Thursday, May 23, 2013


Before the structural changes of 2007/2008 at CIT it is said that some senior people met and discussed that a way to force through the unpopular changes would be to ‘destabilise’ collegiate relationships between staff, making everyone suspicious of others and desperate to hold onto their area of control, and 'their' information - which was their power base.  

One way CIT and other public service departments do this is by ‘chain of command’. Chain of command is a good way to organise the workplace as far as decision making goes because of course you need to have policies about who can represent your work place, who can speak publicly, who spends the budget and how daily work is organised. However, chain of command can turn some people into nasty little despots to put it mildly – and full blown bullies if they are not also regulated in some way.

When the ‘chain of command’ becomes an opportunity to control creativity, initiative and just plain old colleague to colleague networking and communicating, it can result in making the workplace less rather than more efficient by wasting time asking for permission to speak. For bullies in management, it is a great opportunity to show some nasty muscle. When professional educated people are treated like idiots who cannot jump until their manager says so and have to ask how high before they do, it becomes not just ridiculous, it squashes new, possibly successful ideas and destroys morale which is not what the executive want surely? Or do they/did they?

If what I was told about this strange meeting above is true, then how did they think that the collegiate aggressive competitiveness they had created would somehow translate into productive working relationships after the period of purposeful destabilisation? It is people who make the workplace flourish – and if people are diminished the workplace must also suffer and in public service, in the end this wastes your money as the tax payer.

There are many examples of this nasty management style some less serious than others but they add up to create an unpleasant work place. A colleague of mine wrote to someone more senior than her to ask for some information. When this senior person wrote back, she ignored the request and instead berated my colleague for having not changed the style of her electronic signature after a recent style change directive! Now believe me, it was not a case of the senior person just pointing it out – it was a rude and berating email – I saw it. The bully uses every opportunity no matter how pathetic and insignificant, to show muscle.

The ridiculousness of how ‘chain of command’ is used against people by bullies is shown in the following example.  Each year centres hold ‘whole of centre meetings’. In this case an outside facilitator was hired at great expense and her job was to hold workshops that encouraged the staff to work together more closely and come up with some creative ways to ‘Increase the Business’.

Increasing the Business is new-speak for the education industry. Not only do teachers teach, they are also expected to think up new ways of attracting and keeping student ‘customers’. (In fact, I was told rudely by my bully at a Performance Management meeting; “Look, if you don’t do something to increase the business you’ll be out of a job in two years’ time anyway”. Fortunately for me my own manager was there too and immediately told the other not to speak to me like that – lucky for me and unfortunately rare).

So, the staff were work-shopped at this meeting by being sat with staff outside of their usual area and for some their comfort zone. They were to come up with ideas together about new courses and ways to promote them. At the whole of meeting discussion before the group work, a staff member put up her hand and asked why there were not more cross disciplinary collaborations across the areas and the meeting agreed that was a good work-shopping point. In this staff members group, a collaborative project was discussed, agreed on and presented to the whole group who applauded the idea. At the end of the meeting, staff were encouraged to go away and continue the work and keep the ideas flowing among themselves. 

Several of the staff below management level, did institute several very successful and well received public projects. The enthusiastic staff member who had started the ball rolling, then thought of a way to increase the parameters of the project and sent a draft proposal email to the colleagues she had been working with. These colleagues had a different manager to her. She was keeping her own manager informed of her ideas and this sensible manager had said “Look, don’t CC me in to everything, I already have enough emails to read, just work through it and show me the project at a later level when you need my input.”

The other manager however, took great exception to what she saw as a subordinate (well, someone else’s subordinate actually) going off on her own and not following the ‘chain of command’. She phoned and berated the staff member who, remember, she was NOT the manager of, so breaking her own rules regarding ‘chain of command’. She used language such as “how dare you speak to my staff without going through me” and used the opportunity to accuse the staff member of being arrogant, bossy, and opinionated. The phone call was quite abusive. Then, she picked on silly little things like the way the staff member had expressed a certain idea, the way she had used a certain word and so on.

Distressed and mortified, the staff member immediately apologised and said it was not her intention to come across like that, it was merely a preliminary proposal that indeed she was well aware that no decisions could be made by her alone and that she was relying on the support of this manager as well as her own and so on. The first outcome was that this manager demanded she be CC’d into every email, and the staff member did do. Whether the manager actually had time to read each and every email is unclear, but she had muscle and had shown she had it. This was not the end of this ridiculous saga, but is enough to show the extreme pettiness and nasty management style that some at CIT have had free reign on with NO checks and balances.

On the one hand they insist on a chain of command, feel like that can speak to lower ranked staff as they please, then encourage professional collaboration, then berate you for exchanging IDEAS with other professional colleagues!  A mixed message indeed! But who gets to call them on their rude/bullying inconsistent and double standard behaviour? 

Education Managers at CIT commonly have NO management qualifications and move into education management positions straight from the classroom - indeed, as we have seen in other posts, many of them are not even well qualified teachers. Do they understand that the purpose of chain of command is not for their own petty power mongering but for the work place to run smoothly? Management need to have a process where their staff rate THEM on a yearly basis - I think this would make them have more respect if the lowly staff members were officially required to report on how they speak to them, how they direct them, whether they think it is professional or not, respectful or not, and so on.

It was only after this manager had gone ahead and berated this staff member that she then rang the staff members’ manager and berated her as well! When does nasty and ‘over management’ become bullying? – in situations just like this. The manager had the choice to merely request that the staff member CC her into emails perhaps informing her that this was the right way to do things according to her. Or, she could have, (should have according to her own rules), rang the staff members' manager in the first instance – with a request not a tirade!

By the way, the staff members’ manager merely told her to ignore the outburst and that it was rather typical of this person who was a ‘bit difficult’. This was not intentional neglect but in fact, led to much more serious bullying at a later date due to her inaction.

This is and has been the typical pattern at CIT – how can we change it? As far as I am concerned, and I know it is not possible for everybody – I have learned to be assertive. I speak up immediately now, and I KEEP RECORDS.

What a waste of time the whole thing was! And yet, I am told this is a daily occurrence in most work places. Am I wrong? 

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