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WORK LIFE - PULLING OUT THE STOPS

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For go-ahead leaders 'stop'

is the new 'go'. We need to welcome being known as the person who really stops things happening. Surely, promotion depends on starting lots of things? Well, if it does, it shouldn't. The reason is that to accelerate in a new direction, you first have to slam on the brakes.

Too many leaders of change do not do this. Instead, they keep travelling on the old journey, just try to go faster and end up where they didn't want to go.

Two-thirds of all change programmes fail - right around the world. One of the most common reasons in the public sector is that change is often half-hearted. That is a tough message to leaders trying to push through change. To them, the passion for change is whole-hearted but there is no doubt that, to many on the receiving end, it looks half-hearted at best.

Why? Because it is often not change, but just adding new things on top of what came before. So joined-up working sits alongside old silo working,

e-transformation duplicates the old ways and partnerships stand next to everyone doing their own thing.

Real change means swapping one thing for another, not piling one thing on top of another. Too often, new stuff takes up 90% of top managers' and politicians' time, while only being 10% of what the council does. If you believe enough in the new things to spend 90% of your time on them, shouldn't the rest of the organisation do the same?

The magic word is 'stop'. Dazzling initiatives will only work if you create space for them. The people who really change things apply the word 'stop' with religious conviction.

The golden rules are:

-- Stop 10 times as many things as you start. Only top managers can stop things and you want to create space for lots of bright people to do the starting.

-- Stop avoiding decisions when you know what the right answer is - reject all suggestions to 'review', 'pilot' and 'change incrementally'. If it is right, do it. If other people have sorted it out, copy them.

-- Stop adding cost and burden to the organisation. The solution to services that do not work is to replace them, not add initiatives on top of them. This pushes up spending to cover the failure to change. Loading initiatives on top of the existing way depletes staff commitment. Who wants to carry the burden of managers who can't make real decisions?

-- Stop imagining that real change is not allowed. The professions, the government, the public and your partners will all take to whole-hearted change. It is the half-hearted changes that exhaust and confuse them.

One of the hardest things for managers in the public sector is explaining when your kids ask 'what exactly do you do?' How you long for the clarity of parents who are doctors or airline pilots. Maybe the best answer to give is 'I stop things happening so others can get new and better things going.'

Paul Kirby

Director, reform strategy, Cabinet Office

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