There are certain phrases that can make even the hardiest professional recoil and perhaps the most daunting of these is “change management”. But it’s not so much the prospect of change itself that causes concern, rather it’s making the right decisions to effect these changes. And according to research conducted by the Chartered Management Institute, more than four in 10 managers and leaders feel that some of the decisions they have reached in the last six months have been made against their better judgement.
Asked why they allowed this to happen, the top reasons given were pressure from colleagues and fear of risk. And in a sector which is facing considerable change, this is a matter of concern. The point is that decisions have to – and will be – made about how care is delivered, but senior managers need to stand up and make the decisions that count.
Within the social care environment there are several issues that senior managers face on a daily basis, but by far the largest concern is how to manage change. Time needs to be spent exploring the impact that any decision will have, but even if the impact is understood, plans should be made for implementation. What needs to be done, when and how, should be the questions.
Resolving conflict among staff who resent change is often a challenge but also an opportunity. Once a problem has been identified, take time to find out the real issue, because it is important to deal with root causes rather than symptoms.
It is important that as a senior manager you are clear about the outcome you want to achieve. Think about how you communicate the decisions you make. Lack of clarity will lead to confusion, errors and mismanaged expectations. And, if changes are to work, those responsible for their implementation need to have a vision of what they are trying to achieve and feel able to deliver it.
The most difficult part of managing change, however, particularly within social care, is how it will affect people and resources. With this in mind it is encouraging that only a small minority of those questioned in the research were more concerned with the speed of their decision-making than anything else. The minority may believe that a quick decision keeps the pressure off, but surely, in a sector where service levels genuinely have an impact on quality of life, it is far more important to spend time assessing the financial and social implications of any decision.
In some cases this may come down to deciding who should run a programme or whether you need to recruit more staff to implement a scheme. Either way, your decision can have huge ramifications on the success of a project and the career prospects of the people involved. Managers must take responsibility for the decisions they have to make. Good leaders are not shy about making decisions. As the head of a team you are looked upon to show a clear lead and to resolve conflicts.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You may not always get things right, but so long as you can learn from your mistakes you can still move forward.
Jo Causon is director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute
The CMI has a micro-site dedicated to decision-making at www.managers.org.uk/2005