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The Croke Park Agreement: Local Implementation

by Tom O'Connor on November 27th, 2010
Charlton Heston in the role of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel

Charlton Heston, as Michelangelo - redeploys to paint the Sistine Chapel

The publication of the government’s 4-year plan is noteworthy for many reasons; not least because it provides, for the first time, some explicit targets for the Croke Park agreement – in terms of pay, numbers and flexibility.

Thus, we learn that the public service pay bill will decrease 8%, from €16B in 2010 to €14.7B in 2014, while, the actual headcount will show a corresponding drop of 4% over the same period – from 307,900 to 296,500.

How can a 4% drop in numbers deliver an 8% drop in pay, you might ask.

Well, the answer mostly lies in the reductions envisaged in the non-core pay elements,  that are so central to the Croke Park Agreement – savings accruing from changes to rosters, sick leave, working hours, privilege days, overtime, allowances, staff substitution and temporary replacements, etc.

The capacity to implement these elements on the ground isn’t at all certain, of course.

Middle management are key to implementation
At the very heart of the matter is the degree to which the leadership-at-all-levels will take ownership for delivering the desired changes, actively engaging with colleagues and stakeholders, galvanising support & encouraging teamwork, at local level.

The heavy lifting in this endeavour will ultimately fall to the middle management ranks – to  find the workable solutions that meet the spirit of the agreement at the frontline interface with the public.

In part, this will involve taking on the role of change agent, facilitating lots of targeted consultation & partnership sessions – creating the space, formulating the plans & injecting the necessary process disciplines required – to build momentum among peers & colleagues.

And, beyond lies the further requirement for local level management to maintain a rigorous project management discipline across all changes being contemplated – robustly testing and piloting to assure no mishaps later. 

“It’s Your Ship” is a good case study
The story of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, as told in his own words in It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in The Navy,  is a useful case study to keep in mind, in approaching such tasks.

It recounts how, in 1997, at the age of 36, Abrashoff, was given command of the very demoralised, USS Benfold, and how, in the space of 20 months, he succeeded in turning it around – into being the best ship in the Navy.  

His secret weapon was a belief system he calls GrassRoots Leadership: a process of inspiring ownership, commitment and cohesion, by engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of the crew.

These principles were able to achieve breakthrough results.

Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented 1%, operating expenses were slashed by 25% – and the ship was adjudged the most combat-ready in the entire Pacific Fleet.

Managing the non-replacement of retiring staff
Two particular issues flowing from the Croke Park Agreement that will need to be especially well handled are how to cope with: (1) the non-replacement of retiring staff & (2) situations requiring cross-functional redeployment.

One would hope that the non-replacement of retiring staff  might take a leaf from the game of football: where a losing team, having a player sent off, goes on to draw or win, it is estimated, about 11% of the time.

Recall, for instance, the 1994 World Cup, where Italy having men sent off, while level against Norway and behind against Nigeria, still went on to win both games.

The secret here is to immediately rethink one’s system – as Jose Mourinho explained after Chelsea had come back to beat West Ham 4-1, from a position of being, at one stage, both a man and a goal down: they had altered their game-plan to focus on ball retention and fewer, more precise, attacks.

It is the same mindset that is needed in addressing staff reductions.

Redeployment is not simple
From a distance, redeployment might appear a relatively simple proposition.

To a dispassionate observer, asking people to change role or add some extra skills to expand their role, might be expected to be warmly embraced.

After all,  they are being offered a chance to do something new and different – to grow. 

However, this ignores the initial cultural, social and comfort constraints that have to be negotiated.

Michelangelo redeployed to paint the Sistine Chapel
Remember Michelangelo’s famous protestation, when first asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:

“painting is not my trade”.

Later, however, when he became absorbed in the project, he couldn’t be pulled away from it – toiling alone on the scaffold for four and a half years, in excruciating positions, ignoring the seasonal extremes of heat and cold, often forgetting to eat and drink – and, almost going completely blind into the bargain.

Though he might have considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter, he ended up painting one of the world’s greatest masterpieces.

Local managers get it off the ground
Pointedly, of course, the project would never have got off the ground but for the promptings of  his “local manager”, Pope Julius II.

There is a memorable line, uttered by Michelangelo, in Irvine Stone’s The Agony & the Ecstacy, that says it all:

“I planned a ceiling, he (Pope Julius II) planned a miracle”.

Local managers, charged with implementing the Croke Park Agreement, please take note.

PS. For related Torc training programmes, please click on the following links:
1. Essentials of the Croke Park Agreement 
2. Managing Merger Integrations
3. Change Management For Managers
4. Managing the Human Aspects of Change
5. Managing the Process Aspects of Change

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