Saturday, June 9, 2012

Empires - building and destroying - high evidence of PPM

One of my neighbours used to be a Police Officer. From time to time we chat and set the world to rights - someone has to do it, and it might as well be us! Just the other day he raised the issue of empire building - the situation where managers become more concerned about their status and power than they are with results - consequently they add staff (full-time, part-time, casual, contract etc - it doesn't matter) rather than examining work practices and capabilities then considering these in light of the results to be achieved. Very often the impact of such actions is demotivation of good staff, under employment of many, reduced productivity (it takes more resources to achieve the same output), but increased remuneration for the manager because of the 'increase in responsibility'. As he says, he's seen it too often and, despite the rhetoric of organisations operating efficiently, it is one of the most common sources of frustration at the lower levels of organisations.

In part our discussion arose because of the recent statement by the NSW (Australia) Treasurer that, while currently embarking upon a reduction of 5,000 people from the NSW Public Service, a cut of another 10,000 is to be made in the next financial year. We've both seen it all before! Time and again politicians announce cuts to the Public Service, implement those cuts, demoralise and politicise the remaining workforce, then, when they are eventually ejected from power, leave behind a public service that is larger and, often, less efficient than the one with which they started. In the interim they've lost many really good people and much of the corporate knowledge that is really essential to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Empire building and empire demolition both tend to be indicators of PPM - Piss Poor Management. Both adding more staff and reducing staff levels are very often "easy way outs" for complex problems that managers don't want to confront. Rather than dealing with productivity issues, PPM will add staff even though there is current capability available. Similarly, rather than appropriately deal with serious systems problems its easier to make staff cuts then complain about the amount of leave accumulated by the reduced workforce that remains.

Lets consider a few issues in NSW. Removing graffiti costs the NSW rail service some $60 million a year. Road trauma in NSW costs $billions a year. Crimes such as breaking and entering, theft, burglary, malicious damage, etc cost individuals and insurers millions of dollars each year. The authorities admit that very few of these crimes are fully investigated or offenders arrested and charged because the resources available to Police and the like are inadequate.

There's an old saying that "prevention is better than cure" and another that advocates putting a fence at the top of a cliff rather than maintaining an ambulance at the cliff's foot. If NSW needs to save large amounts of money - and I fully accept that this is the case - then investing money in actions to prevent graffiti, to improve road safety (and speed cameras will never do this but improved roads, increased and obvious police presence, and better driving training will) and to prevent crime at all levels has the potential to save far more money than may be available from simply cutting public service numbers or reducing expenditure in areas such as education, social welfare services, etc. Unfortunately no politician of any flavour seems to understand this.

PPM indicates a lack of leadership. Beware both those who build empires to bolster their own egos and those who slash and burn staffing levels for short term expediency and to gain political points.

What do you think? Please post your comments below.

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