Blair McPherson - Introduction to People management in a harsh financial climate

Introduction to people management in a harsh financial climate

The predicted financial crises in the Public Sector means the message is going out management posts will be cut, hierarchies will be flattened, more will have to be done with less, services will have to be delivered in different ways. Whilst your organisation may continue to function with fewer managers are you confident that the remaining managers can inspire staff when services are being cut and staff made redundant? Do your managers have the negotiating and influencing skills to get people to work in different ways? Delivering more with less will require innovation, are your managers innovative? Partnerships will be threatened as budgets are tightened can your managers maintain good relationships when partners retreat to core business? Flatter management structures will mean greater spans of management control can your managers manage across traditional service boundaries, can they manage services they don't have a professional back ground in, and can they cope with not knowing the detail?

To deliver in this climate all managers will need good people management skills that is the ability to inspire people, a willingness to take responsibility, the ability to challenge appropriately and the confidence to let people get on with it.

When budgets are tight

When budgets are tight redeployment and redundancy become a reality. The survivors will be those who can demonstrate transferable skills, the ability to work across traditional service boundaries and the ability to manage without knowing the detail. What are transferable skills and how to you develop them? When senior managers talk of redeployment, redundancy and transferable skills they also discuss who should we let go? When it comes to management posts it's not last in first out so what are the discussions? New ways of working and more efficient ways of delivering services need to be identified to save money but often when professionals get involved they over complicate things. How do we help people understand that in a difficult financial climate good enough will have to do. May be the story about the USA space project will strike a chord. Organisations will certainly need to encourage innovation if more is to be achieved with less but so often they end up discouraging it. How can an organisation develop an environment that promotes confidence and success.

When services are being restructured, posts cut and redundancies identified then a climate of fear can develop. Yet to thrive and survive in difficult economic times an organisation needs to adapt and innovate to do this it needs to engage with staff, develop a climate of trust and rely on the people skills of its managers. This is then not a time to cut back on leadership development this is a time to invest in managers. It is a time to help managers develop insight into how their behaviour affects those around them it is a time for peer group support and learning.

In this way organisations can tackle fear in a recession. Of course you could seek to bring in out side talent to deliver changes if you can find what you are looking for. What you really want is to change the management culture not just one or two individuals so you will be more likely to be successful in the longer term if you grow your own. In which case you will need to look at why some very capable people in your organisation are not on their way to becoming the senior managers of tomorrow.

Good people management skills

This means looking at a women's place in the organisation. It also means deciding if some of your managers still have fire in their bellies and how you might keep the fires burning. It is however not just issues of gender and age that need to be addressed the modern workforce is increasingly diverse so the rhetorical question is can we afford Equality and do we still want Diversity.

Does a harsh financial climate require a harsher type of management? Can you claim to value staff and cut their pay? Can you maintain a position of openness and honesty when you are going to make people redundant? Can you afford to be sensitive and caring when you are going to cut services to vulnerable people?

Can you be committed to partners who want to protect their own budgets at your expense? Is it better to be feared than loved? Sport offers lots of examples of leadership. Brian Clough was both loved and feared by his team but does his style of leadership and his success offer us a model or does your organisation want a different type of leadership, one in which all managers are expected to inspire their staff and to take responsibility. Certainly at interview all managers clam to be passionate about their work so why when performance is weak, customer care is poor or bad practice exists why are more managers not more angry more often? Of course being justifiably angry is not the same as losing control of your emotions; shouting or abusing staff is not acceptable. You think you are being firm but fair but are you a bully? Do we all seek power, success and recognition and how far are you prepared to go to get it? Do you think those at the top have a streak of ruthlessness a hint of menace to go with the charm?

We all have a sneaky admiration for the mavericks those who seem to flout the rules ride rough shod over the beaurocracy and let nothing get in the way of getting the job done. If we are to think differently to be creative and innovative in coming up with ways of getting the job done with less resources then we need managers who are prepared to challenge the way things are done round here. But it's a challenge managing mavericks.

A third of staff in a survey said my manager doesn't understand me. To get the best out of staff you need to know their strengths and weaknesses but you also need to know about them as an individual if you are to be good at people management. Try this little test to see what you know about your direct reports. I recently help a couple of people I was mentoring to draw up a revised CV it's amazing just how interesting some people are if you ask the right questions. The type of management behaviour being encouraged through this programme is the opposite of what is often referred to disparagingly as macho management. In treat them mean keep them keen we examine what does macho management look like? It all very well getting to know people but what are the boundaries between manager and employee , how much personal stuff is it appropriate to share and what type of personal information would make you feel uncomfortable?

It's personal looks at where the boundary between personal and professional get uncomfortable for managers when some one is going through a messy divorce or knowing how to respond if you think some one may be suffering domestic violence. Often when managers are trying to tackle absenteeism they find that the reasons for poor attendance can vary from problems at home to problems at work hence the heading who is making you sick? In a harsh financial climate no business can operate with high levels of absenteeism but there is more to managing absenteeism than better monitoring arrangements, tougher polices and exhausting mangers improve the statistics. In stop giving managers stick we look at how to help and support managers. Not only can managers support each other they can reduce the boss's anxiety which they just might find is in their own interest.

Doing things differently

When the talk is all about saving money and being more efficient then the expectation is managers will do more with less. What does this mean, and how is it achieved? It certainly will involve doing things differently starting with a different approach to the use of office accommodation but can you expect staff to adopt new practices if senior managers still cling on to status symbols like the corner office with the view? Open plan, hot desking and working from home is also for senior managers. A senior manager working from home on a regular basis! This is a good example of resistance from the top to change.

Mangers use words like affordability, efficiency and value for money but what do they mean and how can these business sector ideas be successfully transplanted to the public sector?

Doing things differently could see the end of the traditional team meeting, it could even make managers question when is a team not a team? It will certainly make managers think more about how to be a corporate manager.

Getting the right person

In a harsh financial climate it is more important than ever that you don't appoint the wrong person. Getting the right person will save you money by helping you introduce the innovation which will result in being able to do more with less. If you have been letting people go because they are the wrong type of person then it important you recruit the right type of person for your organisation. But if you recruit in the same old way you will recruit the same old people.

The first thing to acknowledge is that you might have the right people in your organisation already there just in the wrong job or working for the wrong manager. Don't assume there is always some one out there in another organisation who has all the qualities, skills and knowledge you are looking for and wants to work for you. Do help your managers get on. It's the sign of a good manager that they help their best staff to leave. So help to candidates should include you as their manager providing encouragement, assistance with the application form and help preparing for the interview this is not cheating it's best practice. Of course if you are interviewing for the post you can not provide this level of support. This is just an extension of the thinking behind grow your own. We invest a lot of time energy and money into the recruitment process but we tend to focus on the interview at the expense of what happens before and after. Help to recruiters acknowledges the importance of making it as easy as possible for candidates to shine, the importance of giving people opportunities to gain new skills and increased confidence through acting up, the importance of providing helpful and detailed feedback and last but not least ensuring a brilliant first day.