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Annie Ward


Editor, HR Zone

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Trainer’s Diary: The Coiled Spring


Byron Kalies
Byron Kalies looks at how a coiled spring can throw light on the raft of change initiatives that are ever-present in the public and private sector.

I've come across a useful illustration to get people thinking about change. It's the idea that their day to day activity is like a coiled spring. The forces acting on the top of the spring are forces driving costs and time down. The forces acting at the bottom of the spring are quality and quantity forces being pushed upwards.

Basically the managers are being asked to balance all these forces and that is business as usual. This is quite an act in itself. How do you get the balance right? In our job I guess we have the same problems, how much time and money do we devote to preparation,research, keeping up to date, training ourselves, etc and how do we try to increase quality and quantity for example.

My experience of working in the public sector has demonstrated that it is a myth that because it isn’t driven by profit that trainers can afford to spend time swanning around, looking at interesting topics and going into great depth on all aspects.

I wish this was the case. The pressures seem to be as intense as any outside organisation from what I can gather and the phrase "best use of public money" seems to crop up quite a lot.

The other aspect of the diagram comes when I ask people about changes affecting the business. I then draw these as arrows trying to knock the spring off balance. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of change wherever you work these days and it's not long before the flipchart's full of change initiatives, plans and developments. This seems to be fairly standard in both the public and private sector.

There was a lot difference 15 years ago or so when I was a young computer programmer working for the government. I remember attending a change programme, they were rare in those days hence the recollection. On the course the trainer was telling us of a change initiative that was coming along. It was going to revolutionise the world for computer programmers, so he told us. I hurried back to my office eager to tell everyone. My line manager took me aside for a quiet word.

"This new programme will revolutionise us," I exclaimed. "What shall we do first?"

He looked at me and said: "Keep your head down." "But but?"

"Keep your head down. I've been here 30 years and these programmes come and go."

He was absolutely right. However, these days they don’t seem to just come and go. They tend to come and stay. A huge problem seems to be the civil servants like my previous manager haven't come and gone either. They're still here and still saying "Keep your head down."

It’s a bit of a problem.

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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

Read more from Annie Ward

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