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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Danish pastries and the management of red boxes

This morning's Independent on Sunday claims that a manual offering the top ten tips for new members of Government reads like something from The Thick of It. Absurd it maybe, but consultant speech is rarely funny.

The advice that Ministers should start team-building on their first morning and that they should exert control over their own workload so as to manage stress and enable them to have time for creative thinking is just commonsense. As is the suggestion that they avoid the dangers of "private office anxiety syndrome", in which a minister suddenly becomes "heavily dependent on what can be a group of relatively junior and relatively inexperienced strangers" in their ministerial office.

It also makes sense that small groups of ministers (three or four) from different departments get together on a regular basis, for one to two hours, to discuss and progress departmental leadership priorities. Though these meetings should be more common within the department, than on a cross-cutting basis. Otherwise there is a real danger that Ministers lose control of their own agenda.

I also think that it is right that Ministers have a duty to the taxpaying public to keep themselves in good physical and mental condition, that they should build regular time into the diary for the gym, lunch with friends, and broadening their intellectual horizons. Perhaps I should take up some of that advice for myself.

The disdain shown in the article by former Ministers for this training is par for the course. They are partly right that on-the-job experience is the best way to become acclimatised to the challenges of public office. But training and coaching at any level should not be dismissed so readily. It is vital even for senior Ministers if we are to get the best out of them.

What we do need to avoid is expensive consultant-led courses mired in jargon, psycho-babble and management-speak. I have seen too many such courses and they are of use to nobody. If the government are going to do this then they should ensure that it is done right and that the taxpayers get value for money from it.
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