A little respect for staff can answer questions

Why do managers do it, I often wonder? You are sandwiched between a distant,
insistent and impatient senior management team and a knowledgeable group of
workers, who withhold their co-operation from you because they think you are
not up to it.

Are you just coin-operated? Do you have a bit more on the bonus or a few
more share options? Is your motivation based on money? These issues are
particularly interesting now with the focus shifting to public services and
their management. For some people, all that is required is a good dose of
private-sector management, and our public services will be as well run as BP,
the Halifax or, perish the thought, BT, Railtrack or Marks & Spencer.

Do the disciplines of the market inevitably make managers more effective?
Does the absence of the market lead to slack, dreary, second-rate people who
are managing similar sloths with the result that our services are second rate,
our infrastructure inadequate and our public institutions incapable of reform?

Years ago, managers in the public services felt they were a breed apart.
Some were above commerce and profit as driving forces in society. Service
itself was enough for their work. Stability and security were welcome features
of public employment, and job security and a pension made up for uneven access
to great wealth.

The Thatcher years altered all that. Graduates became more interested in
real-time salaries in the financial services than the selfless sacrifice of
their parents in the public sector. Talent was drawn to the flame of financial
success as a basis for self-respect rather than community approbation.

But the question still remains, how can we improve all performance
everywhere? Most of us understand as base one that there will be no public services
at all without the wealth creation sectors of the economy working flat out. But
the naive view that any manager who works in the private sector will inevitably
make a difference in managing the public services is plainly wrong. The
motivation and commitment of public service workers needs acknowledgement. The
special skills in running a school or a hospital are different from
international securities dealing or biscuit manufacture.

But something here is consistent as a theme. How do you unlock the knowledge
and commitment of the staff? Do you manage by concealing information or sharing
it? Do you feel diminished if you accept advice from subordinates or do you
nurture it? Do you have a blame culture for everyone else’s inadequacies except
your own?

Some business behaviours work everywhere. Respecting the workforce is one,
but today it is routinely abused in the mammoth bureaucracies of great state
institutions and private small firms alike. Do something about that and we will
all succeed.

By John Lloyd, National officer, Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical

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