A report published recently expresses concern that the eagerness to cut costs in the short term could seriously undermine the public sector’s ability to deliver in the long term. A survey of public sector leaders by Zurich Municipal has found that organisations are not giving enough thought to who they can afford to lose and risk losing the very expertise and experience they will need to bring about the major changes required in the public sector.
There is a view among many public sector leaders that the sector has too many managers and that the current financial climate is an opportunity to address this. So, if one in five management posts had to be cut, how would you decide who to let go? Do you ask for volunteers? Identify those you don’t want? Or simply remove a whole tier of management?
What if the volunteers aren’t the ones you want to go? They may well contain individuals with experience and skills that will be difficult to replace or have the very skills required in delivering more for less. What about the well known cynics? Those promoted beyond their level of competence? Or the square pegs in round holes? Surely they wouldn’t be missed?! Can we actually agree on who they are? Can we get away with this approach in the first place? After all, if they were incompetent or unsuitable, should we not have dealt with them before?
An employment tribunal might well think so. In any case, some of these maverick managers that challenge the way things are done are the innovators - and we certainly need innovation if we are to respond to the budget pressure by doing things differently.
If there are too many tiers of management why not just delete a whole tier? It is a clear rationale for making someone redundant to say: “Your post and all the others at this level are not in the new structure.” At least this way it is nothing to do with individual personalities or arbitrary judgements of competence. OK, so which tier? It has to be a middle tier. We cannot take out all senior managers - we will simply end up replacing them. We cannot take out first line managers - they are the ones who ensure things get done. So middle managers it is then. Only, some of them are very good, plus if we get rid of all of them, where will the senior managers of tomorrow come from? Well, do we need all of them? Right, so we are back to selecting who stays and goes? We could make managers apply for a job in the new structure - lots of time-consuming interviews, perhaps challenges and appeals.
Well, what about looking at the age profile of the management workforce? We want managers with the energy and enthusiasm to be able to do more with less. We want managers who can motivate and inspire staff to work in new ways. Do some of our older managers still have the fire in their bellies? Have they the passion and drive to bring about the radical changes that are required? I am not convinced this is anything to do with age. You cannot say that everyone over 55 has lost their passion, become cynical and is out of step with the organisation, any more than you can say that everyone under 50 is energetic, committed and innovative. In fact, there are some very cynical and rather lethargic - if ambitious - 30-somethings and we have some truly dynamic and progressive 50-somethings.
So what conclusion have we reached? Perhaps we had just better ask who wants to go and hope that it’s not too many! Yet, it is the potential loss of expertise and experience as a result of employing this method that the Zurich Municipal report is cautioning against…