BLOG: Failure to Prepare, Prepare To Fail

Posted on 30/03/2023 by Admin.

Not the most encouraging of phrases is it, really?  But true in part. 

As we approach the elections, and the first that requires voter ID, it is reasonable to expect a few upsets.  But that’s what elections are about. It is also what our first past the post system gloriously brings to British politics.

But what happens after?  What happens when you’ve got your administration formed and it might look a bit different from the last.  What happens if it looks a *lot* different.  What happens if you’re so knackered from peddling hard for the best part of (insert number of years here) that you’ve forgotten how to plan at all?  Never fear.   There’s a few tips in here.

I never plan, but I prepare

This is a quote semi stolen from the actress Sarah Jessica-Parker, most known for her role as Carrie Bradshaw in the show Sex and The City. It is pertinent as there will be a range of change scenarios facing Councils. Colleagues should think about carving out precious time now to prepare.  Talk with a wide spectrum of staff who don’t look and think like you.  The Brexit referendum was a huge surprise to those who talked to mirror images of themselves.  In addition, agile working has led to colleagues (some very senior) who don’t reside in or close to their Council area.  This could lead to a level of disconnect.  Those colleagues in particular should made additional efforts to connect into what’s going on locally.   To that end, if we branched out we may see different, or very different, possibilities. 

Assumptions are dangerous things

This was a key lesson I learned from a former Director and featured in many conversations with her during my 5 year stint as a civil servant.  The most mundane of initiative or ‘obvious’ improvement in public realm may be acceptable to some and deeply unpalatable to others.   As Councils move into the increasingly eye-watering and stomach-churningly difficult to do list to advance public health objectives in particular, we must expect swathes of political objections. However on occasion, fault lines may be drawn on other matters like a ‘simple’ road scheme or strategies forged when the politics amongst partners was quite different.   I would urge colleagues to see the current portfolio of Council work through alternative lenses – of different political parties and those of no political party.  Undertake some early assessments of what could be sensitive or highly sensitive.   Again, talk widely to see maximum possibilities. 

Bring out your dead

Not to be taken literally but whatever the challenges, the electorate will have spoken and democracy needs to be smoothly facilitated.   If there are niggles or major issues about governance, finance, risk, the status of a flagship programme, anything ! – be honest, be objective and be open early on.  The resolve of an incoming administration may help to convert that niggle into something more manageable.  I would encourage colleagues to start to develop a Day 1 pack to act as a reference point to the incoming administration on the status of each corporate portfolio and cross cutting issues. Support the incoming administration with a clear programme of what was being worked on, to what timescales and partners involved. Using the ‘assumptions are dangerous things’ learning, give choices to the administration on whether to progress, pause or cancel with appropriate handling, sharing risks and opportunities along the way.

If colleagues are wanting to discuss control change in any greater detail, do drop the CfGS an email ( or reach out to me directly ( 

Twitter @sheffieldhelen