I have never seen it written into a management JD or identified as an essential requirement in a person specification but recent events have confirmed the need for curiosity amongst senior managers. I am referring to the inquiry into the behaviour of a rogue consultant in the NHS and the failure of those charged with protecting patients to ask questions. But it could just as easily have been a local authority.
The United States armed forces use to have a policy towards gay personnel that was captured in the slogan, “don’t ask, don’t tell”. In other words ignore it, avoid it, pretend it doesn’t exist and we won’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately some organisations/ senior managers have a similar policy. Another way of summing up this attitude by senior managers is the expression, why look for problems?
I suspect there is a culture of wilful blindness at the top of many organisations. But it is not always in the big stuff but often to be found in routine responses of senior managers that this culture shows itself.
At a gathering of all the managers from across the department the Assistant Director asked the audience for our suggestions on how we could raise standards ( following a series of critical reports). Taking him at his word ( a mistake) I suggested a good start would be ensuring all staff had regular supervision. To which he replied,” We already have a policy that all staff should have regular, four weekly supervision sessions with their line manager. Are you saying this is not happening?” Yes I replied. “ Well who is not doing it? Are they here is this room ? Tell me their names he demanded”. I said the training department can give you the names of staff who claim never or hardly every to have supervision since it comes up regularly in training sessions. “Well if your not going to give me names I don’t think you should make these allegations”. Clearly this senior manager didn’t want to know and so closed down the discussion.
If this senior manager had been curious he would have asked question inside and outside the meeting. He should have know and some of his colleagues would have known that the policy was widely ignored because in certain areas of work it was considered impossible to deliver. One of these areas was residential homes an area of the business were the failure to consistently deliver good standards was well documentation. Any one who cared to find out a little bit more about supervision in these homes would have recognised that the policy if it was to be implemented to the letter was not doable and was an inappropriate use of managers time. The ratio of staff to managers was so high as to make a four weekly target unrealistic so some didn’t try other managers set their own more relaxed targets. Some managers assumed all staff meant all their office based staff clearly not catering and cleaning staff as a result some staff didn’t get supervision and others didn’t realise a brief discussion about work months ago was supervision.
A manager should be curious and should ask questions to uncover the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths.
Blair Mcpherson former Director author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk