What i would have done differently

Looking back over my 23 years as a manager, there are six things I would have liked to have done – and could still do – better, and I’m working at it!

The first is to be more realistic about my own workload and the workloads of those I manage. As an unreconstructed workaholic, I would like to understand the tipping point and get back the other side of it. Part of my reflection is how those 23 years have sped by, a little like a train which never stops at any stations. My wife and children deserved to see more of me, especially when my children were younger. Management jobs place heavy demands on their occupants, and I wished I’d been stronger at self-regulation. Overload can creep up on you like a psychological stealth bomber.

Anthony DouglasLinked to that is a greater clarity on what matters most. In the perpetual present, everything is a priority, but with hindsight I could see I often devoted time and energy to work which led nowhere. The answer is to subject every large piece of work you undertake to a rigorous evaluation of the outcomes it will achieve.

Thirdly, I wish I’d managed some change programmes more coherently, by setting out clearly how we were going to get from A to B. I realise now that what staff and service users need to know is how a particular set of changes will make life different for them.

My fourth lesson is to be braver and more radical, particularly through trusting my instincts more and those of my colleagues. The serious problems managers face often need radical solutions, and I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years tinkering with something I should have abandoned and rebuilt. 

Fifth, I should have kept my eyes on the ball more at times and stopped everything else I was doing to spend all my time concentrating on a particular service at risk. It takes a long time to change and improve a service, but no time at all for it to crash.

Finally, I think I should have made the importance of what managers do clearer to critics. The support managers give to their staff, and through them users of our services, is a complex mentoring and problem-solving process, but one that is often seriously misunderstood and wrongly blamed. Bureaucrats can be beautiful people too!

Anthony Douglas is chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass)

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