined up shoulder to shoulder looking down at the rocks below, are Roman soldiers. Their commander riding a white horse stops at random and with the words “those not prepared to die for Rome have no right to live” pushes a soldier to certain death below.
The Legion has just suffered a humiliating defeat and those in charge blame the rank and file.
I don’t know if there is an historical evidence to support this scene but it must be the ultimate in macho management and the use of fear as a motivator.
Now I am not suggesting that those in charge at the DH or your average NHS chief executive takes staff to the tallest building on campus and pushes a few nurses or doctors off the top just because of a bad inspection report, delays in hospital discharges, an increase in the waiting list, a dramatic slide down the league table or a leak to the press about patients waiting on trolleys in corridors. Although the departure of a high profile individual is often accompanied by the question “were they pushed or did they jump?”…
The nurses at their annual conference made their anger and frustration clear to the health service minister. And yet I was reading on the Health Service Journal website an article that had provoked lots of comments when I realised that all the responses were anonymous.
It was the same for other articles: people were very unhappy about changes in the NHS and very cynical about their leadership but no one was prepared to put their name to their comments!
This is a clear indication of a general climate of fear and a condemnation of the management style in the NHS. But macho management is not restricted to the NHS.
The newish head of Ofsted has suggested dawn inspection raids on schools suspected of underperforming and stated that if staff morale is low in the teaching profession he must be doing something right. Little surprise then that in a recent NASUWT survey a third of teachers said they did not feel respected as professionals.
A similar story is told in local government with chief executives imposing restructurings, outsourcing services and overseeing redundancies whilst using phrases like “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.
As staff morale sinks leadership has become increasingly autocratic and alienating, management by fear is replacing leadership by inspiration. Many working in the NHS must feel like those Roman soldiers on the viaduct - and like Rome in its decline, the NHS is in danger of fallign as its services fragment.
Managers need to take a hard look in the mirror to see themselves as others see them, according to a new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.
The report arises out of CIPD’s quarterly “Employee Outlook” survey which identifies a significant gap between managers’ image of themselves and the experience of those they manage. The report provides evidence of the size of the gap but does not offer much insight into the reason for its existence.
I regularly experienced this “reality gap” as a senior manager. The policy was clear: every manager should provide one to one meetings with their staff once a month. All managers claimed to do this yet staff surveys, feedback from training courses and disciplinary hearings all provided evidence to the contrary.
When pursued most managers genuinely thought they provided regular one to one sessions with a few disclaimers for annual leave, sickness and the occasional double booking. The reality as evidenced by the supervision records was some what different. The gap was in the difference between sessions booked and those that happened. Managers were surprised at how many sessions failed to take place because one or other was on holiday or something else came up at the last minute. Once cancelled, sessions weren’t rearranged often because there was another in what was already a crowed diary.
The same difference in perceptions was found when exploring what was covered in these meetings. Managers were clear that they provided feedback, encouragement and discussed personal development. Employees said sessions were routinely used to allocate work, chase missed deadlines and occasionally sign a training form which they didn’t consider constituted discussing professional development.
Some managers when challenged were even less conscientious saying that they didn’t think the policy on one to one supervision applied to all groups of staff giving admin as an example and saying experienced staff didn’t need that level of support. Or simply that they had too many staff to provide all of them with regular sessions.
Some managers have good intensions but are just too busy, some know what’s expected and just ignore it as unrealistic and some think it is a waste of time. The research makes the point that good managers make the time to support their staff. 360 degree feedback might help managers see how their staff view them but even then some mangers would find it difficult to square the feedback with their perception of themselves.
From my experience the most effective way to develop managers’ self awareness and people skills is through coaching where the coach observes the individual in a variety of management situations like a team meeting or a one to one session and provides detailed feedback.
This expression originated in football, I think, but has made it into the latest edition of the Oxford dictionary. It is something all ambitious managers need.
I don’t recommend getting the sack as a way to advance your career. But if you have never failed, never been out of step with colleagues and never refused to compromise then you probably don’t have what it takes to get to the top. Of course being seen as opinionated, abrasive and intolerant of those less able and less committed than yourself will not endear you to your colleagues. Whether you are sidelined as an awkward personality or earmarked as a rising star will depend on your ability to carry the staff with you and get the job done.
In the current climate where senior managers are treated like football managers and organisations are judged on their position in a league table you will inevitably be faced with an ambitious set of performance indicators, expected to deliver efficiencies and find new sources of income. Sometimes you will be able to deliver on these demanding expectations but inevitably you will fail at some point. How you deal with these setbacks will determine how far you go. Rising stars need bounce back ability.
Remember every management star who makes it to the top has been sacked at least once in their career.