What do good leaders do heading into caretaker mode?

Posted in: Career Coaching

Right now many government departments are moving into caretaker mode as an election looms in three eastern states.  “Here we go again…” is the feeling.  New initiatives need to be mothballed and a period of uncertainty begins. At the same time the expectation of widespread change looms as does the prospect of absorption into the machinery of government reviews. There won’t be many new initiatives and opportunities for quite some time, and then a surfeit of them.

Many staff are already stressed with months of endless cost-reduction rounds, with fewer people to do more work and general uncertainty. The impact on individuals and teams in these circumstances include:

  • Lower productivity
  • More sick leave
  • Lower creative and innovative problem solving capacity
  • Greater attrition

What can good leaders do in the six months ahead to mitigate some of these impacts and to build a strong platform for change and new capabilities?   Our experience tells us good leaders do some or all of these things:

  1. This can be a time for career review by the leaders themselves – a time for identifying what would be stimulating to work on in the next few years, and taking on board some mentoring and advice.
  2. It can also be a time to encourage individual staff to reflect on and do some career development planning of their own. Perhaps even offering some independent specialist coaching. It may be more than time for some to be proactive and work on growing the boundaries of their own jobs and prospects. While there is time available thought should be given to working differently and across departmental boundaries.
  3. Plan for 2015 as much as possible –facilitate open dialogue and discussion about opportunities and ideas likely to win support in different government leadership scenarios.
  4. Address and clean up current dilemmas and pressure points – support teams to find new ways of managing increased workloads with diminished resources.  Eliminate unnecessary work.
  5. Focus on the well-being of the team – building mental resilience, a sense of shared purpose and optimism about the future.

There are many observations about the difference between management and leadership in uncertain times. We like this one by Vineet Nayar in a Harvard Business Review blog[1] : “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”

Leaders in government departments planning to take up new challenges and redefining how public services might work need self-motivated, resilient enthusiastic professionals in their teams.

Career management is a critical element in constructing effective teams. It should rest largely in the hands of individuals with encouragement from their leaders.  Click here for more on this.

This is the right time for an investment in those most likely to be critical in future new reforms across the public service.



[1] http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/08/tests-of-a-leadership-transiti/