Saturday, 12 June 2010

Change, management and 'getting out of the way'

Having spent a surprisingly good day at the Local Gov Camp, I thought I'd ponder on a puzzle posed (in a roundabout kind of way) by Emma Langman from Progression Partnership – should we “get out of the way”.

Now by “we” I think Emma meant leaders, managers and other boss sorts. And the argument is that, in these times of change (and yes the term ‘paradigm shift’ arose but I shall treat it with contumely) those bosses are actually in the way of achieving change. Management is the problem not the solution. You also need to note that we were talking about government not the wealth-creating part of the economy.

In which case the answer to “should we get out of the way” has to be yes. Government is overweening, often excessive and definitely over-managed. And managers within the public service have – too often – an incentive to sustain the current systems, staffing and methods.

However, the getting out of the way has to be permanent – much more of what we deem “public goods” can and should be provided through private initiative and market mechanisms. If there is to be a ‘paradigm shift’ it has to be away from providing services on the basis of public monopoly and towards a more dynamic model of delivery. To achieve this we need to escape from a planning mentality towards a recognition that dynamics derive from enterprising interaction rather than predict and provide approaches – if anything changes from the regime just gone it is the reliance on planned and targeted approaches.

Ironically the ‘unconference’ approach and participation technologies like ‘open space’ play to this idea of enterprise and collaboration (although too often collaboration leads to consensual mush) and perhaps begin to show a route out from the thicket of targets and the curse of tractor stats. What public sector managers need to display is the confidence to develop similarly trusting, dynamic and engaging approaches to service delivery – including really engaging with the idea of private delivery, co-operative or mutual action and competition.

My worry is that we will see little changing – all the talk of change will be lost in the rhetoric of securing services and sustaining activity and we will once again see the triumph of efficiency over effectiveness.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the conference - such a refreshing change from the norm, however I can't help but agree with your comments.