Saturday, 2 August 2014

Guest Blog 2

Being Excellent: What happened to our Leaders?

On the back of Joe Kuipers' recent last blog as Chair of Avon and Somerset Trust which begins

Credit where credit is due:
NOMS published the Probation Trust Annual reports ... I draw the following quote from page 7, a real moment of truth that may haunt those who might have behaved differently and made some attempts to arrest the progress of a TR programme fraught with danger which will surely fail to meet its own objectives:
"progress could not have been achieved without the positive engagement and support we have received from Probation Trusts."
…Why did our “Leaders” let us down so dramatically? Being a bit of an old Probation Management Hack, I am in a position (bath chair?) to reflect on the passing fashions in management.

Backalong in the 80's, in the last boom and bust, when Thatcher was “rolling back the public sector” the management buzz was all about being “Excellent” on the back of a highly popular book of the day still influential now (“In Pursuit of Excellence” by Tom Peters) . Also about professional managers as against promoted practitioners, management as a science in itself.

There was then and is now, an utterly erroneous perception that Management was something that the private sector did incredibly well, and public sector did very badly, and from there with the march of neo-liberalism and business-speak we are where we are, mindlessly framing all our policies and philosophies in the language of “indicators” “performance matrices” “funding streams”, and coming to a Probation Office near you as I write, “profit and loss”. Governments, and particularly Conservative governments, increasingly lacking the will or imagination to frame social, moral, political, philosophical arguments for policy, ape Business speak and Business practice. “Value for Money” -VfM- the then mantra of the day, is fine if we had been exercised about the value, rather than, or as well as, the money. 

The assumption that management is a profession in itself, implies that the job of a manager is portable from one “business” to another, also that managers and practitioners are discreet groups. Making a profit is one sort of business, but even in that very narrow sphere of human activity, it is acknowledged that managers have great difficulty moving from one field to another, eg services to retail. The assumption that business management is the way to run public services is highly dubious. The assumption that business management is the way to run a country is risible. Government should be in tension- not cahoots- with “business” .

Oh, and when I say “manager” the term has now morphed into “Leader”. Having established that management was a noble discreet calling in itself, the term was then superseded by “Leadership” This is so much sexier and Hollywood. Managers push pens and are bureaucratic. Leaders are out there at the front, being awesome and boldly going where no man has gone before. Oh, the vanity! For the last few years, your pen pushing bureaucrats have been trotting off to the government backed ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) training programme. The case studies feed this egotistical claptrap: Shackleton, Aung San Suu Kyi, assorted military generals and successful entrepreneurs.

Of course, there is stuff to learn here (no knowledge is useless). It certainly helps to analyse what is the stuff of great leadership, how to spot a good leader. Whether it achieves the aim of increasing the leadership qualities of participants is more debatable.

When confronted with a challenge to the absolute fabric and essence of Probation, to a century of evolution of an institution of national and international repute, what did its Leaders do? They had been selected and groomed to be professional “leaders” whose mission in life is to “lead” whatever portfolio they are commissioned to “lead”. In other words, they followed orders. Almost without exception, (Joe Kuipers being one such) they followed instruction. Some of them (bless) clearly conflicted, some of them rushing to embrace the new order with unseemly haste and enthusiasm.

It feels like betrayal, and it is. This is not leadership.

So what's the point of this reflection? Well, apart from a bit of a ramble, I would suggest that there is a bit of a lack of leadership around the place. Leadership with a capital L. And that doesn’t have to be “from the top” or “at the top”. NAPO is currently electing the next Chair and we should be looking for someone who isn't going to be the same old same old. Notwithstanding my comments about military generals as a model, we are in a bitter conflict and need to rally. Long campaigns are the most perilous. Strategic competence, credible personification of our identity and values, fearlessness and stamina essential. Great communications and maintenance of morale and purpose will be key.

There is a vacuum to be filled for a debate about public policy and public service couched in terms other than those of business transaction. A debate that focuses on morality, society, community: how we want to live, not just what we want to own. How one of the wealthiest countries in the world conducts its affairs internally and abroad. Probation has a rich philosophical, academic and ethical tradition to draw on in this. I believe there are nascent Leaders of public opinion and policy at all grades who could be whipping up a storm here. Butterflies beating their wings perhaps.

