According to a range of researchers, writers and psychologists, getting ideas down on paper (or via an iPhone as was the case with this post) helps the thought processes; so I wanted to set down the reasons for undertaking my doctoral program. This is my attempt to test this theory, in writing down the background to my research I want to see if it helps to crystallise my thoughts and in turn help the learning process.
The Public Sector
Since leaving the public sector in 2009, which resulted from a managing down of a division unrelated to the so-called financial crisis, I had been working in various roles in the private sector. I had done some work in the public sector as a contractor, undertaking improvement and transformation assignments, but I was never part of the culture, never part of the organisation, so I was to a certain extent insulated from the changes within the sector.
Working in the private sector was different that’s for sure, the culture is far more performance oriented, decisions are made with the goal of achieving the best bottom line return. It focusses the mind and sharpens the decision making tools. Back to public sector, literally, I had kept in touch with former colleagues and corresponded with new associates – all from the sector – so I had an inkling of the consequences of the financial pressures to the sector. But when I returned in December of 2012 as an interim manager and I saw it first hand. For professional reasons I will not refer to my new organisation, I will instead speak in general terms.
Since the collapse of the financial markets, which is only 7 years ago but led to a new age, the Age of Austerity, we are living in a new world. The public sector has been ravaged, I don’t wish to sound hyperbolic, but what remains of the sector seems like a state of desolation, a ‘managed decline’ reminiscent of the potential future for Liverpool associated with certain Conservative grandees – although this has been latterly refuted. Of course some of the structures remain, but to all intents and purposes the functioning elements seem to be quite the opposite – dis-functional. And yet the sector wants to find improvements – this is what Public Service Reform is about. But there is a problem and this is one of the elements of my research…
Given the delayering and contraction [within the sector], the excision of middle managers with the experience and skills of strategic and operational decision making, how then is the sector to move forward with the right choices? Is there not only a structural void, but also a cognitive one? How will the sector upskill those junior and less experienced managers [endeavouring to fill the gap] so that they can make the right decisions?
Anyone who is interested in management or has read anything from the ‘so called’ management gurus will be aware of Peter Drucker – see wiki. Drucker had a famous saying.
“[W]hatever a manager does, he does through decision-making”
If we accept this, then an organisation which removes it’s managers must therefore be reducing it’s decision making capacity. Of course because of its impact, decision making has attracted a lot of ‘popular’ attention: see this article which I found from a link from the Chartered Management Institute CMI here. There’s even a checklist! Making rational decisions – Checklist 015
IS IT THIS EASY?
And the key word here is Rational. In 1955 Herbert Simon wrote about the bounded rationality of the human mind (see – A behavioral model of rational choice. Quarterly Journal of Economics as an example). It turns out we’re not that rational at all! We are subject to biases and cognitive shortcuts (heuristics); these biases cause lots of problems as it turns out: in Judgement Under Uncertainty Tversky and Kahnemann wrote about this extensively. Kahnemann later wrote about System 1 & 2 explaining how out brains work in Fast and Slow ways. Dual Process Theory speaks of similar constructs but taking a different route. The neurosciences are making in roads into how the mind works too. Functional MRIs are showing our brains work differently than we have thought hitherto. Then there’s the role of emotion – not EQ – which brings a wholly different perspective. So if decision making is so complex I have my doubts that it can be reduced to a simple checklist. Also, given the complexity, how can junior managers pick up this skill so quickly and without development?
So there we have it. We have a declining sector, decisions to make, decision making capacity reduced, but at least we have a checklist.
All I need now is a syllogism and some variables.