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Jim Graham: Chiefs must tackle organisational bigotry to lead service redesign

Jim Graham
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To be effective, councils’ leading officers must learn to implement the ideas produced by politicians, both local and national.

They must also ensure the organisation’s long-term goals are addressed as well as the election controlled administrative cycles.

The general election result could bring a new twist to the austerity project sooner than we had previously anticipated. Post-austerity, we need highly visible, accessible and fluidly deployed leaders at all levels of the hierarchy with optimum levels of delegation.

These leaders require a more generic skill base than the often singular professional background that used to prevail; we now need purposeful eclecticism.

Leading officers must focus on outward-looking delivery to their local community, rather than the historic tendency to obsess over internal processes.

They must develop competence across the whole organisation, reinforced by a proactive system of staff development. This would involve high levels of regular contact and not simply the deployment of the tired traditions of annual appraisals, command and control, etc. These times require the proactive tackling of officer or member incompetence.

Austerity has created a scenario not previously experienced in our careers. We need to be able to adapt in an unstable environment. We need a culture of continuous questioning, where we keep the organisation feeling unresolved and just out of balance. Recognition that instability is the new normal will help people adapt. At the heart of this constructive destabilisation is the use of hard evidence of what works to ensure mistakes will be minimized and there is no infection of the organisation by bullshit.

In the absence of a coherent national vision for the local state, we can fashion solutions locally that work across a range of agencies. Leading officers must take a whole-system approach and tackle organisational bigotry. There is strong support for redesigning anachronistic public services around the needs of citizens. We must develop models and influence national and local policy makers in making it happen.

Too much officer time is presently wasted in a frantic activity of folk too busy to do the job properly. We must ruthlessly focus on methods of work that deliver and give permission to abandon redundant activity.

These traits will contribute towards leadership that can help redesign public services around citizens.

Leaders must remind themselves that it really isn’t all about them. An American sporting coach, when asked about the secret for his team’s success, once suggested it was all down to keeping those who were as yet undecided far enough apart from those who already hated his guts. Never underestimate how much people might enjoy seeing a leader fall flat on their face.

Jim Graham, former chief executive, Warwickshire CC

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