“Show me a completely smooth operation and I’ll show you someone who’s covering mistakes. Real boats rock.”
If you’ve been following my book reviews you’ll know I recently worked through the original three Dune audiobooks. I’m currently re-reading the original Dune and listening to ChapterHouse Dune, the sixth of the original series and final one to be written by Frank Herbert.
The above quote is from ChapterHouse Dune. Whilst the last three of the original six (God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and ChapterHouse Dune) don’t have the same philosophical depth as the first three, they do a good job of describing the fallout from the philosophies explored in those books. Even so, this quote leapt out at me when I heard it- so much so that I had to pull the car into a lay-by, skip back, and bookmark it. It’s rare that a fiction book can so effectively summarise elements of politics, religion and philosophy through seemingly throwaway lines rather than deep observations, but Frank Herbert does this with alarming frequency. I wish I’d met him.
The above quote does the same thing for management.
Those of you also involved in quality assurance management will hopefully understand the vastly different outcomes an unannounced visit can result in, as compared to a planned and announced visit.
Unannounced visits have their place. You may get a more realistic and nuanced picture. Staff will be less prepared for your arrival, and therefore have less opportunity to plan for their conversations with you - meaning they will be less prepared to divert the conversation into more comfortable areas. This also means that they may be less likely to have relevant information to hand, should you want to take a ‘deep dove’ into a specific topic. You also risk arriving at time when people are simply too busy to give you the time you need to get done what you need to do. Different industries will have their specific risks also, with regard ti unannounced visits. Working in the care sector, you may find that you’ve arrived to interrupt an important meeting, an activity, or they may simply all be out. There is the risk also that you could arrive mid-incident, or that your presence precipitates one. A rarity, but still a risk.
With a planned visit you can ensure (as much as is possible) that everyone will be aware you are visiting, and prepared accordingly. They may have the relevant information to hand, and you can ensure your visit does not clash with any other arrangements. In care, the residents can be prepared also. You may find that they re more engaging and revealing as a result of having time to prepare for your visit. I’ve certainly found that children with attachment difficulties and people with certain learning differences such as autism much prefer to have time to prepare for your visit. If there are issues that need addressing, staff may have time to think about what those issues are and how they can be resolved, instead of being unprepared for the conversation. On the flip side, knowing you will be arriving may result in a team more interested in pleasing you and ‘achieving’ a positive report, rather than presenting you with an honest view of how things are going (“The boss is coming! Look busy!”).
Ultimately, a blended approach of announced and unannounced QA visits is likely to produce the best data. QA visits will only ever produce a snapshot of how things are going, at any rate; it’s the contribution QA visits make to all the other management tools that is important, along with how you use the information you glean. There are those who argue that unannounced visits are unfair, or that they are a means of trying to catch staff out. That to me speaks of a failing of the workplace culture, not an inherent flaw in quality assurance visits.
Real boats rock. It’s the job of quality assurance to find out how, when, why, and feedback to the crew.
I was talking with a colleague last week about talent management. Specifically, we were talking about how difficult both recruitment and retention can be in the sector. The company we were discussing had, at the time, a terrible reputation for its retention record. People left to seek promotion and training elsewhere at an alarming rate; the company seemingly had no interest in investing in its staff, preferring to write them of and replace them if they showed ambition.
At least, that was the impression we had of the company. When we discussed where various ex-employees had gone, it was apparent that this wasn’t entirely true. For a start, many people left to pursue entirely different career paths. This isn’t uncommon on the industry. Care, particularly residential childcare, can be mentally, emotionally, and physically gruelling at times. Some people find they do not have the resilience needed to make it through those times. This is not a criticism; all of us are more suited to certain roles than others. When one factors in burnout, it’s apparent that many people leave the care industry altogether when they leave a company, whether permanently or not.
Then there are the people who leave because of personal circumstances. Perhaps the shift pattern no longer suits their lifestyle, they leave for family reasons, or they move out of the area. This is a relatively small proportion of leavers. Similarly there are those who leave due to being dismissed or not passing their probation – again, a small proportion.
So what of those who don’t fall into the above categories? Many people leave out of a vague dissatisfaction with the company, often framed as “I need a change”, only to go and work for a competitor.
When we talk of talent management we tend to focus on those who are intent on career progression. This is only natural; in the same way that Hollywood creators characterise 9-5 work (and, by extension, 9-5 workers) as boring and uncreative, as mangers we have worked hard to get where we are, and our subconscious biases may mean that we judge other’s progress by our own perspectives (“Why wouldn’t you want to work your way up”). I know that personal and professional development are incredibly important to me; and for the longest time I had a very linear perception of what ‘professional progress’ meant: learn all you can in your present role, and get promoted before your job gets stale.
But there are those who have no desire to progress in such a way. They do not want the pressure and responsibility of a management position, or they do not want a role that takes them away from working with children. These people frequently get overlooked when it comes to talent management; yet they need to be as proactively managed as aspiring future managers.
The first step in doing so is to get to know them. Not just as RSWs or Senior RSWs, but as people. What motivates them? What inspires them to do the job? How do they see it or their role evolving? What skills do they have that they are not using right now?
Secondly, it’s important to understand what stage of their career are they at. Perhaps they were previously set on a management role but have since wavered. Why? What are their priorities right now?
With a solid understanding of the person you're working with, you can begin to look at opportunities to help them grow in their role and without any expectation of promotion. They may wish to take on extra responsibilities within their existing role; mentor other staff; promote the company at external networking events; take on a training role; transition to another role at the same ‘level’, even on a temporary basis; or learn new skills that can be brought back to the team. On occasion, you may find that they do not want to take on any extra responsibilities. They may be content for you to be aware that, at this particular moment, they are happy to focus on their job. Such lateral progression is often overlooked, but can provide variety, stimulation and development without what we would traditionally regard as 'progression'. You get a more settled staff member with increased skills and knowledge who will likely remain loyal to the team; and they get some much-needed variety.
Conversations like this are not effective if you regard them as a single event. These are the sort of discussion you should be having frequently. As noted above, people's circumstances change. Someone who is at the moment happy to focus only on the job at hand may have chosen to do so because home circumstances mean they cannot honestly commit to extra responsibilities. As soon as those circumstances change, their desire to progress may also change. If you are unaware of this you may soon find yourself recruiting for a vacancy.
Just because a person isn't clamouring for promotion does not mean they are happy to be ignored; you ignore them at your peril.
This is the page I'll update most often, with thoughts and opinions on management, writing, and what I've been watching or listening to. So dip in and see what takes your fancy.