Case study: Rural Payments Agency

The catalogue of woe that Mark Grimshaw faced when he agreed to take over as CEO of the Rural Payments Agency in early 2011 would have caused many a leader to turn round and head for home. In 2005, failures in a new computer system had caused delays in subsidy payments to farmers, the agency’s core function, costing millions in compensation and causing untold hardship for clients; MPs called it a “fiasco”. In the years that followed, the backlog of problems grew and the accounts were placed under scrutiny by regulators.

Grimshaw must have been prepared for the worst, but his first day still came as a surprise. When he arrived at the Reading head office, he was greeted by dead plants and tatty furniture. “And then this chap came down in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt with an inappropriate logo on it,” he says. “I thought, this sums up the agency in a microcosm. It is scruffy, not focused, not adhering to the rules, doesn’t have a structure and it gets by on a day-to-day basis.”

Read more in the September issue of People Management magazine.

The human touch is so important

Formal processes and systems have their place, but project managers need to be able to have “off the record” conversations with their corporate contacts to keep things on track.

“Without that connection you can run into all sorts of problems,” said Serhiy Kovela, a senior lecturer at Kingston University’s business faculty.

“Your procedures might be as good as you can get, but that will not get you anywhere unless you acknowledge that humans are at the centre of projects, and they do not act like machines.”

Read more in The Sunday Times

Freelance journalist and writer