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Asking the right questions

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

I am a great believer in the transferability of management skills so if you have learnt the skills involved in managing a large workforce and  a big budget within a politically sensitive arena then you are equipped to work in any business stream of local government. But you will have to quickly gain a knowledge and understanding of this new service . In the mean time you understandably don’t know what you’re doing so you are over reliant on one of your team who does have a background in the service.

Like many senior managers after a major management restructuring I found myself responsible for a range of additional services which had little in common. In my case this included Libraries, Museums, Adult Education, Registrars ( births, deaths and marriages) and support to the Coroners service. As a director responsible for a diverse range of services you need to learn  to ask the right questions and spot the bullshit answers however plausible they may seem to someone who does not have a background in the service. If you don’t  then like those former directors of education the first time you realise there is a big problem may be when the draft inspection report appears in your inbox or a child in care dies.

For me asking the right questions was usually around performance data or budget proposals. The answers may sound plausible but do they stand up to scrutiny?  Can it be demonstrated that the service is under resourced? Is the explanation for the over spend the expensive but unavoidable use of agency staff or failure to address chronic absenteeism? Are these income projections realistic or just away of avoiding painful budget cuts? Has what you’re telling me about these legal restrictions been recently tested out with our solicitors or are you just going by what has been assumed in the past ? You say HR have said that we can’t do this but have you asked for their advice on how we might solve this problem? Are board members unwilling to consider this or is it that in the past they were? Are those reasons still as pressing?

A director moves from not knowing what their doing to being in control when they are no longer over reliant on their assistant directors or service heads and know what to ask and who to ask in order to anticipate and preempt problems.

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