100 – ‘We’ll get the managers to sign off’. The second most common local government phrase.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

sign here

I guess this is the second most common phrase and it links to Colin Weatherby’s post about managers spending their time scraping burnt toast. One of the dysfunctions common in local government is the assignment of responsibility to managers for authorising everything by everyone changing a system or process, usually to eliminate their own risk.

I suppose some examples are in order. Advertising for a vacant job. An authorisation will already have been obtained to fill the position but the manager must sign to authorise the placement of the advertisement. Why? I guess that one day someone must have put in an advertisement for a position that wasn’t approved. But is this an effective or necessary control? Has the exception made the rule?

What about putting a new supplier onto the council’s system? Managers must sign the form to authorise accounts to put them on the system. Why? This probably happens for a different reason. Someone, one day decided that the administrative burden of lots of suppliers, especially if they are not used for long periods of time, needed to be managed. So, they made managers sign to put them on in the belief/hope that they will manage the number of suppliers. It amazes me that anyone could honestly think that managers keep a list of the suppliers they have already authorised and that they consult it before carefully considering whether or not additional suppliers are required when requested by their team members. Do you?

Pay sheets. This is a good one. Managers are asked to sign the sheets authorising pays as ‘a true and correct record’. How would they know this? I suppose if they compiled the list themselves they would. When it is compiled by someone else, the best they can do is to say that the pay sheet has been prepared by a competent person in accordance with the set process. But, isn’t that their job as a manager -ensure there is a system and that people follow it? Shouldn’t they then also be signing off on every pothole filled or tree pruned (note for any readers working in corporate services – I don’t really mean it, I am being facetious)? But is calls into question what a manager’s signature really means.

I could keep on going. There are endless examples and managers know them all. It is a convenient and easy way for people in roles from the CEO to administrative clerks to incrementally add to the workload of managers by giving them meaningless authorisation processes that are supposed to reduce organisational risk. And it is hard for managers to push back because, in each instance, it seems like such a small addition to their workload. The cumulative effect could be seen as loading up managers with non-value adding activities and pretending that risks are being effectively managed.

By now you are probably wondering what most common phrase is. I have some suggestions. Let me know your thoughts via a comment.