How to kill enthusiasm and stifle initiative

 
I once stood up at a large meeting of managers to announce that the social service department was going for Investors In People (IIP) accreditation for the whole department. I said how impressed we were with the social work teams ,day centres and residential homes who had all ready archived IIP status through their own initiative. I said these teams could be proud of their achievement and the recognition it gave to the managers and staff. The senior management team now felt the time was right for every one to go for IIP. We would learn from the experience of the " pioneers" and would provide help and support. Despite delivering this announcement in my most enthusiastic and isn't this exciting voice the news was meet by silence.

In an attempt to rescue the situation the Assistant Director helpfully suggested that Eileen, a manager from the learning disability service whose team had recently archived IIP, might like to tell us what was involved. Eileen then  proceeded to tell this roomful of managers that gaining IIP had involved her and her staff in a lot of extra work, far more than she had been led to believe at the out set, she talked in detail about the difficulty she had experienced getting HR to provide supporting evidence around recruitment, training and communication, she said that she was passed between departmental and corporate HR with no one willing to take responsibility, she said that the IIP accreditors wanted a lot of paper work and she complained that when she asked for up to date copies of policies and procedures she was referred to various working groups who had been tasked to review these policies and procedures but were unable to say when they would be in a position to publish these. When she sat down the mood of the meeting had changed from mild indifference to out right opposition. 

Prior to this meeting I had attended a presentation where Eileen and her staff had basked in the praise from senior managers and local politicians for successfully achieving IIP accreditation. She had been so positive about the recognition for her staff. Why was she now so negative? She wasn't, despite the bureaucratic hurdles, unhelpful colleagues,  forms and paper work she thought IIP was a good thing for her team. She wasn't in favour of accreditation for the whole department as she thought it would devalue her teams achievement and would be a totally different experience to that of her staff. She anticipated that accreditation for the department wouldn't challenge or engage staff but be a desk top exercise. 

We never really recovered from that unexpected set back and within the year the chief executive had persuaded members that if the whole authority went for IIP we could be the first county council to achieve it for the whole authority. We did achieve it but it took longer than anticipated and we were not the first. If it was difficult to engage front line managers and staff for a directorate accreditation it was doubly so for a corporate accreditation. 

The mistake we made later compounded by the chief executive was to fail to understand the motivation of front line managers and staff. As senior managers looking at the bigger picture we were impatient to see change on a wider scale we saw an opportunity to raise standards across the whole organisation in a relatively quick and straight forward exercise. We couldn't wait for the slow ships in the convoy to catch up we would all go for it together, not optional and no negotiation on time scale. In so doing we did what corporate initiatives so often do we killed enthusiasm and stifled initiative. 


Blair McPherson former director author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 

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1 Comments

John Rudkin 3 Years Ago - Edited
This is a sad tale, but it is mixed with a realism that often gets missed. Sometimes striving for achievement does force some to have to work excessively while others happily lag in the slipstream and wait to be powered forward on the work of others. Personally I have seen it on a number of occasions and not just in the public sector. The worst examples are when an individual or group deliberately damage the chances of a worthy initiative only to 'reinvent' it later in their own name; it has been common to see initiatives that show every sign of success being scuppered by IT Departments because the work anticipated would be too much ( effort wise) for those who needed to support implementation. One interesting such instance was at Blackpool Council where an opportunity (and the technical knowhow) was in place to put a WiFi network across the whole town in 2004. The then ICT lead prevented it from happening only to try and reinvent the idea in the IT Departments name - but it took another 5 years to get it working. Just think - Blackpool was one of the first towns with WiFi coverage briefly between 2004 and 2005. The cost was eventually huge... So who are the worst enemies of transformation and progress?