And when a suited and booted “Leader” tells you with patronising and amused disdain that the sentiments in the last paragraph are “very idealistic, dear” suggest they get back to their spreadsheet, they are sounding like yesterday. “Business” is already catching on to this. Just a little rumble but it's there and growing.

Lastly, because managers like soundbites and citing authoritative tomes always lends gravitas

“Don't follow Leaders” Bob Dylan

“Be excellent to each other” Bill and Ted


Anonymous SPO

(Editors note : Guest blogs are always welcome. Please get in touch if you are interested.)

37 comments:

  1. I have found myself reflecting too on leadership on many occasions over the past few years, prompted mostly when our Trust developed a 'leadership programme' which could only be accessed by people who were thought to be 'in the club', the 'yes' people. When you google leadership its mostly about skills and aptitude and businesses promoting their ability to develop good effective leaders. To be a leader in our Trust you didn't need any of these skills just an ability to be like minded and have the same vision as the current chief. Any indication you were militant, an independent thinker and challenged organisational decisions and you were not deemed suitable. Leadership skills are irrelevant when you have a chief who just wants their leaders to be followers.

    Ironically, NAPO appears to drive the same culture and if your not in the 'club' so to speak you're said to be against the order of the union. Where does that leave NAPO, looking for a leader in a chair as a leader of a club of like minded individuals willing to follow or a leader who is willing and able to ensure NAPO doesn't forget it is a trade union. My vote goes to Dino, its a no brainer, no other leader stands.

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    1. Good reply until the Dino plug. His leadership when a regional rep and Napo vice-chair, resulted in a vote of no confidence being passed by Hampshire branch. So far from a no-brainer in some quarters.

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    2. I think there will always be an expectation in any trade union that you have to prove yourself by becoming involved in some of the effective everyday work of the union and also get involved in some committees. You not only have to prove to others that you are able to articulate your own ideas both verbally and in writing but most importantly those of the membership even if you do not personally agree with them and be prepared to be participative. Trade union leaders are informed and draw their authority from their membership and not from their personal status. Trade unions strive to be democratic organisations as opposed to the organisations that their members work in that are not. We don't need those in leadership positions who are bullish and need to have their egos regularly massaged in order to lead us. Such people may appear strong to some but if they lack other skills they are of no use and quite likely to attract the wrong sort of publicity as a buffoon.

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    3. It would be hopelessly naive to bemoan the fact that "netowrking" ie keeping in with the in crowd, isnt a necessary part of getting into positions of power. The issue is what to do with the position once you have got into it, and what motivates you to get there in the first place. With power (and a fat pay cheque) comes responsibility... and surely the label "leader" (and fat cheque) carries with it a moral duty.

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  2. I would never follow my leader, I could never get that single minded or selfish, shitting on all her staff and still continuing to tell lies. But it would seem that she likes to follow her leader with a passion and at any cost.

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  3. Agree totally. In my team I work alongside someone who is widely regarded as 'the best manager we never had'. He has all of the 'skills' which mean that TPTB would never allow him to become a manager.

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  4. Inspired by guest blog, Peter Lilley & G&S:

    I am the very model of a modern justice minister
    I'm experienced in criminal, illegal and sinister
    I know the chief executives and woo them 'til they're senseless
    From Epsom to Westminster I am banking my expenses
    I utilise the inane and mundane in all my speeches
    I love to speak in cliches, just like all my Eton teachers
    My political career is pledged to smashing up the left
    Like Thatcher I don't care if the country's left bereft
    The scroungers and the old lags and offenders countrywide
    Will all end up in prison cos there's nowhere left to hide
    I am the very model of an unfit Lord High Chancellor
    And I think my rage and bitterness means I should see a counsellor
    Perhaps if I was calmer and saw things for what they are
    Then maybe I would disappear right up my own TR

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    1. I think he has already disappeared up his TR and that is why he can't see reality.

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    2. Fantastic! How clever to have spotted the G&S quality of "Unfit Lord Hight Chancellor"

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  5. I have much respect for those managers who are prepared to do the right thing by speaking up and defending practitioners on the front line. We ned more of these managers to come forward.

