To build you must first demolish

If you cut the budget by 50 percent over five years then you are no longer looking at making savings in services you are talking about re building something smaller, more economical and in the case of local authorities managed by someone else, may be the community. To build first you must demolish the old structure. So it is with teams as it is with services. Which is why a new chief executive and radical change so often includes a shakeup of the senior management team. As one chief executive put it when recently interviewed in the Guardian.


"There were a lot of people who had worked at the council for quite a long time and I felt that I needed to test their willingness to change – and, for some people, there wasn't that willingness to change. So we had to make changes to their role and their responsibilities, and some people left as a result of that. For me, it was about creating a team of people who were up for it. I appointed a new team of directors, some new to the authority. We also appointed new assistant directors. "

To build their new team first they had to demolish the old team. Well it is certainly easier to get managers on board if you recruited them rather than inherited them! What does such dramatic action say about the previous management team, clearly they didn't suddenly become incompetent and having been around for some time they must have experience of managing change.

 The new directors share the vision and presumably are comfortable with the management style and tone set by the chief executive. So what happens when they report that the managers they have inherited aren't up for radical change? Another tier of experienced managers are got rid of. Is this the end of this reign of terror or is the management cull to continue down the organisation. Perhaps the climate of fear is such that further culls are not necessary. What is that expression,” you don't need to win hearts and minds if you have them by the balls the rest usually follows.”

In my experience as a senior manager this can be quite effective, in the short term it will deal with the immediate budget crisis, get performance back on track and get some much needed if unpopular changes implemented. But there is a reason why the tenure of chief executives is increasingly short, clearing the ground is one thing but attempting to build without solid foundations means it won't last. Leadership isn't just about getting things done, in the long term it's about how you get things done.

Blair McPherson former local authority director and author of People management in a harsh financial climate and Equipping managers for an uncertain future both published by Russell House



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