Boris and the New Broom

The MJ logoWithin days of Boris Johnson taking over City Hall there have been some big people changes. The Chief Executive and chair of the London Development Agency have been asked to resign, and no doubt there will be more movement of the deckchairs of the top teams in a number of areas, all of this with claims that this is not a witch hunt. One observer wryly commented “If it looks and smells like a witch hunt then maybe it is.”

Senior Staff in local authorities are used to people moves as a result new of political administrations.

Whilst at one council (that will remain anonymous) that changed political control, I was called in by the new leader and asked to sack the Chief Executive and most of the top team and by the way “Could I have them out by Monday?”

I composed my features as best I could and took a deep breath, (luckily for me I had just found out I had been appointed to a new role in another organisation so had nothing to lose) and I told our new leader that there were just a couple of things he needed to consider.

  • The Law, which even newly polished leaders are not immune from.
  • The practicalities: Who did he think was going to run the council once he had dispensed with all the talent and experience.
  • The emotional fallout. Survivor syndrome is a good description for how the rest of the organisation feels when staff are unceremoniously shown the door.

The emotional residue is often the most difficult to put right. Most senior staff in the public sector are realistic folk. They know that sometimes their face doesn’t fit with the new administration and they are seen as part of the old school and have to go. It is however extremely important in doing this that they are;

  • Not vilified
  • Allowed to write their own exit script
  • Compensated fairly for the loss of their job

There is something quite revolting about the glee with which some newly elected members want to stick the knife into senior officers, often good public servants who have served  their communities well. Even more revolting are the officers who ingratiate themselves with the new members in an attempt to do down their colleagues and save their own skins. Always a huge mistake though. Integrity, loyalty and honesty are traits that staff look up to.

I listened to Greg Dyke recently at the PPMA conference. He said that he had always believed the mantra that if your staff respected you it didn’t matter if they didn’t like you. Over time he changed his mind. When you deal with other human beings and ask them to join you on a difficult journey they not only need to respect you, they need to love you just a little bit too.

Ask yourself this question; how many staff would stand on the streets for the leader of your council in the way they did for Greg Dyke?

If the leader (or new CE) are people who treat staff badly, then the only thing to join them on the streets will be the tumbleweed blowing along in the breeze.

Angela O'Connor
Chief People Officer
National Policing Improvement Agency
Past President PPMA