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Management in crisis?! - 2015, June 16

Management in crisis?!

Management in crisis?!

The senior Commission management again and again repeats the same mistakes and disregards best practice concerning proper "change management". The latest and most blatant example is how DG GROWTH has been turned into "DG SHRINK" through the announcement of more than 200 job losses over the next three years. Staff were not involved in the planning of this change: instead of explaining why these changes might be necessary, management missed a big opportunity by imposing them without discussion. In addition, what kind of message is this for the European public that the very DG responsible for growth is going to be shrunk?

This action confirms what the latest staff survey shows: a substantial management deficit: only 45% believe that senior management encourages innovation!! Such a situation is disquieting at the best of times but it becomes even more serious in times of cut-backs. There are certainly positive examples as well, of how management in some DGs tries to embrace modern structures (e.g. DG COMP introduced a matrix style organisation some years ago with satisfactory results) but they are few and far between. We cannot allow this situation to persist; for over 50 years we have largely the same management structure, the same hierarchical lay-out whereas the world around us is changing. Isn't it time for a change also in the Commission (and by extension in all European institutions)? If we are not prepared to change the style and the appointment of managers, problems will get worse in future.

According to the staff survey problems also exist with line managers: satisfaction with line manager setting priorities, line managers providing visibility to individual work, action on poor performance etc. – all received satisfaction values below 60%. It would certainly help if the role of middle management in the Commission would be reviewed and clearly defined. Over the last years its role in policy development and staff assessment has constantly been reduced by increased centralisation of decisions, leaving them more and more accountable but not really responsible. In order to attract the best for these posts in the organization, the institution needs to have the courage to entrust them again real competences and to reward responsibility adequately. Heads of Unit are re-integrated in units as desk officers as a result of a re-organisation, which should basically be possible (and happens in national administrations as well) but their extra efforts during their "management" time have to be rewarded adequately.

So, what could be the way forward?

Staff development/talent management
If everybody – including VP Georgieva - underlines that staff is the most valuable asset of the Commission, logically, the Commission's human resources policy has to reflect this. To be coherent, abilities and talents of staff have to be identified, nurtured and used. This starts with proper evaluation already during the probationary period to determine training needs and development possibilities. We need a training program which is specific and to the point and not just an endless list of everything that could be of interest. In addition, interested (and identified) staff should be evaluated in "development centres" in order to be oriented towards further career opportunities – either in the managerial field or as technical experts. VP Georgieva's mission letter makes reference to talent management – we can only hope that this will be effectively followed-up.

Career possibilities and appointment of managers
A managerial career must not be based exclusively/simply on a very good technical or institutional knowledge (e.g. acquired through working in a cabinet). There are many examples in the Commission of such a selection with less than ideal results. It's a myth that everybody can become a good manager by simply on-the-job learning (although managerial skills can be improved by everybody…): coaching and mentoring newly appointed managers would be a big step forward (if this is done on the basis of up-to-date management skills). In particular, the link between assessment of management potential and training results has to be reflected already in the appointments. Finally: mobility of managers across DGs is almost non-existent; there has to be a proper reflection on how to remedy this.

Training of managers
We all know that pressure on middle or senior managers can be very high – but there must still be time for them to improve, otherwise they just tread water. However, acquisition of skills has to be verified – just to attend training without a proper follow-up is mostly not enough. Often management training is focused on work related specialised tools which seem to be necessary to keep up with ever more layers of superfluous and in the end disregarded reporting techniques (reports, e-CVs, management plans, activity reports, IT plans – the administrative creativity in this regard is surely not in short supply!). It is also the DGs should propose specific priorities and tools for management training. This has to include to a considerable degree social skills (interpersonal/soft skills) – whereas in practice it is more and more forgotten that we are dealing with people not just with robots. As the recent example of a lunch time conference on well-being at work (including stress management) shows, there is a keen interest in such matters – so more efforts have to be undertaken in this direction – again, this was expressed also in the staff survey. And – not to forget it because of its importance: managers and staff must be encouraged to develop digital skills, in particular, to use internal discussion platforms adequately and to share knowledge and expertise.
A participatory management style
One of the skills to be acquired is certainly to work with participatory methods (like e.g. the World Café or similar tools to obtain the opinion of as many colleagues as possible). This is simply necessary in order to tap the combined knowledge of a unit or directorate. It is also necessary because attitudes have changed – whereas in former times most European civil servants did their job with a European conviction, this conviction seems to have been eroded (by the way: why not verify at the occasion of appointment as European civil servants if their values are the ones we expect from them?). We have to increase their level of engagement again. So it is ever more necessary to give staff ownership of the projects they share working on and to convince them that management listens to them and values their views. Certainly, a considerable number of colleagues across the Commission have already acquired "participatory leadership" skills but they need to have opportunities to use them systematically.

A real 360° evaluation
Last but not least, managers should be exposed to an individual 360° evaluation of their performance which is based on meaningful questions and is taken seriously i.e. feedback received must be communicated to the person concerned and must have consequences in a follow-up with an appropriate training and coaching (again: there are a few good exceptions in the Commission in some DGs but by far insufficient – DG HR should impose this in all DGs). Nowadays hardly any action is taken in services that routinely score very low on the key management indicators. Indeed, the staff survey includes already an evaluation of management – admittedly not the most encouraging.

DG HR's Management Plan 2015 already contains quite a number of proposals that go in the right direction as does the mission letter of VP Georgieva; the staff survey results clearly point to a need for further changes to the Human Resources policy and DG HR has to follow up on this and not just leave it to the very managers who are at fault. However, we must not forget one thing – all these changes concerning management style and structure might come anyway and far earlier than expected: the communication tools like digital collaborative platforms will make exchange of information much more transparent – this is bringing about a shift in organisational culture and management and staff will have to adapt, anyway! So why not take a pro-active stance on these issues?

W. Entmayr

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