Changing the culture of our councils the gisborne herald easy steak marinade for grilling

We have had debacle after debacle within our councils. We keep promoting the most pedantic and amoral train schedulers who have no idea about where those cattle wagons filled with people are going, or why.

Our repeated problems highlight the fact that the public sector reforms of the past 30 years have created far more harm than good. Infrastructural issues relating to water, roads and sewerage, monuments to someone’s ego, services relating to animals, and bewilderingly unimaginative planning, are just the symptoms.

Councils are looking more and more like unthinking, hierarchical behemoths focused primarily on lining ducks up neatly in a row, each within its own silo, ticking boxes as they go, to please something — some measure or other, for some well-dressed emperor mayor or other.Walls they that type of unthinking, rigid machine is a complete failure in a complex and uncertain world.


Councils are now more structured to march across a dance floor while some fast waltz is playing and couples magically avoid collision — except the marchers operate on the strict orders of some chap blind in the next room.

They get hit every which way because they are not allowed to think for themselves, to feel, foresee or adapt; they are discouraged from dancing within the complex, dynamic system, which would allow them to get to the other side without a hitch.

God forbid you listen, care or form an opinion. That’s not mechanical. You can’t count culture. Better to assume it’s not important.Dance floor all those virtues are replaced by one — obedience to the measured task. And council people are certainly not encouraged to talk to the public dancers or each other. Maintain your sense of hierarchy and perfect order. No wonder they fall.

All this pedantic detail looks admirable on paper; so mechanical, procedural, linear and accountable, so doubtless and certain. Just like general haig must have felt before the battle of the somme. Imagine the confidence and the supercilious arrogance: “I don’t need to ask the opinion of the troops — let alone adapt to what the other side might do; everything is on order” . . . Before there were 60,000 casualties on the first morning.Foresight adaptability

The world is inherently complex and uncertain; an adapting system, not a constant machine. Think like the machine and we will continue to fall. It is a recipe for missing both opportunities and threats.

If you are not looking for the unknown, don’t worry, it will find you. In autocratic hierarchies, foresight, questions, imagination and discussion are all treated as a threat by the box-tickers, and so, like a good vogon, dialogue is quashed. And you can bet your boots that if dialogue and initiative is suppressed and all thought centralised, you will have fall after fall after fall.

It isn’t mechanical ordering that makes a council perform, it is a culture of service, discovery, purpose, resilience and connection.Foresight adaptability these are the questions we must ask of our councils. What is the culture within? Are they lumbering, hierarchical dinosaurs of little brain, motivated by petty accountabilities or some megalomaniac sense of grandeur? Do they smell of arrogant hierarchy? Do they encourage motivated people focused on the future of our home in a complex and changing world, where foresight and adaptability comes from caring, thinking and talking with others — especially beyond the silo walls? Or do they value obedience above dialogue and thought? Do councils recognise that wisdom and knowledge is held throughout an organisation and within a community that lives beyond the council walls? Do they look for the value in people and foster their talent across silos, or are people defined merely by their job description?Walls they

Currently, many of our councils are filled with people who care, but their judgement is compromised by a fundamentalist doctrine and delusion of total control; foresight is banished, practical wisdom is kicked for touch, and adaptability is beaten to death. The problem with this type of management style is that the real world is like that complex dance floor of life. You cannot preordain every move. This style also cripples the souls of people who do not come to work to be a slave to some order. People want to belong to something, to do a good job.

We are not just creating incompetent falls with this obsession we have with command and control, we are crushing the spirits and potential of our people.Foresight adaptability

It is a form of totalitarianism. It is a total structural and cultural failure. And we deserve far better. If we want better service for ourselves and future generations, the answer is not yet more measured controls; it is changing the culture to one of caring, purpose, thinking, dialogue, connecting and making partnerships; and with the constant foresight and adaptability we need to be resilient in the face of an uncertain world.

• chris lives in hastings and is an affiliated researcher at otago university’s centre for sustainability. He has a governance, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land-use strategy.

We have had debacle after debacle within our councils.Foresight adaptability we keep promoting the most pedantic and amoral train schedulers who have no idea about where those cattle wagons filled with people are going, or why.

