Monday, 12 December 2011

I do not believe it …!!

There used to be a BBC TV comedy series starring Richard Wilson, called ‘One Foot in the Grave”. The unlikely hero was a man called Victor Meldrew (played by RW). His bizarre antics and predicaments cannot easily be explained here. If you haven’t seen it, I can certainly recommend it ….

My reason for mentioning Victor Meldrew is that his catch phrase was “I do not believe it…!!” And today I know just how he feels. I don’t believe it either, especially when it comes to the College of Social Work.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the nascent college and some of the strange goings-on surrounding its launch. Well, today I read that, prior to recruiting a single member, the caretakers of this august body have advertised for a Chief Executive, with a complete person specification bulging at the seams with all the clichés and jargon that you would expect to find in the person specification for an advertising executive or even a director of children’s services.

Have they not thought that the membership might NOT want someone with experience of the “robust management of risk” or “customer care” or “business growth and leading change” or having the “flair and ability to understand and tackle the particular issues facing a business start up”? A business start-up, for goodness sake! I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they will be inviting Alan Sugar onto the board next!!

I know many people would prefer the chief executive of a body like this to be someone who really understands the issues? Perhaps someone who is a bruised old-battler who isn’t afraid of the children’s services establishment or government ministers or civil servants or the media? Perhaps someone who really cares whether service users get a square deal? To me that certainly sounds preferable to Ms Robust-Risk-Management or Mr. Customer-Care.

But there is an even better alternative. A really good administrator may be what is required. A company secretary type who will keep the organisation on the legal straight and narrow, make sure the books are kept up to date and that all the money is accounted for. Who will ensure that elections take place and that the decisions of meetings are properly recorded and executed. And who then keeps her or his own counsel and allows the members and their elected representatives to steer the organisation in the direction that they believe it should go. Old-fashioned I know, but it does work.

The way to manage an organisation like this one is not to start by bringing in ‘strategic managers’ who may regard the membership as just another ‘stakeholder group’ to be managed. At this stage the organisation needs interim management, sufficient to recruit a membership and to put in place some decision-making mechanisms. Then let the membership decide – what sort of management do they want, where do they want the organisation to go. There is far too much that is top-down in present arrangements. Let’s have more bottom-up and we might all learn a thing or two.

And another thing – while I’m still ranting on about this I subject: I noticed that the job was advertised without a salary being specified. "£competitive" is all it says in the Guardian. So I’m guessing that this is a big salary.

There are two things wrong here. At present, the college is spending public money, so it should be open about the salaries it is prepared to pay to senior staff. And in the future it will rely increasingly on members’ contributions – members who currently do not have a say and who have not been consulted about how much they want to pay a Chief Executive.

Stop Press (as they used to say when I first started reading newspapers): I have just learned that the salary is about £100,000 plus some benefits. I think there are a lot of people who will say - "I do not believe it"!