We can’t all be change agents

Around 16% of people in an organisation are change agents. About 50% of people are late adopters or laggards.

change agents
Image via Helen Bevan on Twitter

Similarly, around 13% of employees are engaged contributers in the workplace:

Image via School for Change Agents

All the rest are compliant – disconnected from the purpose of their organisation, controlled by performance management and procedures, largely resistant to change.

An idle thought: though we’d all dearly love to be change agents and contributors, by definition, we can’t all be change agents; we can’t all be contributors.

Half the battle – actually, over 80% of the battle – may be recognising our place in the organisational picture.


Abstraction, reality and thanks at Christmas

[Y]ou must ensure that the effects of your policies are seen only as abstractions rather than as the suffering of real people.

So notes Chris, and he’s absolutely right.

Take the “welfare” state, for example: it’s not just for disabled people or immigrants, but (depending on your view of things), for every young person (Child Trust Funds), every family (Child Tax Credits) and every older person (the pension, considerable numbers receiving Attendance Allowance). But our debates and coverage hardly ever note this, so that a continual erosion of the welfare state is both philosophically and politically possible.

The bit of Chris’s post I particularly liked is that this applies just as much to modern management, which:

deals largely in symbols and abstractions…[with] little direct contact with the organization’s workers, with the production of its goods or services, or with its customers.

I don’t know why, but the “thanking” of staff who work in sectors like health and social care at Christmas time has always slightly annoyed me. Reflecting on this in the context of management abstractions, I wonder if my annoyance is because this thanking reflects the distance between managers and staff, so that managers can quickly and easily say “thanks” at no personal cost, whilst staff actually have to do the 10-hour shift on Christmas Day?


Empowerment in the US Navy!

USS Santa Fe

You can’t implement a bottom-up concept in a top-down way.

Empowerment is just some wishy-washy claptrap that managers use to carry on exerting their own power, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is – if folks don’t really understand empowerment. But folks who get empowerment know and feel a different version.

I’ve most often read about this different version in public services like health and social care. So reading this take on empowerment in, erm, the US Navy was exhilarating!

There’s lot in there to think and reflect on, but here are a couple of choice snippets:

Saying we need an empowerment program is like saying we need a swimming program. The implication is that swimming isn’t a natural occurring behavior for our people. So, what we are saying when we say we need an empowerment program is that the fundamental way we run our organization is dis-empowering.


If it takes the boss to empower them, the boss can unempower them, and that’s not very powerful.

If it can work in the US Navy, e.g.

The highest performing teams in the military perform in highly decentralized, and empowered ways.

… then I’m pretty sure it can work in health and social care (and public service management more generally).

Links and reading on (1) achieving change, and (2) organising work

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about different ways of doing stuff. By ‘stuff’ I mainly mean (1) ways in which change is achieved, and (2) ways in which work is organised.

I thought it might be useful to put the most influential things I’ve been reading in one place – partly for my own reference, and partly for others to have a look at the source information if they so wish – so that’s what I’ve done below. It’s arranged into two lists (achieving change, organising work) and I’ll update it as and when.

Achieving change

Organising work

Man walks into a column, no.40: Trust

Interesting survey findings released last week by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) suggest that whilst in general employees trust their CEOs ‘more now than at any time over the last three years’ chief execs in the public sector are the least trusted of all. What lies behind this, I wonder?

It’s obviously not an easy time to be in charge of a public sector body, especially a large one. But with the trust differential between the public and private sectors growing it seems that, as the ILM puts it, ‘public sector employees doubt the ability of their CEOs to get the job done given the pressures facing the public sector at the moment’. (You can download the PDF of the full report here.)

It doesn’t seem to be the size of an organisation that explains the gap: national and local government, health and education organisations with over one thousand staff have the three lowest scores in the survey, lower than the private and third sector averages for companies/charities of the same size. And as we all know, conditions in the third sector in particular are just as tough, if not tougher.

What can public sector leaders learn from their counterparts in other sectors? The Institute’s analysis offers a few clues. ‘Leaders in the largest organisations, where staying visible is toughest, must work hardest to build and maintain trust’, we’re told. And: ‘the more distant an employee feels from their boss, the less likely they are to trust them’. In the private sector, bosses are increasing their visibility:

In the wake of the economic downturn, CEOs are taking a more hands-on approach. Rising to the challenge, they are visibly leading their organisations through a period of substantial change and upheaval. Significant increases in CEO ratings on openness and understanding show that employees feel closer to their CEOs than before.