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  6. Brilliant blog from your guest, and replies. In our team (NPS) we look at Oli -perhaps with some vague hope that it may contain some answers, but no, just another photograph of some smug...Manager having been appointed. However, they are going by some other title these days 'Heads of' Operations', like they are about to partake in some clinical intervention. Perhaps they think if we change the terminology of the hierarchy, we'll look important? Sadly not..I for one just have an overwhelming desire to put Knob in front of it. Today's blog has also clarified something for me....our Chief or whatever they are now called, is attending our office, for 45 minutes, not sure of the reason, perhaps a morale boost or another platitude to the workers...I was struggling, do I go, as I might hear something important, or do I protest and get on with something more pressing? I feel that I already know what this is about and if I do go, I will not be silent, so still mulling it over.

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  7. Re Leadership: "He who seeks power over me declares himself my enemy"

    Proudhon (I think)

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  8. As a former PO and also a former vicar I trust I can be allowed to quote someone known to all who might provide some of those in political and management positions of power some advice that would rock their boat to the point of capsizing it. You don't need to be a christian or of any faith at all to look at how different things could be if self-serving was turned into a motive of serving other people, but as a christian it's no surprise that I look to Jesus for great quotes, and he had this to say when a fight broke out amongst his followers about who was the most important leader:
    “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    Now there's a thought...

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  9. A bit of a fluffy post. In reality probation has never had good managers or leaders across the board. CEO's, ACO's and SPO's are rarely leaders or prepared to put their heads above the parapet. The ones that would are never picked for manage my roles and the ones that do are pushed out very quickly.

    Probation management these days usually means probation officers who don't like or are not good at probation work escaping to management roles, or tired and fed up old hands that have been in these roles far too long to retain an understanding of what the ever changing job really is. To retain their band 5 plus+ they become 'yes men' to a probation chief/director and hey presto they've made it to senior management too. I've seen this same pattern up and down the country, and in many cases have found both management and senior management teams to be disproportionately white male and over a certain age. Breaking this pattern is the only positive of TR, although we'll be worse off with NPS managerial nodding dogs to the MoJ and after share sale probably CRC managers without a clue or qualification.

    All credit to this SPO for saying his bit, but that fact they have to say it anonymously means 'same old same old' and means they're no leader either. I would think the majority of SPO and middle managers up and down the country were no different, and by their silence, inaction, assisted and fear of their Chief Probation Officer, they also assisted in making TR happen. And even after everything TR related has been said and done, teams restructured, CEO's retired, they're all still excruciatingly silent.

    http://offendersupervision.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/then-they-came-for-probation-and-there.html?m=1

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    1. ok anonymous PO at 10:51. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. This has exercised me for a while: you might assume that if one person breaks ranks, then this might release the floodgates. In my experience, not. Could we orchestrate a mass un-anonymity? Would be fun. btw, sort out your gender presumptions

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    2. Good response.Being the sole dissenting voice round a table of those keen to show the chief how they are "going forward" is no fun and is career suicide.I thought your blog was spot on.Another anonymous SPO

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    3. Depends how you define "career".

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    4. Job suicide then.

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    5. And lets not forget that in some cases the bullying tactics of group has led to people taking their own lives.

      Leader, manager, mentor does not mean bully, psychopath or narcissist.

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  10. Agree with your analysis: the sweet sound of a hammer hitting the nails truly.

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  11. I know who this post is written by and there are reasons for the anonymity and it certainly does not mean 'same old same old'. I think it is absolutely fantastic and time and again, I asked Glos management how they could go along with TR. All I ever got was, 'If we don't do it, they will send faceless civil service bureaucrats and it will all be worse." I told the band 6 manager who led the mutual bid that the mutual rubbish was just a diversion tactic, and yet we had a terrible away day when we were all supposed to get into groups and help out the bid by doing stupid videos to show what a great mutual we would make. The manager even accepted that we might have to meet our clients in Tesco's in the future! Everyone was then pushed into signing their agreement for the mutual.

    At the same event there was also some so-called motivational act who talked about leadership and how we can all be leaders! The one thing being displayed on that day was not leadership but blindly following orders. I remember thinking that all this TR had made me understand far more how the My Lai massacre happened and how Stanley Milgram managed his experiment.

