The academics may consider it a neutral expression but doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers use it as a term of abuse. It stands for people the professionals consider detached from practise who make decisions which even those with a limited amount of recent experience would known wouldn’t work in practise. Ideas which must have been convincing in the board room but just seem plain daft on the front line. 

Managerialism is characterised by rationing services, being finance driven rather than practice led, a strong belief in the benefits of restructuring and in the mind of most professionals form filling and box ticking.

I heard the other day about a group of distressed social workers who found that overnight their individual case loads had risen from 35 to over a hundred. The Director had apparently met some service users who complained vigorously about the difficulty of getting through to a social worker. So he decided that all cases should be allocated. All service users would therefore have a named social worker to contact thus bypassing the call centre with it associated problems.

This is probably one of those urban myths, everyone knows someone who knows someone who works in that authority. Never the less the persistence of such anecdotes across the professions is to confirm that senior managers don’t know what they are doing.

When you are a senior manager and especially a Director you know you are too reliant on those around you for information so like the management Gurus say you get out and about to see for yourself. Service users and their relatives are particularly keen to get you to attend their carers meetings believing that as Director you have the power to change things. It’s tempting to collude with this fantasy and say you will fix it.

 They tell you about home helps who come late go early and don’t do what they are supposed to do ,they tell you that their mother is upset by the constant stream of strangers providing intimate care and ask why she can’t have the same person and why there is such a high staff turnover. They say do you realise that some of these carers are just young girls or barely speak English or have such a strong accent their mother can’t understand them. As person after person gives their own account of problems and difficulties in using the service the rest of the room nodes in agreement. Clearly this is not a good service and you don’t want to get into defending it though you are only too aware that the recruitment and staff turnovers are due to pay and conditions which are largely a result of keeping the contract price low and that the shortened visits and late arrivals are because too many visits are being squeezed in. You also know that this is a compromise which was considered more politically acceptable than taking the service away completely from a larger numbers of people.

Of course I am not saying that senior managers don’t get it wrong and yes they can be reluctant to concede that there are unintended consequences to their decisions and it is only sensible to check out with those who have to implement the decisions what problems it might cause. But given that we are in a financially driven situation,  that services do need to be rationed in order to ensure those in greatest need do get help and that restructuring and cutting posts can be an alternative to further service reductions then managerialism is not about bad management but bad times.

Blair McPherson author of Equipping managers for an uncertain future       


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