I would think it uncontroversial to say that ‘staying visible’ is more challenging, but correspondingly even more important in public sector organisations, where a naturally more bureaucratic and hierarchical culture places greater barriers between frontline staff/middle management and the top. And of course perhaps you don’t want to be particularly visible as a public sector chief exec if, amidst the shifting sands of a tumultuous policy and economic landscape, you find it hard and/or risky to credibly pin your colours to the mast.

I would guess, though, that it isn’t a choice between ‘visibility plus certainty’ and ‘absence in light of uncertainty’. Staff understand fully that these are difficult times and that firm promises are hard to make. They’re not looking to chief execs for something they can’t be expected to provide. But surely it’s exactly in very uncertain times that the reassuring presence of an organisation’s leader is most crucial.

This kind of ‘reassurance without promises’ requires really courageous leadership, and it’s hard to escape the fact that – as the ILM research indeed suggests – one of the main explanations for lower levels of trust is that the average quality of public sector bosses is lagging (as with any generalisation there are many exceptional exceptions).

In the absence of a solution for this major development challenge, I leave you with this from today’s FT, which suggests that the key to ‘enhancing your personal brand’ and ‘building rapport’ with your colleagues is to be more open about your extracurricular activities. Forget stamp collecting or crosswords, though: the hobbies en vogue at the moment are, apparently, bee-keeping, stand-up comedy, farming and… collecting death masks. On second thoughts…

Bob Kerslake: knows what he’s talking about

Despite not knowing him and having never worked with him, Bob Kerslake’s is one of those names that is just known in government and local government (a bit like Michael Bichard).

He’s been in the news this week since he’s just been appointed as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government – an appointment I was delighted to hear about, despite not quite knowing why.

Anyway, with wonderful timing, yesterday’s Guardian Society has Sir Bob answering their Leading Questions. The answers are illuminating and something I intent to keep a note of. For example:

What leadership qualities do you need when making cuts?

The feedback we get from staff is a sense of honesty – people can live with bad news. A clear sense of direction about where you’re going to end up. Another is pace. If you say ‘we’re reducing by this amount’, it only makes sense to people when they see how it impacts them. There’s nothing worse than hanging around.

Do you have any tips for managers embarking on cost-cutting measures?

You have to be very honest and have direct face-to-face communication. You shouldn’t do things that you wouldn’t be happy to say directly to someone. You need to be as clear as you can be.

Well worth reading the rest.

More tea please?

Having brought you cake as a management tool, here’s another interesting one for you management geeks out there.

Imagine you are a senior manager in an organisation. It has a turnover of approximately £2m. At the moment, you spend £990 per annum on free tea, coffee, milk and sugar for all staff. This amount represents the best price you can get.

You are asked to consider whether this represents the best use of your organisation’s resources.

Broadly speaking, there are 3 options available to you:

  1. Do nothing and continue providing free tea and coffee etc.
  2. Stop paying for any free tea and coffee etc.
  3. Organise some compromise system, in which staff make some contribution to the costs of the drinks, but which requires some administration

Which do you choose?

(I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – please leave comments below. You may find it useful to consider Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory in determining your answer.)

Cake as a management tool

As someone with a passing familiarity with management techniques and tools (as in, they tend to pass me by), I was immediately taken with Hadley Beeman’s suggestion on Twitter that cake can be an effective management tool. This on the back of one of my current colleagues making some excellent cakes regularly and the knowledge that at least one other tweeter (@GeorgeJulian) makes cakes for her teams.

And Hadley, of course, is entirely right.

A senior manager I once worked with walked around the office at least once a week with some form of confectionary. Doughnuts, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, grapes, crackers, cheese… we had the lot. Nine times out of ten the offering came at just the right time, lifted the mood around the office, got everyone talking about which bit of confectionary they were going to choose, and was just a nice treat.

From the point of view of a manager-officer relationship, the weekly treat allowed for a bit of conversation with the manager in question, made them seem far more approachable, showed that they were willing to make an effort on behalf of their staff and meant that everyone thought they were a bloody nice person (which, as it so happens, they were).

So, as far as a management tool goes, making and sharing cakes with your staff or colleagues – in an entirely uninvited way (and not out of some form of obligation, as with buying cakes every time it’s your birthday) – seems to be highly effective.

I therefore recommend it to you all and, in recognition of her identifying this formally (at least so far as I’ve come across it), I shall call it the Hadley Effect.