Lots of managers enjoy success by geting people to do things. Some use fear, others charisma. But if staff only do things your way because they are afraid, of you or because they like you, then what happens when you move on? Do they respond to the new manager in the same way, even if that manager wants them to do things completely differently? Does it matter? After all, the boss is the boss.
As a manager responsible for a group of residential homes I had clear views on how elderly people should be cared for. I explained to the officers in charge how I wanted them to make a reality of choice, respect, dignity and independence.
I addressed staff meetings in which we discussed what choice meant in relation to helping a resident get dressed, when breakfast was available or staying up late at night. We talked about privacy in the toilet and bathroom.
‘I had clear views on how elderly people should be cared for’
We agreed our aim was to help and encourage people to do things for themselves, not do it for them. We discussed smoking and drinking in relation to these ideas on choice and independence. When we interviewed for new staff we used these examples to ensure we appointed people in tune with these values. Each home had a dementia unit and these residents, with their poor, short-term memory, disorientation and restless wandering prompted many a debate about risk verse independence, dignity, choice and privacy.
The symbol of the approach I advocated was the unlocked door policy. During daylight hours the front door was to remain unlocked. The risk was that a confused resident could wander out and, as most of those suffering from dementia were very mobile, could quickly reach the main road. Visitors could walk into the home without having to ring a bell or wait for the door to be unlocked.
Likewise, they could leave without having to ask for the door to be unlocked. The regulars would just walk through to the relevant sitting room to find their mum or dad; others would call at the office, which was by the front door.
On a very few occasions, when we were short-staffed or distracted, we did “lose” a resident and send out a search party. Several residents would agitate to go “home” and the policy was for staff to walk with them, rather than physically prevent them from leaving the building. A short walk and the suggestion of a cup of tea was usually enough to turn them round.
‘I wanted to convince them that this was best practice and would continue to be best practice, whoever was their boss’
So what happened when I got a new job and my replacement had a more cautious approach?
I did not want people to do it my way only when I was looking. I wanted to convince them that this was best practice and would continue to be best practice, whoever was their boss. Latter, as a director, I expected my managers to explain why we were intending to do what we were, not simply to say the director has decided.
I guess that’s why they called me the “not so special one”.
Blair McPherson is a former local authority director and author of a number of management books, including Equipping Managers for an Uncertain Future and An Elephant in the Room. Follow him on Twitter: @blairmcpherson1