Archive for January, 2011

Leap before you are pushed?

While all the murky stuff is going on, Liverpool City Council has launched what can only be described as a surreal Investors in People stunt.  Banners and leaflets have appeared in council offices declaring: “leap”.  This stands for: leadership, excellence, accountability, performance.  But should the message really be spelt out in a tall banner in the central stairwell of a building?  All around are staff contemplating gloomy prospects in the weeks ahead, with managers summoning people to give bad news on a regular basis…  Leap: surely this is the wrong message to be giving to staff?

Looking at some of the detail, it is almost Orwellian.  Most of the characteristics of the people the leaflets describe are comical.  To keep this post short, I will highlight a few:

  • “I treat others as I would like to be treated” – bullying?
  • “I am friendly, professional and sensitive to the needs of my customers and colleague (sic) at all times” – note the singular ‘colleague’!
  • “I learn from my mistakes” – need we mention the LDL audit?

Big Brother would have drawn the line at peddling such obvious nonsense.

And the cost of all this?  Rumour puts it at about £14,000.

You cannot make this stuff up.

Murkyside III

Liverpool City Council seems intent on turning itself into a parody.  Staff were summoned last week to meetings in the Arena (at some considerable cost) and given vague messages about tough times from the council leader.  When the events were opened up to questions, I hear he got a little irate when asked about the Liverpool Direct Ltd contract investigation.

So the news of the employment tribunal case being brought by Peter Cosgrove will have cheered him up no end.  The material that might emerge from the case will be embarrassing.  But I would ask a simpler set of questions.  In what circumstances was Peter Cosgrove suspended?  How come the ‘evidence’ against him relates to work he was involved in over four years ago?  Who had this evidence and yet did nothing with it for four years?  Why does it only emerge the moment the acting chief executive takes over?  And how does this relate to the previous questions about conflicts of interest?

I am sure the new permanent (and totally transparently appointed) chief executive will be interested.  But then again, maybe he won’t.  He is rumoured to be an old friend of the acting chief executive.  Penfold to his Dangermouse?

Chaos, Mao and the Great Famine

Before Christmas, there were a couple of interesting pieces in the Observer and elsewhere picking up an emerging theme: David Cameron as Mao, ‘the great helmsman’.  One MP, Nicholas Boles, questioned the system of planning in local government.  He suggested that it be replaced by people power and chaos.  A few days later, Vince Cable suggested that the coalition government was taking on too much at too great a pace in areas like health and education.  He likened it to a ‘Maoist revolution’.  The two were connected in one review article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/23/vince-cable-mao-coalition-marxist-capitalism).

However, I am not sure that these comments have identified a perhaps more important parallel with Mao’s China.  Yes, his rule was chaotic (‘organised chaos’ was the familiar refrain), reckless and mobilised millions in the belief that, through determined effort, material circumstances could be changed and improved.  But, internally, there was a particular managerial dynamic in the Chinese leadership that is of interest.  Mao set the agenda in very broad terms.  Aspirations, slogans and analogies litter his speeches and writings.  Nothing is clear and his name is never too closely linked to anything definite or concrete.  Subordinates, and particularly the ambitious ones, needed to be able to read between the lines, understand the intent and act vigorously to deliver.  Should things go wrong, Mao was able to identify the over zealous official as the responsible party.  Last year, Frank Dikötter published a work, Mao’s Great Famine, which presents in detail the destructive and murderous consequences of this management style.

Does this sound anything like the coalition government’s approach?  Certainly, there is the whiff of over enthusiastic underlings about Gove, Lansley and Pickles.  And there are any number of forecasts of chaos and worse that might follow upon some of their current reform proposals.  And we already have the start of the great famine, at least in terms of resources.

Happy New Year!