Mindkind and mental health support in the workplace

One of the biggest changes in the last decade in society has been the welcome de-stigmatisation of mental health issues; it is now completely acceptable to talk openly about not feeling all right.  We still have some way to go in terms of parity of esteem in formal health care, but I know that will come as the relevant professionals are trained and come on line.   

Meanwhile, in Staffordshire County Council, we have built on the Thinkwell programme which provides counselling to colleagues and last week launched the MindKind programme, which aims to take the treatment of mental health into the everyday workplace.  I hope that many of you spoke to Becky Lee and the team in the foyer of Staffordshire Place 1 on Wednesday and had a chance to access the link.  We have had an excellent response for volunteers to be Mental Health First-Aiders, but, inevitably given that this week’s display was Stafford-based, they are concentrated in SP1 and 2.  We do, however, need first-aiders from across the County Council, so if you’re interested, do please access the link, and volunteer.  You will be doing your colleagues an enormous service, and I guarantee that you will learn a lot about yourself as well.

 

The Local Government Challenge, and Destination Innovation

We had two teams in the West Midlands Employers (WME) Local Government Challenge last week, and they both did very well indeed.  This is an exercise in which teams are given a series of tasks simulated to represent the normal working of a local authority, albeit with a year’s worth of activities crammed into one day!  It’s a significant effort to put on such an exercise, as there is the writing to ensure that participants are given realistic and challenging tasks, but also from the number of people who are required to act as the external contacts for the teams to work with.  WME do it very well, and everybody always gets a great deal from the day.  As we did last year, the teams were made up of volunteers rather than selected individuals, and I think that they were the more effective for it.  Staffordshire Team 2 were in the top 3 as a team and for their presentation, but the honours of the evening belong to Kerrie Morris, who won the Best Chief Executive award.  Mark Lucas, our other team leader, was in the top 3, so overall it was a great night for Staffordshire County Council.

There’s an exciting event happening in reception on Tuesday October 9–Destination Innovation.  As the world around us changes at pace, it is more important than ever that colleagues are empowered to collaborate, connect and contribute to driving forward new ideas and innovation. A group of our colleagues from across the organisation are launching an exciting opportunity to focus on your personal development and organisational networks while helping solve some of the key challenges faced by the public sector in Staffordshire.  Destination Innovation is an ambitious development programme that gives everyone the opportunity to work together to solve some of the biggest issues facing our organisation.

If you want to know more about this exciting opportunity there is a drop-in session taking place on the 9th October in the Foyer of SP1, as well as information on GO , and a workshop on the morning of 19th November.

If you want to develop, unlock your creativity, learn more about our organisation and be involved in shaping innovative solutions, then register your interest via GO today.

The LGA Peer Review

This week has certainly been an active one, with the Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge and the discussion of our MTFS at Cabinet, among several other key activities. 

The Peer Challenge is effectively our 5 yearly inspection, although the team and the LGA do not use the “I” word; that said, it is a hugely important event, and it is the key point at which external assessors look at the overall health of the organisation.  Ours was led by Councillor Colin Noble of Suffolk County Council and Nathan Elvery, Chief Executive of West Sussex County Council.  We couldn’t have asked for a more accomplished and capable team, and they really got under the bonnet of SCC during their 4 days.  I found it an excellent experience, although definitely not a relaxing one.

We will have to wait for the final report in a few weeks’ time, but the debrief on Thursday afternoon gave us an overall clean bill of health.  They were very complimentary about our people, both members and officers, and highlighted the cohesion and morale in the organisation.  They fed back that we all grasp the financial challenge, and that there is a real will to tackle it.  Nathan was particularly taken by his session with the Wider Leadership Team and the Operational Management Team, as was Colin from his sessions with Cabinet and members.  They also commented on the strength of our external relationships. 

There were some really useful observations which we’ll take on board in the coming weeks.  Our performance and financial reporting is difficult for outsiders to grasp at the first attempt, and we will look at simplifying that, as we will at the length and complexity of our Cabinet reports, which took some time for them to understand.  We also need to get on with the Children’s System transformation and the Workforce Strategy; the team liked them and felt that we should press ahead.  I agree entirely.

Lastly, on a more personal note, we have been making some videos about the mentoring scheme for our Looked After Children.  My interview with Ryan, a looked-after child who has just started at the Defence Sixth Form College is on the intranet if you are interested.  The scheme is open to all officers and members, and allows us to give something back to these children in terms of mentoring.  As I say probably too often on the video, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing that I’ve done in this job.

The Medium Term Financial Strategy

Most of you are aware that we published our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) last week. It will be discussed and recommended for approval at Cabinet tomorrow, after which the hard work begins to implement it.

