Posted by Whistler 600 words
I was reading about ‘macro managers’ and the five signs that you could be one when it occurred to me that the divide between the Executive and managers in local government can be partly explained by this idea.
We are all aware of ‘micro managers’ and the problems associated with managers who constantly get right into all the details. Wikipedia describes it as ‘a manager who closely observes or controls the work of subordinates’ and comments that it generally has negative connotations. I agree. But how often do you see it in local government?
Some of the ‘symptoms’ of micro management are low levels of delegation, requests for unnecessary reports, taking credit for others’ results (particularly the more narcissistic micro managers), blaming others, and denying their behaviour by describing themselves as ‘structured’. I would add the disempowering effect it has on people.
In contrast, at the next level up in the organisational hierarchy macro management tends to occur. Continue reading
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1100 words
This is a question I was asked recently by a reader. Having read several posts critical of the behaviour of the Executive (What can a culture survey, an organisational self assessment, and your Executive’s risk appetite tell you?, The Executive. What exactly is their role? , Does your Executive suffer from altitude sickness?, and The Executive: filters, traffic controllers or drivers? ) she wanted to know whether I had a solution. Knowing that it is easier to be critical than creative, I cast my mind to thinking about the nature of the problem and some potential solutions.
I think the starting point is to understand the problem. In a nutshell, I think the following issues illustrate the problem:
- The Executive is overloaded with the small stuff handed to them by councillors (not the council). Much of it has to do with the personal idiosyncrasies of councillors and behaviours arising from their inability to work together as a group. It is dysfunctional, urgent and produces little value for the community. There are better ways for potholes to be reported.
- The Executive has to deal with high level relations with external organisations and strategic external pressures. These are often CEO to CEO relationships and cannot be readily delegated.
- The Executive is not putting enough time and effort into leading the organisation. Their focus on councillors and the external environment takes most of their time and energy. At the same time, they worry about problems 1 and 2 being made worse so they try to control organisational communication and decision making. When this is done ‘efficiently’ by time poor leaders it drives dysfunctional management behaviours.
- The Executive operates independently of managers and participates in the Senior Management Team (SMT) episodically. There is frequently no genuine and continuous engagement with the SMT in strategy and decision making. Managers are included in decision making when it suits the Executive – which is usually when they have the time and energy to do it. Managers are effectively isolated from information and the strategy decisions being made continuously by the Executive.
Obviously there are different solutions possible. Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 760 words
There have been a number of posts about the Executive over the past 6 months (see What can a culture survey, an organisational self assessment, and your Executive’s risk appetite tell you?; Risk farming or good governance? How some executives avoid accountability; The Executive. What exactly is their role?;Does your Executive suffer from altitude sickness?; and The deep web and local government recruitment. ). Each has explored a different dimension of the Executive in local government – their comfort with risk, their role, how they support service delivery and make decisions, and how they are appointed.
This may be the last post on the topic (it now seems to have been a bit of a collective whinge) and it looks at what they really do or can do given the way councils operate.
One way of looking at the Executive from an organisational viewpoint is as a filter. Continue reading
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1300 words
The public release of this critical report has been something of a surprise. Commissioned in March 2015 and released in May, the report prepared by Jude Munro, Dr Bronte Adams and Steve Parker has looked at three key capabilities; leadership, strategy and delivery. Each has been rated on a four point scale for several elements. Out of the ten attributes rated, six were seen as a ’development area’ and one as a ‘serious concern’. The remaining three were seen as ‘well placed’ and none were seen as ‘strong’ (p.14). So what does this mean?
The report states that this is the first time that this review model has been applied to local government in Australia. Its intention is to provide a forward looking, whole of organisation review that assesses an organisation’s ability to meet future objectives and challenges.
“This review provides the opportunity and impetus to take a very good organisation and make it even better.” Ben Rimmer, CEO
Posted by Whistler 530 words
Does everything seem to echo around? Messages are usually heard when they reverberate off distant walls? Management decisions are revisited regularly – ‘Hasn’t a decision been made on that already?’ Worse still are the matters that keep coming up, decisions aren’t made and they keep going up and down the organisational hierarchy. Perhaps your echosystem is afflicted by re-managing.
I suppose you are thinking what is ‘re-managing’. I didn’t invent the term. I have borrowed it from Managing the White Space by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache. They use it to describe the behaviour of senior managers when they re-manage the work already carried out by the managers below them. In local government the senior managers are typically Directors or Group Managers. You may ask why they find the need to do this. After all, haven’t they got more ‘strategic’ work to do? Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 600 words
I was talking to an experienced consultant who works with numerous councils recently and she commented about some of the councils currently undergoing ‘revolutionisation’. New CEO’s, in two cases new to the sector, were busily implementing their kitbag of management ideas. They seem to hit the ground running with a program of change. What are some of the features of revolutionisation and how effective is it?
I will start with effectiveness first. It depends on the measure. I can think of a few. Is it delivering on a promise to the councillors who appointed them to shake things up and create change? Is it is improving the performance of the organisation in meeting community needs sustainably in the longer term?
If it is the former, I would think they are mostly successful. Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 400 words
A colleague has recently started reporting to a Group Manager who is new to local government. Her observations about the workings of local government provide an insight into our behaviour that we either no longer notice or just accept. This post discusses the observations made of Executive budget deliberations.
Over several days her Executive considered the budget prepared by the organisation and they deliberated over the ‘business as usual’ budget and new initiative bids. In this time the discussion alternated between the high level and the detail. The way she described it, the Executive would say that they needed to be strategic and take a ‘helicopter view’, but each time they attempted to do so they felt discomfort at the ‘altitude’reached and choked. They would then dive straight back down into the details of the matter where they would then spend 10 or 15 minutes going over the minutiae before reminding themselves of the need to deal with matters strategically. They then headed back to higher altitude but once there the altitude sickness resumed and they would dive back to the detail. As I heard the story I imagined them each strapped to a Jetpack.
Over successive issues, the available time frittered away and a series of small decisions were made about the numerous budget bids, resulting in a draft budget that lacked any overall cohesion or strategy linking it to the big picture or the long term. Why did this happen?
After talking to others who have worked in local government for a long time, the process described so colourfully is the same process witnessed annually. Every manager has seen it. Despite their best efforts, the Executive frequently fail to take the high level, big picture, long-term view required. I think this is because they are not confident about what the big issues really are or how they should be addressed. In addition, they lack trust in managers to understand the issues. Managers and the Executive don’t share the same experiences of working in the organisation. This is evident in culture survey results. The Executive also overestimate the currency and accuracy of their knowledge of operations. This leads them to think they are capable of dealing effectively with the detail.
Low altitude can also be a safe place for some members of Executives.