Everyone needs a Willie

No this is not some discriminatory remark, at least I don’t believe it was intended to be. The statement is attributed to Margaret Thatcher about Willie Whitelaw Mark Garnett who was her deputy for 10 years.

Well Greg Dyke does not agree with the Iron Lady and got rid of his W….. sorry, deputy. This has brought up some interesting discussions on the radio as to what exactly the role of a deputy, or an assistant, or a vice is.


Joe Biden, the Vice President of the US – remember him? – quoted:


“John Kennedy often joked, ‘I once had two brothers: one went to sea and the other became Vice President, and neither was heard from again”.


Many years ago I held a senior position in a large company. My boss, who was Finance Director, had a few basic rules, most of which were a real pain in the rear end. One of these was you were not allowed to appoint anyone with the word ‘assistant’ in the title. His argument was simple – if a manager needs an assistant, get rid of the manager.


The complication of this rule was partly coming up with an appropriate name. However, it became clear over time that the challenge was more in clearly defining the person’s role. Once that was done, the title would generally flow naturally.


Mr Dyke must have come to the same conclusion, albeit at a cost. His deputy is going with a cheque reported to be in excess of £800,000. Will he be missed? Who knows but somehow I doubt it.


In most larger organisations you can lose quite a few people before it becomes noticeable. My guess is that in government you could get rid of whole layers of management and actually get more done. Less people probably means less meetings and less useless paperwork to annoy the rest of us.


When looking at your own organisation, especially when someone leaves, ask yourself the question: do I really need to replace this person? And even if the answer is yes, look at what they do and see whether all the functions were necessary or could be redistributed. You may be surprised.


So let’s follow the lead of Greg Dyke and get rid of deputy thingies and assistant whatsits on the payroll of the taxpayers. I can think of quite a few we could do without and personally I would rather see front line staff like nurses, police and refuse collectors remaining in place.


And if you must have a deputy, make sure it’s a Willie.

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