Category Archives: leadership

The invisible man(ager)

David Cameron, by all accounts, takes a pretty hands-off approach to leading his party, his coalition government and by extension, the country. He’s had to re-affirm that he’s even in charge because he’s not in the country. Which I thought was a bit odd. I mean, as anyone who’s worked in a giant global corporation knows, just because your manager may be in a different country, doesn’t mean he’s not your boss.

Technology has of course made this easier. Cameron reminded us that in the age where you have Blackberrys, email and social media, you don’t really leave work when you leave work. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I don’t read work email or answers work calls after a certain time of day, because it would encroach on my personal life. I expect others to feel the same so I don’t make those calls either, but I know several people who simply can’t not answer an email, even when on holiday on a beach in the Caribbean. These people are mostly senior leaders, so perhaps if I ever want to reach those lofty heights, I should start being more contactable – but I’d rather have my leisure time than money.

I would expect the leader of the country to be the same as those Crackberry addicts – always checking (or at least having minions to check) your email, making sure memos and reports are timely and on my desk or in my briefcase, that messages are returned and calls are made. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to believe that when Cameron is trolling the Middle East for more money, he’s also keeping an eye on anything important kicking off in this country.

But, and here’s the big but, he might be in charge but to many of his ministers and direct reports, out of sight, out of mind. It seems that while he’s away, it’s less the mice will play and more the mice will relax, not pay attention to some memos and then realise they have two crises on their hands at the same time and panic. It’s a bit galling (or gauling) when the French beat you to evacuating your people from a rioting country.

Is this Cameron’s fault? There’s a lot of finger pointing and apologies being made, and while we’re slow at getting people out of Libya, we are doing it now. I take the rare move of defending the government when I hear those holiday makers saying that the government didn’t tell them if and when to leave the country. I’m sorry, there’s gunfire and bombs and mercenaries roaming the streets, and you have to have your government several thousand miles away make the decision to leave for you? Fuck off and use your common sense. Flights have been cancelled since Tuesday but this has been going on for over a week.

But for those in this country with friends and family members living out there complaining that they aren’t getting the information and planes should be chartered to get them out sooner, I do think that perhaps his management approach isn’t the best. While I hate micro-managers, you would think that he’d take a greater interest in the welfare of the British people.

The Guardian reports that his managerial style is causing a certain vagueness to descend on Whitehall – a lack of communication perhaps:

“Critics blamed the set-up on Cameron’s hands-off approach, akin to a chairman of the board rather than a chief executive, for the failure to get a grip over Whitehall.”

I personally don’t see a CEO having more hands-on experience than a Chairman, just more visibility, but I do see their point – a vague patriarchal interest in ministerial matters ain’t going to cut it – he needs to know what’s going on, take an active interest and make decisions when it’s necessary. No use sitting back and saying ‘I’m the leader, I do the foreign tours and make the speeches and kiss the babies and meet the Queen and you guys do all the work’, you need to be able to say you know what’s going on and why. We have a fairly inquisitive media and a slightly hostile public, you can’t take the helicopter view all the time as leader, there has to be some substance.

And that’s perhaps the problem. Because when it comes to Cameron, so much of what he says and does seems intangible, all smoke and mirrors. From the fact that the percentage of people who understood the Big Society went down after the re-launch (63% didn’t understand it at the end of January, 72% didn’t understand it mid-February), to his speech mentioning Egypt once and instead focusing on how we should be afraid of Muslims who don’t integrate (terrible speech), he doesn’t seem to have his finger on the pulse. And in today’s tech-heavy, fast-moving society who looks for decisive and informed leadership, that just doesn’t cut it.

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All change

Apparently we are going to learn about the fate of the Comms Team today at my council – although I won’t work here for much longer as my last day is Friday.  People are noticeably nervous about their roles, and who can blame them with all these stories about council redundancies.

While I think that yes, we need to streamline some of the bloated mess that a lot of councils have grown to, I really think that the government is naive in thinking that they will automatically reduce the management. Most places are looking at closing libraries and other frontline services and reducing free services (such as free swims) for kids and the elderly. This means frontline redundancies – you know the people who collect the litter and look after your parents in a care home. Gone. They weren’t paid very much to begin with and management (including our management) have decided they like being senior managers with a fat salary too much to give it up.

