Hold the fort

Everyone has been at a team meeting where the manager announces
a new demand that someone will have to find the time to deal with.
There is a shuffling of papers, an avoidance of eye contact and
then usually a comment is made either about people not present or a
request for the task to be better defined in order for the team to
judge its priority.

Action is deferred, with a sigh of relief from an overloaded team,
but the problem remains stuck with the manager concerned.

For senior management in social care organisations there are four
areas which create such demand:

  • Cover for vacant posts occasioned by sudden departure or
    recruitment delay.
  • Preparing for an inspection or implementing the consequent
    action plan.
  • Undertaking independent case reviews or investigations.
  • Major change projects such as restructuring, outsourcing and

Managers in this situation are faced with three kinds of

Choice 1: fudge it for the time being and allocate
the tasks across the management team. This is certain to give an
inconsistent management response and will increase demands on
managers struggling with competing priorities. Care needs to be
taken in defining accountability.

Choice 2: select a manager to act up in the more
senior role with payment of a few increments or define the piece of
work as a project allocated to the most relevant manager on top of
the “day job”. The selection process here can be time-consuming and
the allocation of additional responsibilities at one level creates
pressures further down the organisation. This strain can cause
service delivery shortfall.

Choice 3: revolves around “who do we know?” –
bring back a former employee or a warm contact. Beware of such a
decision focusing more on the personality of the individual rather
than on a careful analysis of the skills and abilities needed to
meet the requirements of the tasks.

Senior managers, given years of budget reduction and increased
service commissioning, have fewer in-house resources available, and
the need to ensure evaluated quality services makes comprehensive
cover essential.

Recognition of these demands upon senior management time – and the
need for an effective alternative to the choices outlined above –
has opened up a market for career public sector interim managers.
These people have operated at senior management level in service or
corporate functions in social care. They are different from
consultants in that each will take delegated decision-making and
budget authority as well as responsibility for the staff.

In many of these roles a degree of objectivity and independence
helps establish credibility with the parties concerned and can add
value to the task. This is especially the case in management
reviews or major restructuring. However, it also applies in
preparation for external review or inspection, where a senior
manager with no history or future with the particular service can
bring an objective analysis of the strengths to build upon as well
as the areas of weakness to be tackled.

It can be just as productive to identify services which are
excellent and may have been taken for granted as to receive
confirmation of the areas where remedial action is required. While
being sensitive to the culture and the politics of any
organisation, such a manager can focus on the task and at the same
time challenge some of the perceived wisdoms of procedure and
practice which are often entrenched in individual managers or
embedded in the culture of a particular function.

Some will always see the employment of an interim manager as a
parasitic demand. But many feel that the option of interim
management should be seriously considered by managers in social
care, leading to an informed decision as to whether to pursue

Mike Taylor is a former direector of social services and
director in two national children’s charities. He has completed
interim management assignments in the social care sector and is now
director of public sector practice at executive agency Boyden
Interim Management.

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