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

62 – “The way to make it in local government is to forget ambition and pigeon hole yourself before someone else does”.

Posted by S. Dogood                                                               1000 words

pigeon hole

This was the advice I received during a discussion with a colleague this week.  Pigeon hole yourself he advised and local government becomes a good place to work.  In some ways he is right.  The discussion started me thinking about why that is the case and how it could be different.

The ambitious face a number of challenges.  First and foremost they can’t be threatening to the Executive.  Secondly, they need to be realistic about their skills and value.  Lastly, regardless of their own role breadth or experience, they run the recruitment gamut as there is always a hierarchy of preferred candidates for any role.  Hiring traditionally take the following hierarchy seeking to recruit someone who Continue reading

32 – Deeper Water.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          230 words

deep water

I posted some weeks ago on whether or not local government is a country song. It started me thinking about the connection between popular culture and working in local government. In the Paul Kelly song ‘Deeper Water’ he describes the process of growing up and becoming an adult through a series of images beginning with the child guided into deeper water in the security of an adult’s company; the adolescent getting out of their depth in order to grow up; the young adult being taken into deeper water by life’s inevitable events only to discover they are now out of their depth; and finally, dealing with death and moving through the waves to calm water.

In many ways the story parallels our growth and development as professionals. We begin conscious that we don’t know what we are doing but having a go in the knowledge that you are supported by more experienced colleagues. We then start to take risks in trying out our own ideas and testing our ability in new situations. If we don’t do this we will always remain dependent on others. Then we realise we are competent and capable and we have to step up and accept responsibility. The challenge becomes delivering, not mastering. Finally, we move beyond the turbulence of learning and practising to understand the deeper meaning of what we are doing. The patterns underpinning our professional life have become apparent to us. We now know how to act effectively to change and improve what we are doing.

If we are lucky.  Some of us are just out of our depth.