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? Continue reading

67 – Design a management job for high performance. Part 1 – some theory.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                              1250 words


In the previous post I discussed a tool that you can use to test your current job design to see whether it has been designed for high performance. In this post I will elaborate on the theory behind the tool. This is a long post but I didn’t want to split the story. Sorry. In the next post I will attempt to apply the theory to the design of three local government management roles that I am familiar with.

Simons’ starting point in discussing the design of high performance jobs is failure to implement strategy. Why is it that organisations with clear strategy, access to resources and developed relationships still fail? He points out managers being too complacent and slow to respond, instead of being entrepreneurial. Problems coordinating activities across functions. Decision making is fragmented. Costs are excessive and eroding surpluses. When these symptoms become evident senior managers start to wonder whether they have put the wrong people in critical jobs. However, Simons says that the problem is systemic across the organisation. Continue reading

64 – Ambition, culture and performance. A tale of middle management in local government.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          750 words


I was recently involved in a discussion where the metaphor of the three stonemasons came up. The person telling the story described the response of the three stonemasons to the question ‘what are you doing?’ You may know it.

The first stonemason said ‘I am making a stone’. The second said ‘I am making a wall’. The third said ‘I am making a cathedral’.

The purpose in telling the story was to illustrate the various motivations of people at work in local government and that, hopefully, we are all here to make a cathedral and we know it. Well, I started thinking about how many of the workers cleaning the same public toilets every day, or mowing the same parks, or emptying the same bins, think they are making a cathedral. The chances are that they are just diligently making a stone. Whether it is used to make a cathedral or not is probably not important to them and never will be.

Then my thinking moved on to thinking about myself and the other middle managers I deal with. Surely we are all making cathedrals? Continue reading

59 – Decision hats for middle management. Some suggestions.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          570 words

I recently posted on hats that councillors could wear when making decisions in their different capacities, or when making different types of decision. The hats would provide a cue to other councillors and onlookers. I received some comments from readers and since then I conducted an informal poll of colleagues to determine what head gear they think could be worn when they make decisions. Again, the idea is to signal intention to others.

Managers mostly operate in the one capacity but they make many different types of decisions. Here are some thoughts on hats that could go with them. Continue reading

34 – Middle managers in local government: the ‘scrapers of burnt toast’?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                        620 words

burnt toast

This is the phrase used by Peter R. Scholtes in The Leaders Handbook to describe the work of many middle managers as ‘expediters or troubleshooters’ in organisations that have yet to eliminate waste and create ‘efficient, smooth, uncluttered flows of work’.   He says that in a ‘flat’ organisation the layers of middle management have been removed as part of the focus on eliminating waste. In an efficient system, they are unnecessary and non-value adding roles. I am sure he doesn’t think that middle managers aren’t required.  You just need less.  It is an interesting idea.

Scholtes says that removing layers as part of improving organisational performance reduces opportunities for promotion. As a result, people leave to find less efficient organisations where their skills in ‘expediting and troubleshooting’ are required to deal with inefficiencies and waste to make the system work. I started thinking about my role and the role of colleagues in middle management, and what we spend each day doing. What do we talk about when we meet in the corridors? Are we mostly adding value or just spending our time making dysfunctional systems work? Continue reading