    Finally, the Chair of Glos Probation Trust, Tony Fitzsimmons reprimanded a colleague of mine for interrupting Chris Grayling when he came to our office, placed a hand on his arm and told him to give the SofS some respect! It turned out later that he was in line for some high-up CRC post appointed directly by Grayling, which I understand he subsequently got. All very disappointing but true.

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    1. Joanna we should show the office of Secretary of State respect due to the powers and responsibility involved but if the person holding that office is a disgrace to it, as is the incumbent Justice Secretary, then no respect is due to that person as they are not fulfilling the requirements of that public office in accordance with the reasonable expectations of the public (ie with probity/integrity, honesty, knowledgeably) and should be removed from office by the Prime Minister or never appointed in the first place. Mind you it would seem that the PM does not have anyone else in his circle of sufficient ability or moral fibre in his trusted circle to replace Grayling.

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    2. Joanna that's shocking to read - give Grayling respect. Fucking sell out bastard.

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    3. Mention of the dangers of conformity made me think Zimbardo and the early termination of his experiment because those who were in the roles of prison guards became too abusive towards the inmates. It would seem that not to follow is the exception to the rule and maybe that's how it will always be in the human herd. Anon@13:31 asks that we remember those who followed their leaders 100 years ago – difficult not to follow amid the fervour of nationalistic jingoism. Those who did not follow, and tried to resist, were white-feathered and imprisoned.

      I agree with Anon@ 12:16: a democratic model of leadership that emphasises participative qualities is closer to the idea of leadership: as altruistic service to others rather than being self-serving. But unfortunately this is a far cry from the realities of much leadership – in the unions and the wider world. In terms of leadership in probation, Joe Kuipers tried it and was left out in the cold. I think in probation it is a misnomer to refer to the vast majority of managers, whatever their grade, as leaders. They are functionaries who kiss up and kick down. In the main it seems that is how you progress up the managerial ladder in probation.

      Of course, the hierarchy will say but we have awards and achievements, we reached targets. Yes, probation became very good at reaching targets, and so good at enforcement they were told to slow down because the prison population was bloated with licence recalls, often based on technical breaches. It was the destruction of the professional ethic by pragmatic managerialism, aided enthusiastically by inhuman resources (sic) that transformed probation into an organisation that bullied and intimidated the workforce into compliance and whereas once opinions were welcome, in the new order opinions were threatening because they questioned the manager's right to manage – because questions made the whole edifice insecure and risked showing too often that managers had no idea what they were doing or, more importantly, why. They were doing it because it was 'policy' and that was sacred, whatever its origins or motivations.

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    4. i partocipated in one of the audits that contributed to an "excellence" rating for my Trust. The external facilitator and consultant in his closing remarks, rounding up the evidence, commented that while my Trust was ticking loads and loads of boxes, its one great vulnerability as a business and institution, was that its main strategy was to jump through the hoops put in place by others, and that without a sense of its own identity, that would and could be dictated from outside. About ten years ago. Tragic

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  12. The root of this problem, it could be argued lies in the 'interview', the exisiting powers that be dont want a radical thinker or even someone who, when the going gets tough rolls up their sleeves and leads from the front, when recruiting to SPO and beyond they look for those who will follow the party line and those who will turn their backs on their colleagues and spout meaningless jargon and pretend to believe it, there are many leaders out there who will never be given the chance to lead as to do so will shine a light on managerial malpractice and uncover things that they would rather be left covered....

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  13. Sort of off message but on Monday evening take a moment to remember all those who followed their leaders 100 years ago. http://www.1418now.org.uk/lights-out/

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  14. yup, Lions led by Donkeys...

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  15. Watch Dad's Army - "the fallen idol" - an excellent example of 'leadership' in action. "Here's to... Cardinal Grayling" etc etc.

    Also, Bragg's documentary on John Ball might be worth a watch tonight.

