When Structure Is Not Just About Structure

Hello PPMA members and friends

This week’s post has been written by our guest blogger Panos Sakellariou of PS & Associates Ltd and looks at the management structure of local government organisations.

“Local authorities have inherited their fundamental management hierarchy model from central government departments albeit adopted to meet their specific demands. Management structures are built on five key management roles:

  • Chief Executive
  • Executive Director
  • Head of Service
  • Service Manager
  • Team Manager

In line with experience in central government, this management hierarchy has become increasingly complex with the introduction of a plethora of ‘Assistant’ roles coupled with multiple levels of Service and Team Managers. The complexity has been further exacerbated by the introduction of increasingly elaborate matrix management arrangements, a downstream consequence from the human relations approaches to organisation design.

The resultant unyielding and unmanageable complexity has been exemplified by management structures with as many as 10 layers, and in places more layers, together with narrow reporting relationships.

It was the relentless pressure on bottom line savings that forced almost all councils, and with a slight phase lag the central government departments, to take a hard look at their management structures.

The solution
Most local authorities grabbed the opportunity to reduce numbers of managers and compress the number of management tiers to around seven. The ‘instruments’ used for this change varied from some form of organisation redesign and delayering to a voluntary redundancy scheme across the whole organisation.

Almost nobody challenged the fundamental management hierarchy, which underpinned the prevailing designs. To be fair there was a very small number of ‘brave’ Chief Executives who almost did away with the role of the Executive Directors. The vast majority though ‘played variations on the theme’ of the fundamental hierarchy.  They reduced the number of Executive Directors taking advantage of imminent career moves. Reduced the number of Heads of Service by merging and moving services and functions around. After all local government has an unparalleled record and expertise in this type of exercise!

The outcome
What came out of it? Fewer managers, fewer tiers and broader spans of control but no real change in organisational effectiveness.

Does it matter? The savings have been banked and the budget sorted for the time being. I believe it does matter! If anything else, it is only time before structures revert to their original shape as they compensate for an ever increasing workload.

The reason
One could be enticed to call upon the Deus ex Machina (Ἀπό μηχανῆς θεός) οf the ancient Greek tragedies to resolve the issue. ‘It is not about structure but about making people behave differently’ or ‘It is not about structure but about working smarter’. Familiar? Has it ever worked in the past? If we are really honest with ourselves the answer must be ‘not very often’!

I would not for a moment suggest that process and culture are not key organisational parameters. But I would argue that they are not the key answer at this point of the organisational evolution of local government organisations.

A different way of thinking?
A considerable body of evidence from the private and public sector around the world has highlighted the issue of lack of congruence between accountability and authority that plagues management hierarchies in organisations. Accountability and authority must be aligned to the level of complexity associated with each of the management role, and which must be clear and unique and not overlapping across the organisation. The time span of discretion is a useful measure of role complexity.

This would point the finger at that the ‘logic’ of the prevailing management hierarchy model.

We have found that across local authorities there is varying but considerable overlap in accountability between management roles (see Exhibit 1, an example from a large local authority). This is often accompanied by an incongruent authority allocation to managers as one moves from Corporate Managers to Service and Team Managers.

Our analysis suggests that the traditional management hierarchy is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ for the work local authorities are called to deliver today. Any adjustment, therefore, to the number of managers at each of the key roles will fail to resolve the fundamental issue of misalignment of the model to service demands.”

Exhibit 1

We’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic and also if you have any examples you can share.  Just drop us a comment using the link underneath the title.

Panos Sakellariou of PS & Associates Ltd.

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By | 2017-07-30T12:23:18+00:00 June 26th, 2013|Categories: Guest Blogger|0 Comments

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