Our repeated problems highlight the fact that the public sector reforms of the past 30 years have created far more harm than good. Infrastructural issues relating to water, roads and sewerage, monuments to someone’s ego, services relating to animals, and bewilderingly unimaginative planning, are just the symptoms.

Councils are looking more and more like unthinking, hierarchical behemoths focused primarily on lining ducks up neatly in a row, each within its own silo, ticking boxes as they go, to please something — some measure or other, for some well-dressed emperor mayor or other.Dance floor that type of unthinking, rigid machine is a complete failure in a complex and uncertain world.

Councils are now more structured to march across a dance floor while some fast waltz is playing and couples magically avoid collision — except the marchers operate on the strict orders of some chap blind in the next room.

They get hit every which way because they are not allowed to think for themselves, to feel, foresee or adapt; they are discouraged from dancing within the complex, dynamic system, which would allow them to get to the other side without a hitch.

God forbid you listen, care or form an opinion. That’s not mechanical. You can’t count culture. Better to assume it’s not important.Complex uncertain all those virtues are replaced by one — obedience to the measured task. And council people are certainly not encouraged to talk to the public dancers or each other. Maintain your sense of hierarchy and perfect order. No wonder they fall.

All this pedantic detail looks admirable on paper; so mechanical, procedural, linear and accountable, so doubtless and certain. Just like general haig must have felt before the battle of the somme. Imagine the confidence and the supercilious arrogance: “I don’t need to ask the opinion of the troops — let alone adapt to what the other side might do; everything is on order” . . . Before there were 60,000 casualties on the first morning.Complex uncertain

The world is inherently complex and uncertain; an adapting system, not a constant machine. Think like the machine and we will continue to fall. It is a recipe for missing both opportunities and threats.

If you are not looking for the unknown, don’t worry, it will find you. In autocratic hierarchies, foresight, questions, imagination and discussion are all treated as a threat by the box-tickers, and so, like a good vogon, dialogue is quashed. And you can bet your boots that if dialogue and initiative is suppressed and all thought centralised, you will have fall after fall after fall.

It isn’t mechanical ordering that makes a council perform, it is a culture of service, discovery, purpose, resilience and connection.Dance floor these are the questions we must ask of our councils. What is the culture within? Are they lumbering, hierarchical dinosaurs of little brain, motivated by petty accountabilities or some megalomaniac sense of grandeur? Do they smell of arrogant hierarchy? Do they encourage motivated people focused on the future of our home in a complex and changing world, where foresight and adaptability comes from caring, thinking and talking with others — especially beyond the silo walls? Or do they value obedience above dialogue and thought? Do councils recognise that wisdom and knowledge is held throughout an organisation and within a community that lives beyond the council walls? Do they look for the value in people and foster their talent across silos, or are people defined merely by their job description?Dance floor

Currently, many of our councils are filled with people who care, but their judgement is compromised by a fundamentalist doctrine and delusion of total control; foresight is banished, practical wisdom is kicked for touch, and adaptability is beaten to death. The problem with this type of management style is that the real world is like that complex dance floor of life. You cannot preordain every move. This style also cripples the souls of people who do not come to work to be a slave to some order. People want to belong to something, to do a good job.

We are not just creating incompetent falls with this obsession we have with command and control, we are crushing the spirits and potential of our people.Dance floor

It is a form of totalitarianism. It is a total structural and cultural failure. And we deserve far better. If we want better service for ourselves and future generations, the answer is not yet more measured controls; it is changing the culture to one of caring, purpose, thinking, dialogue, connecting and making partnerships; and with the constant foresight and adaptability we need to be resilient in the face of an uncertain world.

• chris lives in hastings and is an affiliated researcher at otago university’s centre for sustainability. He has a governance, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land-use strategy.

"These are the questions we must ask of our councils.Dance floor what is the culture within? Are they lumbering, hierarchical dinosaurs of little brain, motivated by petty accountabilities or some megalomaniac sense of grandeur? Do they smell of arrogant hierarchy? Do they encourage motivated people focused on the future of our home in a complex and changing world, where foresight and adaptability comes from caring, thinking and talking with others – especially beyond the silo walls? Or do they value obedience above dialogue and thought? Do councils recognise that wisdom and knowledge is held throughout an organisation and within a community that lives beyond the council walls? Do they look for the value in people and foster their talent across silos, or are people defined merely by their job description?"