We all like to think we are rational decision makers. Senior managers build their careers on their ability to put emotions and bias to one side and carefully way up the evidence arriving at a rational if not always popular decision. Of course it's rubbish we select the facts that support our beliefs, ignore the information that is inconvenient and put a disproportionate amount of faith in our own limited experience.
Senior managers who have a background in the services they manage are more likely to put too much faith in their experience of front line services above that of "reports" even when this experience was gained 20 years ago. We recognise this tendency in members complaining that they contradict carefully complied research with personal anecdotes but assume "us " professionals are immune from such irrational behaviour.
Does a degree of ignorance encourage rational decision making amongst senior managers? Some of my best work was not as the AD of social services with a background in social work but as a director of community services with responsibility for libraries, museums and the Registars service ( births, deaths and marriages) services I had no back ground in ! I had to learn about these services, ask questions, listen ,visit, do the research,review the statistics, read the reports and examine the numbers.
My management skills were transferable but might a background in these service have made me less open to radical options like outsourcing the service or reducing the number of expensive qualified staff and replacing them with trained but unqualified staff? If you started your career as a librarian do you fight to keep libraries open and staffed with librarians not volunteers because it makes good business sense or because from your experience a good /professional run library service can be very effective in supporting a local community?
Our service and professional backgrounds do give us a bias. When I was AD social services I thought it was a no brainier to close libraries before closing Day Centres but when I became Director of community services I had a different perspective.
Managers are not as rational in their decision making as they would like to believe. Encouraging managers to move into services they have no background in helps them gain a different perspective and encourages them to rely on management information as opposed to personal anecdotes.
Blair McPherson former director of community services author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk