Archive for July, 2015

Perceptions and clarity

Monday, July 27th, 2015

I’ve always been careful not to make sweeping statements, particularly when I’ve been in leadership appointments. For that reason, I’ve studiously avoided any suggestion that we should implement something in SCC just because it had worked in the Army. This week, some of you may read or hear about an interview I have given to the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) magazine, which talks about my approach and impressions of local government. The headline, “Council Leaders would benefit from Military-style Training”, is entirely misleading: those of you who read the article will notice that I do not advocate anything of the sort.  My observation that we talk about leadership a lot in local government, but have no formal development structure, while the armed services talk rather less about it, but have a system of selecting, educating and developing their leaders, is no more than many of you will have heard at the Senior Managers’ Conference, the Business Brief, my blog and the Chief Executive’s Update.  The reason that I do not make a link is that such a system simply would not work in local government.  Everybody in the armed services has the same employer, a standardised appraisal reports system, and can be moved from job to job with or without their consent; none of those conditions apply to us.

I raise this because I want my Staffordshire colleagues to be reassured that we will continue to develop our leaders internally in a manner that fits our requirements and conditions. The aim is to form even more cohesive teams with a common purpose to serve the people of Staffordshire. Building trust and mutual confidence will allow us to delegate effectively, and align responsibility with accountability and authority.

For those of you about to depart on summer holidays, I hope that you have a relaxing and enjoyable break.  I look forward to seeing you on your return.  For us, our break will be moving house to Staffordshire, which is a great relief; I’m not sure that I want to spend any more time sitting in traffic at the M6/M5 interchange.

Considering what makes good leadership

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

On Monday we had a senior leadership team awayday at Northfields Village in Stafford, which included a tour of this excellent facility. It is testament to the ability of many of our colleagues to bring such a complex project to fruition.  What we now have is probably one of the best dementia care facilities in the country, with the ability to care for dementia sufferers from onset to the end.  Really impressive.

Tuesday’s Senior Managers’ Conference was hugely useful, and I’m grateful to everybody who attended and worked so willingly to make a success.  The theme was leadership, a subject that I’ve heard a lot about since my arrival.  We used a technique called Appreciative Inquiry, which guides the participants through problem-solving by concentrating on the positive aspects of an organisation – going from “good to great” as the American inventors of the technique say; there’s often a tendency to concentrate on the negative when one talks about improvement, and I wanted to avoid that.  The findings were very revealing, but not a great surprise to me.  Our managers and leaders are passionate about the organisation, believe in it, and want to improve it.  An interesting observation was that people felt that they should be inspiring when in leadership roles, but the most important quality that they sought from their leaders was trust.  I would ask anybody in a leadership role to reflect on that.  Leadership is about empowering people, delegating effectively and building mutual trust and confidence; there is no need to “wear one’s underpants over one’s trousers” as one wit in the group put it.  Empowering people and effective delegation are not easy to begin with, as it feels as if one is losing control, but it’s worth it in the long run; people will work more effectively and require less supervision if they feel trusted.

Friday was my visit to the Moorlands, a great day out of the office, but in the business.  We have a very close and effective relationship with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, whether it is in economic and infrastructure development, health and wellbeing, skills or in social care.  The role of the District Commissioning Leads was again emphasised as being key to success; that ability to steer the suite of services that we provide “in the final mile” as they say in logistics, and the connections with the district or borough council are vital.

Getting into the business of the county council

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

This has been a great week for getting into the business of the county council.  We had the Staffordshire Partnership on Monday with a huge variety of people who are wrestling with the issue of devolution, all of whom want the very best for the county and our residents. The challenge is to square the circle of how things are viewed is each of our districts. As you’ll know, the view from Leek is very different to that from Cannock.

I spent a very productive afternoon with the team overseeing our efforts with looked-after children.  I also attended my first child safeguarding conference on Monday, which gave an overview of the challenges that our social workers face on a daily basis.  I had experience of these in Germany, and the challenges are the same; striking the balance between assisting and protecting children and their families is fearsomely difficult. We are very fortunate to have such capable and committed people working in this area because we simply must get this right. There’s no margin for error.

I had a visit to Stafford College which is a very practical further education college which offers a very wide range of education and training to support the economy of Stafford and the county.  Beverley Smith is a hugely enthusiastic principal who leads a great group of lecturers and teachers.  I particularly enjoyed getting back into a workshop and seeing what they offer in terms of vehicle maintenance and building trades.  You can’t beat the whiff of engine oil in the morning!

Lastly for this entry, I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of sessions with our HR and Finance teams, where I got a real feel for the depth of knowledge and commitment of our people.  Like many other organisations, we sometimes regard finance as a problem, rather than an enabler.  I’d like to see us regard our Medium Term Financial Strategy as the core of what we do, rather than the “club” that will beat us if we don’t make our savings.

Leadership is about people, and management is about resources, but people are also our most valuable resource. As a result, good leadership and management go hand-in-hand. If people are not well-administered – pay, careers, holidays, training and education – they will quickly lose confidence in their employers who might otherwise be the most inspirational leaders.

Looking forward to seeing the a number of you at the Senior Manager’s Conference today at Uttoxeter.

Learning from partners

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

This week has been dominated by the Local Government Association (LGA) Conference in Harrogate. It is my first experience of this event, and I have to say that I learnt a lot, as well as meeting a large number of people. The two dominating themes were finances and devolution. The Secretary of State spoke to the conference on Thursday morning, covering both subjects. We will have to wait until the Chancellor’s statement on Wednesday, but we can be fairly sure that we have some more belt-tightening to come.

On devolution, it is far from clear that there is a coherent plan, which is evident from both ministers and civil servants, who answer every question with a request to “make us an offer”. The West Midlands Combined Authority appears to be coming together with the seven metropolitan councils forming the core. What that means for Staffordshire and our districts and boroughs, we will have to work out. The Members’ event on the subject was well-attended, and was a chance for Cabinet, members and offices to gain a common level of understanding. There is much to do.

On Friday, I spent the day in Tamworth with Philip Atkins. There are some really good examples of working together between borough and county in both the People and Place areas. There is a real feeling of civic pride in the town; tubs of flowers line the bridges and adorn the roundabouts. It’s very impressive, as are the many combined infrastructure projects that we visited. There are some real opportunities in terms of development, working with South Staffordshire College, the Police, and the borough. We also sat in on a Multi-agency meeting, working to identify vulnerable children – a difficult job being done sensitively and effectively.

Once again, the role of the District Commissioning Lead came to the fore; Tim Leese has a real feel for what is happening, and effective relationships with those delivering the services.