This is really a management fail. And this kind of thing happens in most places, except I do think that the private sector tends to axe management more readily as they have shareholders to answer to. Councils don’t tend to answer to anyone – if you can’t afford it, you have to accept council services rather than go elsewhere.

The government fail is really a system fail – and damn, I hate saying that as blaming the Tories is my new favourite hobby.  Those who get more funding will be adversely affected when the funding goes. Those not needing funding can’t have any money taken away from them as that’s what they earn from Council Tax and paid-for services. So while it’s vastly unfair that Richmond is cutting 4% of their budget and my council is cutting 8.9%, the only way for us to even it up is to make them stop charging for services or for us to start. Guess which will happen.

Anyway, we learn what will happen at 2pm. I’m sure I’ll do an update as I have a feeling most Comms Teams will be facing similar issues if they work in the public sector.

How many women have you got? Oh, one more needed.

Quotas. Listening to Women’s Hour (right this very minute in fact) I’m suddenly shocked into wakefulness by instinctively yelling an answer to the question ‘12.5% of board members are women in the FTSE100 – do we need quotas to change this?’

‘No!’ I screeched, ‘Next?!’ What a stupid frikkin’ question. Quotas, for all good they do in education where they ensure that posh places take on people outside of Eton, are death when it comes to female credibility in business.

‘Suzy?’ they’ll say to their mates down the pub, ‘Yeah, Suzy’s been promoted to the board instead of Glenn. Well, I’m sure she’s fine, but she only got the job because we needed one more woman. We’ll have to keep an eye on her to make sure she doean’t balls things up because she has no balls.’

Do you really want to be Suzy in this equation? Undermined, no matter how good you are, because of government-imposed quotas? Even if you get your job on merit, they’ll always be a whisper, a rumour, sometimes an open sneer that you were only appointed to make up the numbers. How the hell does this do us any good in the business world?

And don’t get me started on the women who was claiming that the financial world is addressing the gender issue behind closed doors. By giving women ‘Leadership Courses’. I absolutely reject the idea that women are not being promoted in the financial world and elsewhere because they don’t know how to lead.

Why the fuck aren’t these women on the ‘normal’ leadership courses anyway? Why are they being excluded? How about some fucking ‘women are just as good as men’ courses for senior managers and other managers? Or some ‘flexible working is not a crime’ courses? I think both of those would do more to change the number of women promoted more than telling women how to lead in a separate course from men.

Utter bullshit. But at least it woke me up.

Tales from local government

So the recruitment freeze is leading to an upsurge in agency jobs, eh? How did no one see that coming? More to the point, why did no one think ‘hey, agency staff are relatively expensive, we should probably think about having some form of exemption from the recruitment freeze for those in a critical service’. I mean, even the local council I work in has figured that out – in fact, they’ve moved all their agency street cleaners to permanent staff to save on money. And we have a ban on hiring of agency staff and consultants – something that is saving us far more money than a simple recruitment freeze.

Just another example of how this Tory government is in it together with you.

There have been more fun and games at Barnet council this week as someone in their comms department does something monumentally stupid and adds an apostrophe.

I rely on my Penguin book of grammar to help me through any sticky linguistic issues, but I also rely on the fact that I was taught grammar, I read a lot, and I get two people to proof anything before it goes to the stakeholder, never mind the printers. I know it happens, I’ve seen it happen in our comms department in our twice-monthly magazine, but never on a poster with so few words on it. That’s just special. Although props to them for essentially shrugging and saying ‘fuck it’ as it would cost £2,000 to reprint.

Finally, it’s been a highly excitable time in my place of work, what with one of my stakeholders deciding he doesn’t like the triple-signed-off intranet design and asking me to get our designer to redo it. I’m trying to get the fact that it will cost us about another £5-10k and be another two months before going live into his head, but I fear this may be a losing battle. This, my friends, is why god invented the gin and tonic in a can.

Speaking of liars…

… there is a great post on Nadine Dorries here by the wonderful David Allen Green, aka Jack of Kent.

I commented in reply to some people saying that lying is a great way to get rid of an alleged stalker:

As far as I’m aware, Dorries didn’t tell the Commission that she lied on her blog because of alleged stalking, she clearly said that it was to make her constituents feel reassured. You would have thought that if the stalking was real, she would have mentioned it as a good reason for lying on her blog, but as she didn’t during the inquiry, it’s logical to rule it out as another piece of fiction.

