An Unreliable Witness

If you listen to senior managers particularly in organisations where things have gone badly wrong it's not difficult to see why they might be unreliable witnesses.

 

I want to put the record straight. The politicians and the journalists have past judgment, my former colleagues have distanced themselves and even those I trusted most have spoken out against me. 
 
 If I was guilty of anything it was of placing too much faith in those around me thinking that I could rely on their expertise and judgment in areas I had no back ground in. Of course now they claim they did try and tell me things were not going to plan and that I dismissed their concerns. Well what I recall is these same people telling me that the unions were exaggerating the situation, that staff morale was good or bad depending on who you spoke to and how they had been affected by the restructuring and budget cuts. The message I received was stick to your guns, push on through, then people will see the benefits. There was no talk of bullying or failing to listen when performance targets were being hit, services successfully reorganised, efficiencies delivered and inspection reports praised our innovations.  
 
I did fail to appreciate that some colleagues felt threatened by someone who has just arrived and starts raising the bar, hits targets with apparent ease, races up the league table and does it whilst delivering efficiency savings and budget cuts. I now recognise colleagues in other departments feared they were being made to look bad for not delivering as much as fast. It was  insensitive of me not to recognise senior managers who have been in the department for ever, man and boy, would resent the constant implication  that what went before was  rubbish. I should have anticipated that the board members who so desperately wanted to see the organisation climb the league table would start to feel they were aboard a runaway train, too many changes happening too fast, so they no longer felt in control.

For years senior managers across the organisation have said progress will always be slow because the areas high levels of poverty and deprivation hold us back, local people are traditional in their thinking and don't like to see to many changes in their services, we are an unfashionable organisation and happy to be so, let others have "more pilots than Heathrow ", we will adopt new ways when they are proven. And anyone who knows the history of this place knows the party politics make it difficult to get a consensus.  I failed to appreciate even the board members had bought into this view and had limited expectations and ambitions for the organization. Success has changed expectations and not everyone is comfortable. As a colleague joked slow down you're making us all look bad.

And so the whispering started the speculation about how success was really being achieved. "Smoke and mirrors more a case of finding ways to improve the figures rather than improving performance." "All down to those two bright sparks he brought with him from his last place they're the ones with the ideas, they make it happen he's just talks a good game." "Well he's not one for bothering too much with procedures, apparently finance are pulling their hair out he just tells his managers to go ahead and he will find the money." "The board are not too happy either he's up setting too many people that the organisation has done business with for years."
 
 
They were just looking for a way to bring me down, all this nonsense that I intimidated my staff, that I ignored the advice of HR, that  I was arrogant and high handed with managers from partner agencies or that I upset some board members by being patronising. When I challenged the chair to tell me why I was being dismissed all he could come up with was I lacked insight into how my behaviour affected those I worked with. Well that's ridiculous I got results, I delivered, I did the things that needed to be done. When other before me had shied away from conflict  I met it head on. So I upset a few people so what. 
 
Blair McPherson writs on leadership and management in the public sector www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 
 
 

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1 Comments

John Rudkin 5 Years Ago
Blair, A brave story, and one I sympathise with. Your point is well made, but it is one sided. It depends on your standpoint, but the view of any individual within an organisation is built around the weight of power and success of attitude. It isn't about right and wrong. Sometimes it is simply about the easiest way to defuse or pacify. More than ever, with the Public Sector undergoing raging deflation, we all have to be conscious of the impact of what we do on others. Job security has to be to the front of anyone's mind, and it is a rockier area than ever before. While we'd all like to feel that we have control and choice in our positions, we do not (or we have less and less). This is a change in freedom, and people are simply likely to feel they have to side with whatever or whoever seems to have the strongest argument. In this story, while I make no comment about what is reported to have happened, I see the Senior Managers as the most likely to take sides and support the strongest argument. Sometimes morals, common sense, right and wrong, ethics are being pushed aside in favour of a form of cronyism that is quite appalling.