Often, a new blog post sparks debate and a follow-up post. Here’s one such post…
by Paul Masterman
Respect to Mr. Dan Slee of this parish for putting his significant reputation on the line by predicting the public sector comms trends for 2017.
And respect too, Dan, for having the honesty and confidence to admit that prediction is an inexact science and that last year you got some calls wrong.
Dan is the type of big thinker who writes this sort of stuff to create debate and not to gain friends (although we all like the occasional “spot on” tweet from our mates in the echo chamber).
So, in that spirit, I want to take issue with this bald statement in his post:
“Teams will be made up of too many old people. Like Radio One in the Smashie and Nicey era the cardigans and leather elbow patches will hold things back. Recruitment freezes have led to a largely 40 plus workforce that doesn’t represent its demographic. This is a time bomb.”
As Margaret Thatcher once said: No, no, no.
First, as a 40-plus man working in local government comms, I do not recognise or want to be stereotyped as a leather-patched fan of Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
It’s a lazy and out-of-date joke that insults rather than illuminates.
Second, I don’t necessarily recognise the picture Dan paints.
Like Dan, I’ve worked with a number of teams across the industry and while many employ the over 40’s (and sometimes the over 60s!), many too are a mixed economy of ages and backgrounds.
Very rarely would I characterise teams as having “too many” older people, even if it were clear how many is “too many”.
Third, it plays into the now discredited narrative that after a certain age one if over-the-hill, unable to learn and lacking in energy. That’s not me, Dan, nor is it most of the 40-somethings driving change and innovation in their authorities.
As the workforce matures so must our thinking.
Fourth, and perhaps most important of all, the strategic, political and financial challenges facing the sector – outlined so eloquently in Dan Slee’s post – demands the insight, experience and leadership that doesn’t always come in youthful packages.
Sometimes you just need the authority and credibility that comes with experience to speak the kind of truth to power that organisations need but don’t always want.
That’s not to say that buried in a weak joke is a serious and substantial point.
Diversity is important in any team because you need a range of experiences and voices to make your comms count for everyone and not for the few.
But creativity and innovation is an attitude of mind not a function of the calendar. It needs to be nurtured and supported.
And that’s where experienced leadership counts.
Paul Masterman is an interim manager working in public sector communications
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