But all this talk of alleged stalking is besides the point: Dorries willfully misleads constituents and her peers condemned her for it. I would respect her a lot more if she admitted it and then made a clean start on her blog and apologised, rather than now attempting to walk it back. I could believe she mid-spoke, but as she’s now saying the blog is 100% true, I think I’ll take everything she says with a pile of salt.

Either she’s lied to constituents or she lied in court. Which would you prefer? Because I don’t want an MP that does either.

Nadine Dorries: a blogging leader

Ah, Nadine Dorries. MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, pro-life campaigner and blogger extraordinaire.

It can be hard when you set up what is, for all intents and purposes, a business blog. Most CEOs I know with a ‘blog’ get their comms people to write it. It’s generally harmless and contains snippets of what the leaders think of certain issues or which conference they recently went to or a product they are particularly proud of. There are some that are fantastic and are written by the CEOs themselves. They generally have space for people to comment, whether it’s an internal or external blog, and sometimes the comms team/CEO actually respond. Some don’t – Dorries’ blog had its comments facility disabled a while ago as she was feeling a bit of heat from a ‘stalker’ (read a perfectly acceptable level of questionning from blogger Tim Ireland and she didn’t want people to continue to question her on her blog).

But what really separates Dorries’ blog from most business blogs is that she has recently admitted she’s been lying to her constituents and the public for years now. Her excuse? She wanted to make her constituents feel that she cared about them and reassure them as to her level of commitment to the area.

Um. I would assume that now they know that she lied about where she was constantly, they don’t feel reassured any longer? I wouldn’t. How the hell does lying reassure people when you are going to use the lie as a defense against an expenses scandal?

Is Ms Dorries really stupid? Or instead…. really stupid? I literally cannot think of any other reason she would admit that her blog is mostly lies, written to lull her constituents into a false sense of security, that they had an MP who actually cared.

Why has this woman not been sacked yet? I would say discredited, but I think she’s doing a bang up job of discrediting herself.

One last thing I wanted to mention on this subject: her attack on a member of the public and a constituent, who is awaiting two operations on her feet for arthritis, and who tweets and blogs to keep in touch with people as she cannot get out and about as she once could. She was an in-house carer for adults. Dorries suggests (with the help of the icky Guido Fawkes) that she gets a job as she must be a benefit cheat. However, do you know many jobs that can a) be done from home all the time and b) don’t need any further skills other than being an in-house carer? Because I don’t. Some jobs can be done from home, jobs like freelance journalist, research assistant and… I’m running out of ideas. But none of these jobs would freely be up for grabs by someone trained as a social worker who helps the elderly walk up and down stairs, bathe and pop to the shops. Is Dorries so out of touch with reality she can’t see that?

In conclusion: dear lord, why is anyone even taking Nadine Dorries seriously any more?

Seeing red

I had to tackle this story first: how 16,000 employees of Everything Everywhere (the merger company of Orange and T-mobile) were publicly informed whether their jobs were safe, under threat or had been removed. By a red/amber/green light system.

Seriously. At meetings of up to 60 people, grouped by teams etc, people were shown on mass that their jobs had gone, were fine or that they would have to reapply for their existing job. Staff were obviously aware that a large announcement was being made, but I doubt, and according to this report, none of them had any idea they were going to be told the fate of their jobs in such a public and faceless manner.

The fact that the leaders of this company (who naturally don’t recognise Trade Unions) couldn’t even be bothered to verbally tell their employees that they were being made redundant is horrifying, and I truly mean that. It’s terrifying that so-called leaders didn’t have the balls to say ‘Hey, times are tough, and we’ve calculated that right now, we don’t need what you do. Here’s some ways we’re going to try to help you get work and here’s what we are going to pay you’.

Imagine walking into a room with 50 of your colleagues. Imagine sitting down and talking to your neighbour about what this could be about – you think it might be bad news about redundancies across the company, or a new process that will save money, or possibly even a change to terms and conditions. No one has spoken to you before about your job, but you’re no fool, you know cuts are coming.

And you get shown a red light and the presentation tells you that this means you’ve all just been made redundant. You, your neighbour, all 50 of your colleagues in the room with you.

It’s no wonder people cried or walked out. While this is not on a par with being texted that you’ve been made redundant (I bet it crosses their minds), this is still an appalling way of communicating a life change to over 1,200 employees.

Tact, Everything Everywhere. GET SOME.