Let's stop and think before we comply with government commands

James Hempsall
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Something fishy is going on: we are swimming in guidance and being micro managed but we need to guide ourselves through life’s big decisions.

The pandemic and lockdown are serious matters and we have all played our part in whatever way we can - whether that be staying in, keeping going, keyworking, protecting others, or closing our businesses for three months. We have done that by listening to guidance and deciding what we should and could do.

My worry is some of us are becoming guidance dependent.

I work in an area that is used to guidance, the early years. Often it is useful, sometimes annoying, once in a while it ties us in knots. It does have its place - it should be read, understood, used to review and inform practice, popped on the shelf, and periodically referred to in times of doubt, innovation, creativity and preparation for inspection.

As a wider society and collective of professions, it feels like we are submerged under a wave of new well-meaning and detailed guidance. It is permeating all jobs and our home lives too. I’ve had to read early years guidance, schools guidance, retail guidance, employers' guidance, personal trainer guidance, and barbershop guidance. Either as the provider or a recipient of the service. Never did I imagine I would be discussing government guidance on how to behave, stand and interact in a friend’s garden on her birthday. But that is today’s reality.

I worry about the effects of this well-intentioned detail. I’ve noticed the ability for us as professionals and people to make decisions for ourselves is being diminished. I know I would never run a business like this. People would leave, or become demotivated, or dependent upon my every utterance rather than decide their own role and destinies. It makes me think these guidance creators, sitting in the government guidance factory, need to calm down. We need to have a strong future proofing on guidance and our actions as a result. Only this weekend, we have been sticking ‘keep your 2m distance’ signs on the shop floor. Everyone that looks at them says, “I’ve heard, it’s going to be 1m next week”. That’s even before the glue has dried.

It is the role of government to lead from the centre but they should not manage from the centre. We all need to be allowed to live, decide, and make choices locally. I think we can be trusted to do that ourselves, and hold ourselves and each other to account. That way we can manage and deliver, and take control of our recovery and reopening. When we do, central leadership should be prepared to be informed and learn from it. This should be a dialogue not a top down diktat. The result will be energy invested in doing, not over working, over thinking, or reading guidance. It will allow for flexibility to evolve, not a falsely manufactured view of all our work and lives designed by people who don’t experience it.

No one ever became an example of best practice by unswervingly following guidance. There is a greater balance to find at this time. It’s an important and serious time. Government guidance should keep its distance. Then we can all be sensible, so we don’t store up more problems for the future.

James Hempsall is director of Hempsall's consultancy

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