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WORK LIFE - TONIGHT MATTHEW...

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In the TV programme 'Stars in their eyes' unknowns disappear into a misty door and re-emerge as someone famous. Tha...
In the TV programme 'Stars in their eyes' unknowns disappear into a misty door and re-emerge as someone famous. That door is clearly something we in local government need to get hold of. We could then put our top professionals in and wait until they pop out again as excellent managers.

But isn't that what we do already? Talk to any headhunter or human resources director and they will all tell you the market for highly competent managers is very tight. Tight, in this instance, means we are all scrabbling around to find people able to fulfil the requirements of crucial roles. Is this because the up-and-coming generations are all useless? Of course not.

So what is the problem? We seem to think the transformation of, say, a brilliant social worker or super-talented accountant into a manager of people and resources happens by osmosis.

At worst we turn 'good' people into 'bad' people, at best we release a tidal wave of talent that revels in new-found freedom and responsibility. The reality is probably somewhere between the two. However, as we progress in our careers from professional worker to professional manager our original credentials of being a qualified this, that or the other have to give way to being able to see the big picture, motivate and inspire staff, form and control budgets, re-engineer work processes, drive a performance culture, communicate with all and sundry and so on.

Some find it difficult to shake off their origins and end up straddling both sets of skills to the detriment of one or the other or both. Some of our top bods struggle to fit our specification of what we want because they are too operational and lack the wider skills needed.

So what is the solution? We can offer training, but we need more than that. We must firstly rethink our way of working. It is a fact that a councillor will always want to talk to the top person. So how much time is lost in more junior staff briefing their bosses on issues on which they then go and brief councillors?

The top person does not always have to be the top professional. Surely our busy elected representatives would much prefer to talk to someone who has all the information at their fingertips and can deal with their enquiries more competently.

We must expose our up-and-coming people to situations where they are forced to deal with the challenges of management. This can be achieved through individual projects as well as involvement with good role models.

If we are to propagate a new crop of top players and replenish our stocks, standing still is not an option. Let us stop bleating about how hard it is.

Alan Warner

Corporate director of people and property, Hertfordshire CC

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