Picture the scene. I was a parent to a toddler and a baby, earning £10 per hour as a senior RSW and relying on tax credits and overtime to make it through each month. Actually, given the supervisory responsibilities, rota-writing, risk assessments, budgetary oversight staff induction and other duties I'd taken on, I was to all intents and purposes a deputy manager. But that sounds like a pay rise, so I was designated as a senior.
The company owned and operated a small number of children's home, and staff were frequently moved about between the homes to cover skills shortages and staff shortfalls. I’d been reassigned to a struggling home, and asked to come in early for a supervision.
"So, why are you here?"
This question wasn't on the supervision pro forma. My previous supervisor had been stickler for rigidly adhering to the script, and this display of original thinking from one of the company's homogeneous clump of middling managers had caught me off-guard.
"Well... I mean, we work for the company and they said you needed a strong member of staff, and so they sent me over here."
"No. What are you doing here, on shift. With your experience and qualifications you should be applying for management, not a senior post.”
At this point I was yet to complete any NVQ/QCF qualification. I did have some OU qualifications which were technically equivalent to the level four I needed to manage, but getting the right people to acknowledge this was a Herculean task.
"That's the goal," I replied. "When I joined the company I was told at interview they'd fund the level four. They never did, and now it's being replaced by the level five. They're dithering on whether they want to train seniors to that level, so I'm stuck on shift for now."
"So what's your goal? What do want to achieve?"
"Operations Manager, or equivalent. Eventually. Right now I'm focused on earning 40k a year by the time I'm forty."
I think the answer she was looking for continued with something like, "but since the company won't offer anything above mandatory training I guess I'll forego all ambition and focus exclusively on helping you achieve an improved OFSTED rating so you can impress the CEO and get your bonus”. Instead she said, “Well, everyone’s got to dream, haven’t they?”. Supervision ended a few moments later, and nothing more was ever said about support or development.
A bonus is a lovely thing of course, and can be used to set targets and guide behaviours (to an extent. But that’s a different article). And of course, we all want CIW/OFSTED to love what we do. Problems occur when we start chasing regulator’s ratings and good care becomes secondary to that. Ideally, we’d achieve great outcomes for kids and this would automatically be reflected in the inspection outcomes. But again, that’s a different article.
Or is it?
The problem with this employer was that their goals didn’t align with mine. And the problem with regulators is that their goals don’t always align with what we want for the kids. Great care outcomes with poor record keeping will not equal a great inspection, and operating with one eye on the regulators can lead to a lot of defensive practice or at least the sort of recording that screams “look how caring we are!!!” rather than demonstrating effective care through outcomes.
My goal was to use my skills, knowledge and abilities develop and progress my career; their goal was to use my skills, knowledge and abilities to improve their OFSTED ratings. Essentially they had set my goals for me, and weren’t interested in what I wanted. A few months later I left for an external promotion.
If you’re going to set targets for your staff… actually, scratch that. You can’t set targets for your staff, at least meaningfully. Especially not the sort of targets that have a long-lasting impact on someone’s career. You have to set your targets with the staff, and don’t be afraid to help those who aren’t in line with your vision to find the exit.
If you’re going to set targets with staff, ensure they are included meaningfully in the target-setting. Part of the appraisal process at that company was explicitly aimed at ‘ensuring staff and the company’s targets are aligned’. To do this you need to (a) understand your staff’s targets, and (b) work to help them align.
If they had said to me, “to achieve that you’ll need to gain your management qualification and hold a management post successfully for five years before looking at an operations management role” and helped me to do so they would have had a loyal employee for that time period, and a guaranteed manager for the next five years - and one who was willing and able to move into a senior management post. They went through at least one home manager whilst I was there, and shortly after I left the senior manager sought employment elsewhere. Instead they had the cost and disruption of replacing the senior RSW who left (me), replacing the manager who left, and replacing the senior manager. All of these changes are disruptive to any team, not to mention expensive.
For my part, before the supervision had even ended I’d thought “bugger this for a game of soldiers”. Instead of 100% commitment to the home and company, I did what I needed to get by and saved my energy for a job search.
Let’s say you set the target of maintaining 80% occupancy over the year and achieving a strong inspection with CIW. CIW don’t provide ratings in the same way OFSTED do, so targets relating to CIW are necessarily vague. But you’ve got the picture. You may have an employee who simply wants to offer the best care that can to the young people. Let them. Encourage them. Use their passion to give those kids the best childhood you can. You may also have an employee who wants to progress. Again, encourage them. Train them to deliver supervisions. Mentor them to manage inductions. Show them the paperwork, difficult decisions and the conflicting priorities that make up a management role. You might scare them off, in which case you’ll have a knowledgable senior - or deputy, if your company pays for them. Anything they can do well is one less thing you have to do. You might worry, like my ex-employers, that you are training someone to leave. They are my ex-employers for a reason. People who are going to leave will do so anyway. By training and supporting them you are cultivating loyalty and making use of the skills they can offer - and potentially retaining them for longer. By refusing to do so you are only hastening their exit.
Oh, and the target I set for myself? I missed it. I was 41 before breaking through the 40k barrier. But I landed on 43k, so I’m comfortable with that.
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