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  16. Our leader consistently bemoaned the approach of TR and predictably, didn't succeed in being appointed in the CRC. They took VR (please, let me be next). Didn't get on with the bloke but at least he stood by his principles. Before him we had a Chief who parroted the 'contestability is NOT privatisation' mantra that preceeded this debacle. They too have now taken VR. The rest of us sweat on whether we are being measured up for our crapita polo shirts, now that so many have jumped ship whilst our former 'leaders' piss off and collect their pensions. By the way, everyone keeps slagging off Grayling on here but he is just 'crystallising' the vision of Crispin Blunt - now there's a bit of rhyming slang waiting to happen.

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  17. All of these pathetic 'business' orientated managers, acting out their risible fantasies of being movers and shakers in a cut-and-thrust, dog-eat-dog board room world. This is Social Work. We help people. If they want to work for a business why not fuck off and join one? Oh yes - because they'd last about two minutes, having all of the ambition but none of the ability.

    Simon Garden

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    1. I've lost count of the number of times I've thought and voiced this sentiment over the last 10 years! Well said

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  18. As an SPO and active NAPO Rep I can only reflect on my own experience as a Manager, at times I have had to deliver some difficult messages, however I can say without hesitation I have never asked anyone to do anything I was not prepared to do myself; this has always been my starting point. I have nurtured staff and supported them to reach their potential from both a career and personal perspective. I have made myself unpopular with the CEO to ensure the views of my staff have been heard. I struggled with the concept of Leadership Forum where we were told we had to be Leaders however we were Managers and paid to manage. Any sign of showing initiative was extinguished in a moment by the CEO who ruled the roost with a rod of iron, evident right up to 31/05/14. Placed in NPS we are told we have more autonomy so only time will tell how this will pan out. I write this as often on this blog there are generalisations around SPOs whilst understandable personally I find it a little disappointing. When I was on strike I was always on the picket line despite sniggering from members who chose to work and are now unhappy with their lot. I don't regret anything as a Manager, that's what I'm paid to do, however I choose to be a NAPO Rep to represent the same members who did not take strike action, I am professional enough to do both, I write this to remind readers we cannot all be judged in the same manner as the ones that have let the side down.

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  19. Probation Officer2 August 2014 at 23:24

    Anonymous SPO2 18:04 and Anonymous2 19:03. I have been the dissenting voice around the management table, so I do know what it's like and I'm well aware of the ramifications. TR was an opportunity for managers at all grades to speak out, and to empower main grade staff to speak out, but they chose not to do so. A pretty poor show from probation managers/directors/leaders overall, what a weak bunch they are. The problem is not that others do not speak out as they feel their career progression means they cannot. As stated by another, they are selected at interview stage for this 'quality'.

    So the newer managers will do anything to show their allegiance to directors, and more experienced managers will not do anything to jeopardise their pensions packages. Although I do not rate SPO's for this abysmal characteristic, I blame ACO/Director grades who do the bidding of probation chief officers and are paid to keep SPO's under the thumb. Then there's the probation chief officers themselves that lied to staff to look as if they wanted the best for probation while simultaneously preparing to dispose of probation which they have now successfully achieved.

    There will never be an all out mass revolution against probation directors or the MoJ. In some ways this is where Napo or the so called probation institute would feature in representing our voice and concerns, but they've proved to be less than useless too. I see the probation association prepared its attack on TR when the damage was already done and the PA closing. Likewise retired probation chiefs Sue Hall, Peter Wright, et al have begun suggesting they can now 'speak out', when it's too late as waited for their redundancy packages first. Others, Tessa Webb, Sarah Billiard, Heather Munro, etc began to speak out in the early days of TR but allowed themselves to be silenced by the MoJ, and thereafter made TR possible - now all are retired and others too. As I said, and I cannot say it enough, there is literally nobody to speak for probation, and that's why our own probation managers/leaders were able to make TR possible to which they now reap the benefits and the service suffers.

    We have now entered a new phase for probation so this is the time for probation managers at all grades, given that TR and sifting proved to many they were not as important or indispensable as they thought they were, and to reevaluate their positions and decide whether they are to continue being a probation puppet or not. I'm sure increasingly there are managers wanting to publicly speak out, whistle-blow, whatever you want to call it, but somebody has to start the ball rolling. I won't hold my breath!

    http://offendersupervision.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/then-they-came-for-probation-and-there.html?m=1


    And btw, I've made no gender assumptions, you assumed I did, it's not always easy to type using the little buttons of an iphone.

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