This is the second part of the report of the Local Gov Camp – Yorkshire and Humber event. You can read the first part here.
I wanted to break it into two since the first part is quite positive, I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of the attendees to firstly come in their own free time on a Saturday, but secondly in their wish to improve things generally in how local authorities deliver service. Which brings us to the last session of the day…
Get Over Yourself
The last session was suggested by Emma Langman and was called ‘Get Over Yourself’. I didn’t really have any idea what this would be about, but I do know Emma so I knew it would be interesting and it was, but not for the reasons I thought.
Emma was posing a question about why we project school models into the workplace. “Teacher knows best, pupil learns from them”, is translated as “Boss knows best, employee will do as they say.” I would agree with the sentiment of this, that for many managers this is actually a desired model except for the fact that many bosses don’t know best. I thought this was an interesting question and a nice opportunity to discuss it in a quite open environment, but it went a bit ugly for me. The challenge came, “We have been going over this for 50 years, why are we talking about this again?”. I have thought the answer to that was plain, we still don’t have a really good answer and a good answer is well worth searching for.
It got worse. The group descended into a blame fest. “Fifty percent of councillors are rubbish.”, “There are too many fat, lazy b*****ds.” and so on.
I was very disheartened by the general feeling. There were a few positive voices who noted that if you give people a good job to do then they will do a good job and that there is potential in everyone, it just has to be tapped by management.
I was quite surprised since I had pegged the attendees of Local Gov Camp to be quite hopeful, forward thinking folk who would go above and beyond to find better ways to do things and here we were slinging mud at our colleagues and fellow man.
I think that this attitude is the thing that we have to knock down first. The idea that people are fat and lazy who do everything to avoid work and spend their time raising grievances is an interesting observation since it actually takes quite a lot of thought and planning to avoid work and a knowledge of procedure and a considerable tenacity is needed to raise a grievance in a modern council. I think that the potential is there in these people but we just have to channel it. We shouldn’t give up on them or write them off. They want to do a good job, same as the rest of us.
I sincerely believe that everyone wants, down deep, to contribute to a meaningful purpose. It is just that management often does their level best, not always deliberately, to block them. It is the enlightening of staff at all levels, from councillors down to street sweepers, that will open up thinking and wipe away prejudice. It is in the work that purpose is achieved and I think that the propensity to focus on individuals as things to be fixed when broken and used when performing that is wrong.
The reaction of staff to a bad system of work by withdrawing and rebelling is a natural thing that should be expected. Management are responsible for creating the system that creates the bad staff member and it is management’s responsibility to fix it. Another attendee noted that management hired “good, intelligent, self-starters with new ideas”, so if they are not like that any more, either management are incompetent at recruitment or they are incompetent at designing a system of work to keep new hires the way they were when they arrived.
But lest I fall into my own trap of starting to blame management. I am not. I don’t think it is their fault. They learned what they know from their managers, who learned from their managers. Like a cycle of abuse, it needs to be broken and it only with optimism, belief in people and an open mind that this will change.
All in all I am glad Emma ran that session since it is clear that we need to keep airing these issues until it becomes a non-issue by virtue of us fixing all the problems.
Someone once said, “The most depressing thing in life is to have hope.” Well I hope he was wrong, since I think things can change for the better we just have to look to ourselves, to the system of work and stop blaming others.