The figures are sobering. We have to take £35M out of our operating costs next year – that’s a bit over 7% across the business. We’ve been at this for a long time – £240M removed from costs over the past 9 years. But as we all know, it gets harder every year as the savings become increasingly hard to find. On top of that, at the same time as we’re finding savings, demand for social care is rising; SCC is spending £315M on children and adults this year against £200M a decade ago. It just means that there is less money around for the things that don’t immediately contribute to safety and health.

With the scale of the changes we are proposing, there will be a period following the Cabinet meeting where detailed plans will need to be drawn up so that you have a clear view of what will happen and when.

I know that this is a very difficult process, and that the announcement has caused a great deal of uncertainty. My undertaking to you is that I will be open and honest and tell you what we know as soon as we can.

I would reiterate my thanks to you personally and corporately for a job well done thus far. I’ve been enormously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of officers making what are often difficult and painful decisions as well as the continued passion of colleagues to do what is right for our citizens. I finish by reminding those of you in leadership positions to do everything you can to support your people as we work to implement this programme.

The new John Taylor Free School

It is always a delight when a long-planned project comes to fruition, and this is particularly so when it has taken a lot of effort and involved a lot of people.  This week sees the opening of the John Taylor Free School in Burton, the first all-new secondary school in Staffordshire in the past 25 years – we’ve refurbished many and rebuilt some more, but this is the first all new school for a long time.  It fills a well-established need in Burton where there has been a significant uplift in the building of new houses, and therefore a notable increase in the birth rate.  The build phase has lasted 2 years, and incorporates such innovations as a leisure hall that is built alongside the school that can be used by the wider community in evenings and weekends as well as the students.

The project was large in every respect, costing £30M from the County Council and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and with a capacity for 1550 pupils.   It was designed by Entrust, our education support services joint venture company with Capita, and constructed by Seddon.  Although the construction ran pretty much to plan, the whole project took a long time to come to fruition, with a wide variety of opinions on where the school should be, and what form it should take.  We are delighted that the location is close to one of the larger developments to the west of Burton, and that the John Taylor Multi Academy Trust has taken the leadership of the school, with Sue Plant as the Head Teacher.  Given their strong reputation for running other schools in Staffordshire, we are sure that this sets the school on the right track for success.

Having got back into the stride of secondary school construction, our Cabinet will be shortly considering a paper which proposes a number of new school construction projects to support Staffordshire’s growing population.

Getting the most out of My Performance Conversations

With the arrival of autumn, it’s time to think about our My Performance Conversation (MPC), and the mid-year appraisal.  You might recall my blog a couple of weeks ago about having conversations between leaders and led when things are going well and not so well.  This is just an extension of this, with an opportunity to have a conversation about how it is going.  I would ask you not to get hung up on process, but just to sit down and have an honest and open discussion.

I would offer the following 5 questions as a guide:

How are you?
What’s gone well?
What hasn’t gone so well?
What do you want to do next?
How are we going to get you there?

For many colleagues, the answer to the fourth question will be no change; they don’t want to be promoted, and just want to keep on doing their job well.  I’m very content with that, and I would ask you therefore to make the fifth question: What can we do to make you more effective in that role?  With the Workforce Strategy that we are working up, and the opportunities of apprenticeships in the workplace, there are many ways to develop ourselves and learn.

I take a close interest in who is doing their MPCs and what level they are achieving, because I believe that giving feedback and taking an interest in your people is, in my view, a basic leadership function.  I would suggest that two conversations a year is too few – personally I like to hear feedback as and when it is available – but the rigour of having MPC reminds us in a busy world that we need to do think about our people.

Making healthy progress

The Health and Care Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) has really come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. I spent time working with Health and Care colleagues last week, and it struck me that we have become a single cohesive system for the first time in my experience in Staffordshire.

That’s not to say that everything is fixed and there’s nothing to do – far from it. But we have got a shared narrative and we – NHS commissioners and providers, healthcare professionals and local authorities – have a clear idea of what lies ahead of us. Given Staffordshire’s unenviable reputation in Health circles after Mid-Staffs a decade ago, that is progress indeed.

On substantive measures, Delayed Transfers of Care (DTOCs) are coming down, although not as quickly or consistently as we would like, and Royal Stoke Hospital recently achieved the 4 hour target for A&E for the first time in a long period. We are also making progress with joint commissioning with the CCGs.

Looking forward, we now have a plan to make integrated primary, community and social care a reality in 23 localities across Stoke and Staffordshire. Buildings in and of themselves will not make the outcomes happen, but with the right leadership and efforts, they will make integrated care and digital health a reality with the accompanying benefits to workforce and patients.

Workforce strategy and the importance of good communications

SLT had an excellent briefing yesterday on the progress towards the Workforce Strategy, led by our interim head of HR Sarah Getley. Many of you will have been involved in the workshops and interviews to seek your views on what we need to do, and I’m very grateful for your input. I’ll try to give you some feedback in this blog entry and more widely in the coming weeks.

