By Lancing Farrell 1200 words
Raffaella Sadun, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen have written an interesting article (Why Do We Undervalue Competent Management?) that explores a deep and persistent problem in organisations across the world. This problem also manifests itself in local government.
The article is based on research over the past 16 years in 34 countries involving 12,000 organisations and 20,000 interviews (see more at http://worldmanagementsurvey.org). A strong evidence base is used in providing some clear insights into a problem that is disturbingly common.
The fundamental premise is that competent management practices make a difference to the productivity, profitability, growth and longevity of organisations.
This seems like such an obvious thing to say or write. Of course, the quality of management is critical to the performance of an organisation. After all, aren’t we are all managers and doing something that makes a positive contribution? This is where the story starts to get interesting. Continue reading
By Colin Weatherby 680 words
Lancing Farrell posted an interesting piece using Elliott Jaques’ requisite organisation theory to explain the best use of Executive time. It prompted some related thinking on my part. Jaques has provided a significant body of knowledge that can be very useful for managers in bureaucracies and hierarchical organisations.
The idea that people naturally organise themselves into hierarchical, or stratified, managerial systems in organisations reflects the reality of local government. This is reinforced by legislation that focuses accountability on top management. They are held responsible for the work outputs of people in the organisation and this responsibility cascades downwards through the management hierarchy. Continue reading
By Lancing Farrell 1800 words
This is the question that crossed my mind recently when discussing time management with a colleague who is part of an Executive team that is reviewing use of their time. They have engaged a consultant to work with them individually to understand how to best use their time. Like every Executive team, they always have more work to do than the time available to do it.
After keeping a time diary in 15 minute intervals for two days and coding up each activity according to musts, wants, work that should be delegated, and work that shouldn’t be getting done at all, it became apparent to my colleague that more efficient use could be made of available time but this wouldn’t solve the problem. Optimising use of time wouldn’t provide enough to do all the work. The nature of the workload needed to be examined.
In part this examination was prompted by the time management consultant suggesting that the time spent by my Executive colleague in meetings with direct reports could be reduced or the meetings held less often. In considering this idea, she realised that this was some of the most valuable time they spent each week. She also realised that (at the moment) she didn’t have a better use for that time. What could she do with the time that would be more valuable than influencing and helping her direct reports? This realisation started her thinking more broadly about the work she was doing.
This led her to re-examine Elliott Jaques’ work on requisite leadership. In particular, Jaques’ concept of time defining the degree of complexity in managerial leadership roles. The idea that every task has a target completion time and that the longer the time-span of discretion for tasks, the more complex the role, struck her as relevant in working out where she needed to spend her time and effort.
Jaques’ describes seven levels of organisational hierarchy, each with a different time-span of discretion ranging from 3 months to 50 years. He calls them requisite levels. Based on this, my colleague sketched out the relationship between Jaques’ theory and her work and time allocation challenge in the following table. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 1600 words
There have been a number of posts on systems thinking examining both its theoretical underpinnings and practical application. I recently had reason to consider how systems thinking, or lack thereof, affects organisations from day to day, and the ways that systems thinking can shape or influence organisational culture.
This was prompted by an article by Brian Martens on ‘the impact of leadership in applying systems thinking to organisations’. It is a thoughtful explanation of his research and thinking.
“Systems thinking is a natural way to look at the world and all the relationships and interconnections that are involved in its functioning.”
I think it is the only way to think about leadership or management in councils because connections matter so much in delivering services that meet the expectations of recipients and because resources are scarce and must be shared whenever possible. Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 570 words
Originally posted 20 April 2015
Yes, it is that time of the year when our engineers and accountants become highly creative. By June 30 they will need to explain whether or not the targeted amount of capital works has been completed. Often the target is expressed as simply as ‘90% capital program completed’. Usually it is a KPI for the CEO and senior managers. That makes it an important target.
So, why the need for such high levels of creativity?
Delivering 90% of the planned capital works is harder than it sounds. Many councils would have averaged around 60% to 70% over the last ten years. This is partially explained by growth in capital expenditure that has exceeded the organisational capacity to deliver. Another part of the explanation is that capital works programs have become more diverse with more people participating in the planning and delivery across the council. As a result, projects have become more complex and people with inadequate project management skills are often involved. Finally, councillors have become much more involved and the capital works program will now have projects that councillors, sometimes in response to community submissions to the budget process, have included – often at the last minute.
As the capital works program has grown, become more complex, involved more people with less skills, and started to include projects without adequate pre-planning or feasibility analysis, especially if they require community engagement, it has become much more difficult to deliver the whole program. But the target remains.
This is where the creativity occurs. Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 300 words
Colin Weatherby has made some interesting points in writing about pretend managing. A colleague recently reminded me of another important idea – there are two kinds of work in any workplace: the imagined and the real.
He was discussing his work in injury prevention in the workplace. In his interactions with injured workers and their managers he has observed that there are two types of work. The imagined work exists in the minds of the managers making decisions about what and how workers will do their work.
When discussing worker’s injuries with managers, the managers frequently describe their understanding of the work and how it happens. This is imaginary work because usually they have not done the work. Some have not even studied the work. They are in charge of the work being performed and believe they know what is going on.
In comparison, the real work is what injured workers describe. It is how they actually do the work. It includes the short cuts and workarounds that are not in any Safe Work Method Statements. It is what they know from doing the work every day.
It is important for managers to know that there are two types of work and that there is a difference.
If managers operate as though their understanding of work is accurate and complete they will make mistakes. And, according to my colleague, workers will continue to be injured. Recognising that there is real work, and that it is important to understand exactly how it operates, is essential. Organisations need ways for the two types of work to come together. The Service Action Plans described in an earlier post is one way for this to happen.
There is no doubt that pretend managers are a problem. But a pretend manager dealing with imagined work is potentially a much bigger one.
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1500 words
Two interesting reports have been published in Victoria in the last 12 months – the Organisational Capability Review of Melbourne City Council in May 2015 and the more recent Commission of Inquiry Report into Greater Geelong City Council, released in March 2016. Each report provides an insight into local government culture.
As someone who has worked at three Victorian councils in the last 10 years, and who corresponds regularly with people working at another half a dozen councils, the insight is not surprising. It reveals a deep malaise in the sector that has root causes in the political system, the ways our leaders are appointed, and general organisational leadership capability.
To begin, what are the discoveries in these two reviews of major Victorian councils? Continue reading