Management
May 7, 2012

Belt tightening: Obstacle or opportunity for managers?

The significant challenges created by the global recession have had a profound impact on our lives. All economies have been forced to inject major public spending to restore stability to their economies.

Now, as we start to come out of the recession, governments are obliged to do their best to restore fiscal balance as soon as possible. Pressure is applied to public sector organizations to find a way to reduce spending on goods, services and – most significantly – on people. Often government actions manifest themselves in our workplaces as management seeks to rationalize staffing levels in the face of reduced budgets and increased pressures for accountability. What we have seen in the public service are demands for more work with less resources and tighter scrutiny and control.

Such steps result in becoming process-driven rather than results-driven, overworking the remaining staff, increasing stress levels with a concomitant increase in absenteeism, greater use of a challenged health care system and total disenchantment within the public sector workforce.

What can you do as a manager to address these challenges? Because, if you don’t do something, who will?

As a manager you can directly influence the work environment of your employees and their ability to deal with perceived heavy workloads. As a manager at any level of the organization you should:

  • Provide clear direction, clear expectations and reasonable time to complete the work. Work with your employees to develop a clear vision aligned with the departmental strategic directions, outcomes for your organization that are understood by all employees and priorities to reach them. A manager needs to explain to the employees how they can support the organization in achieving these strategic directions.
  • Set priorities. Changing priorities are a fact of life in many work environments. Some people thrive on these changes as it makes them feel they are part of something important that is responsive to changing needs. However, changing priorities create confusion and frustration for many people. A manager can provide employees with the big picture, explain the logic behind the changes, and the impact they will have on the employees and their work.
  • Build a culture of trust and respect that supports good people management. Talk about the vision and how to get there. Everybody should be involved in implementation strategies, discussing what they can do to improve in pursuit of the vision. Create and align energy for success by enabling employees, so that everyone feels they can wield a measure of influence over ideas, actions, priorities and the culture.
  • Ensure there is clear communication “bottom-up” as well as “top-down” to address little issues before they become big problems. Communication is key to the successful implementation of changes and employee involvement. As a manager, it is important to communicate with your employees frequently by holding regular meetings. You should take the time to explain where the organization is going and why, how the organization plans to get there, clear expectations about new ways of work, and explanations of how people will be involved. Provide answers to questions. If you don’t know the answer, don’t speculate! It’s better to say that you will find out and provide the answer as soon as you can – and be sure you do it.
  • Motivate and inspire your employees. As a manager, it is up to you to motivate employees by providing positive feedback and showing appreciation for work well done and by giving them a work environment that is empowering and recognizes their competencies.
  • Establish a healthy working environment. As a manager you should walk-the-talk so that your behaviour sets the tone you want in the workplace.

If one looks at the organization holistically and with a positive attitude, effective leadership and confidence in you employees will persuade them to embrace your management style and accept positive change. In looking for a proven formula for success, it is believed that the effective application of organizational excellence principles can have a profoundly positive effect on staff morale, on the actual costs of operation, and on the image of our public sector organizations. Furthermore, the quality of service also will be improved.

 

D.W. (Don) Wilson is executive director of the National Quality Institute in the National Capital Region (www.nqi.ca). John F. Thomas is chair of the Canadian Public Sector Quality Association (www.cpsqa.ca).

 

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