In essence, we are a pretty happy ship, to borrow a phrase, but there’s more that we could do to go from “good to great”. Much of that comes down to some measures which are easy to describe, but much harder to implement.

The most striking aspect was the alignment between the views on communications between managers and their teams. Being absolutely honest, all of us in leadership positions could do better. It was surprising how many of our colleagues, particularly in the younger cohort, are frustrated by our not recognising good performance and perceive an apparent unwillingness to manage poor performance. By that, I don’t mean awards ceremonies or resorting to formal processes, but rather congratulating and thanking colleagues in public when things go well, and having honest conversations in private when things aren’t going as they should.  The same is true of our uptake on the My Performance Conversation (MPC), which despite our best efforts, struggles to get much above 50% uptake. As we implement the Workforce Strategy, we’ll be looking for simplified systems that encourage meaningful communications – after all, the other finding is that you prefer to hear news from your line manager more than by any other means.  Let’s make that happen.

It didn’t come as a surprise that you feel that we spend too much time in meetings, and I have written before in this blog about that very issue. Apparently a snapshot of SLT/WLT/OMT diaries suggest that we spend up to 85% of our working day in meetings.  Let’s have another go at this, but my old measure remains true – if you’re checking your emails while in a meeting, you shouldn’t be there, as clearly there’s something more useful that you could be doing.

Lastly for this blog entry, Smart Working is hugely popular, but there’s clearly more to be done, and it’s more in building trust between leaders and led than in technology or infrastructure. I’ll be giving this more thought in the coming weeks and months, as I will the wider aspects of implementing the Workforce Strategy.

Lots going on in August

With many of our colleagues enjoying some well-earned rest and recuperation, one might expect that life back in SCC would be quieter.  But there is still a lot going on, and I thought that it might be useful to signal some of the more significant activities that affect us all in this blog entry.

We are working closely with a number of external partners on the digital agenda, and I would ask that you take a bit of time to work out where you fit in to these activities, and engage with them as appropriate.  Firstly, we are well into the implementation of Office 365, the latest version of Microsoft Office.  Risual, a Stafford-based software development company are working closely and very well with us across the organisation, to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from this new package.  There are new tools and techniques that we will be using to take us to the next stage in our Smart Working journey.  Have a look at the new package, have a chat with the Change Champion in your area, and think about how you could use this.  For example, is there an another way of holding meetings, rather than face to face, using Teams and Skype?  If you’ve got a good idea, make sure that we hear about it – if you’re not sure to whom to send it, send it to me.

Secondly, we have digital specialists Rainmaker assisting us with identifying and landing digital projects, particularly in the adult social care area.  We have carefully selected them for their record of practical achievement in other local authorities, government departments and private sector businesses, but we must engage with them closely and keep us all focused on delivery.  There is always a temptation for this type of work to default towards working in the strategic sphere, as it is more enjoyable and has more freedom – painting on clouds as a General for whom I once worked put it rather dismissively – but the hard part is making things work in the real world.  We’ve got a good strategy which we’ve worked hard to produce over the past year; now we need to make the jump to the tactics and the delivery.

Thirdly among a large number of other projects, I would highlight the progress towards the Workforce Strategy.  I have been hearing very positive reports from people who have been taking part in the sessions with Sue Evans and our own team from HR.  We will have a first draft coming together in next few weeks, with a view to taking it to Cabinet in October for formal approval.  This is quite rapid progress, and I’m really pleased with it.  Many thanks to all of you who have given your time to ensure that we hear your views, as the important thing with this project is that we collectively feel a sense of ownership.  It is, after all, the basis on which we and our successors will operate as colleagues to support the residents of Staffordshire.

Lastly, if you are planning a holiday in the coming weeks, I hope that you, your family and friends have a relaxing break.

Dignity in Care Awards

I didn’t manage to get to this year’s Dignity in Care Awards which took place in Newcastle College last week, but I wanted to mention it, because it is such an important event.  I very much regret missing it, because it is one of the most uplifting experiences.  The idea is simple – to recognise the many thousands of professional and volunteer carers across Staffordshire – and it works brilliantly.

Without wishing to be negative, the mainstream media tend to concentrate on care when things go wrong, either in a system as a result of poor organisation, or individually when somebody commits a crime, usually against the person for whom they are caring.  That is inevitable, and it is right that such events are highlighted, but we must not allow them to drown out the many thousands of people in Staffordshire alone who give of their time so generously.  The very clever thing, in my opinion, with the Dignity in Care Awards, is that they have categories for those who are professional, paid carers and their companies, as well as the volunteers.  With an ageing population, and the expectation that people deserve an enjoyable and comfortable life, we have to make caring a more attractive profession.  I will not attempt to cover all of the awards, but if you want to know more about them, you can find out here.

Thank you to everybody involved both in the awards, and more broadly in caring for others.