Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

LGA Annual Conference, and thoughts on leadership

Monday, July 8th, 2019

I spent much of last week at the Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Conference in Bournemouth, which was a fascinating experience.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast meeting with Matt Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Care, as well as sitting in the audience to listen to such luminaries as Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England.  It’s a concentrated string of events, in which one usually finds that there is at least 2 things happening at once that one would like to attend.  The overall tone was surprisingly upbeat; local government is an island of relative stability in a turbulent political sea at the moment, and the attendees reflected that feeling.  Ministers were, given the impending change of Prime Minister, naturally guarded in making promises and commitments – they might not be in those jobs in less than a month –  but there was a general impression that local government is doing a good job. 

I also managed to speak to Odger Berndtson’s Emerging Leaders Programme during the week.  This is the major recruitment agency (head-hunters in the vernacular) and they run a scheme for particularly promising candidates whom they have identified for jobs across the private and public sectors.  As a result, I was asked to speak to a group of about 30 on leadership.  I have avoided doing many of these so far; because leadership is taught well in the military, and is something that is hugely important to them, many retired senior officers go into this field, without necessarily understanding the differences across sectors and organisations.  I chose to speak on building trust and confidence, but treating them as relationships rather than one-sided qualities.  There is a recurring theme about trust in leadership circles and forums such as LinkedIn, which is understandable, but the discussion feels, at times, one-sided.  My own view, formed mostly since my arrival in Staffordshire, is that trust, like so many human qualities, is a relationship; if you want to be trusted, you have to trust people.  The same goes for confidence; I want SCC to be a confident, outward-looking organisation, but to do so, I, along with all leaders, have to demonstrate confidence in our colleagues and their abilities.  It all comes back to the assumption that has served me well throughout my working life – we all got up this morning wanting to do a good job.  s

Workforce strategy and the importance of good communications

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

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.

Leading and managing change

Monday, June 25th, 2018

I went to a number of events last week which centred on leading and managing change, and they have set me thinking. We had an excellent event for our elected Members on Tuesday, during which we discussed the digital and People Helping People programmes. I then spent a fascinating morning presenting at an event for Staffordshire digital businesses with Alun Rogers, Co-founder of Risual, one of our fastest growing digital businesses. Lastly, but by no means least, I sat in on the event on Friday for our Change Champions in County Buildings.

These outwardly very different events all had a common thread, namely how to lead and manage change in a large and diverse organisation such as our own.  We all have a different appetite and readiness for change, and the first trick, if there is one, is to bring those less happy with change along without slowing down the pace.  Recognising that those who fear and resist change are usually doing so out of a wish to protect themselves and the organisation is a good start for leaders.  I have found that it helps enormously in bringing them along on the journey.

Most senior leaders have risen through organisations in the modern Western Model because they are content with uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; those who prefer to stay in the operator level often prefer clarity and certainty.  In every large organisation, there is a level at which the leader must take the strategic uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and translate it into tactical clarity and certainty. I sense that level sits at the Wider Leadership Team in Staffordshire County Council, and that is why I’m investing so heavily in bringing them into the planning process for our strategy and MTFS.  The sessions that we have had have surpassed my expectations and hopes.

As we work towards what is an exciting, but frankly uncertain, future, we need to be agile and confident to keep up with the pace of change.  We will achieve that much more effectively by communicating, listening and understanding.

The relationship between the private and public sectors

Monday, May 21st, 2018

I was invited to speak this week at a dinner of the New Local Government Network, one of the leading think tanks in our sector.  The subject was the relationship between private and public sectors.  The narrative in the country at the moment on this subject is quite polarised and sceptical, bordering on cynical.  In essence, we have “public good, private bad” on one side and “public bad, private good” on the other. None of these versions represents the reality, and they do us no good.  We have to change the national narrative.

The fact is that nobody would design a county council like it is if we were starting from scratch.  In a recent exercise to understand the breadth of actions we as a county council undertake, Helen Riley found 153 separate activities and services.  No commercial business would contemplate that spread of activity, but there is no other organisation capable of taking them all on.  The political discourse in the country at the moment in local government is around geographical reorganisation rather than functional responsibilities, so it doesn’t look like there is any appetite to change what we do.  What we can do is identify organisations who have a more focussed skillset, and can take on discrete activities.  The private sector will be better in some areas, and the public sector in others. We have some very effective partnerships with both public and private sector organisations, and we adjust them regularly as the situation and demand dictates.  As we move into the next phase of transformation around digital and People Helping People, we will need the very best from both sectors if we are to meet the needs of our residents in the future, and continue to change the local narrative.

On a different, but in reality related area, thanks also to all who took part in Learning at Week work, both teaching and learning.  I was delighted to meet a highly enthusiastic group of colleagues on the stairs of County Buildings on the way to one of the SUMO sessions. My small part was in hosting a webinar with the assistance of Verity Plumb and Jesica Sotelo, which was fun, and a learning experience.  Looking into the webcam without any feedback from the audience reminded me of doing a live TV interview to camera from Northern Afghanistan on the eve of the country’s first presidential election.  It’s quite disconcerting, but it seems to have worked.  If those of you who have seen it think that it has merit as a means of communicating our policy as we move further into Smart Working, let me know, and we’ll do them again.

NHS IT Ransomware; The Trusted Executive

Monday, May 15th, 2017

The ransomware attack on NHS IT systems dominated media coverage over the weekend and really brought home the importance of cyber security for an organisation like ours. Technology has transformed the way we provide support to Staffordshire people in recent years. Protecting that technology and the systems we use is everyone’s responsibility at the county council and there are simple things we must all do when using county council IT. Look at for more information in an email to all staff today.

You might remember my mentioning John Blakey of the Aston Business School and his work entitled “The Trusted Executive”.  He has undertaken a survey with us and I recently had a briefing on the results.  John’s thesis is that trust in our society is reducing at an alarming rate – he believes, and I tend to agree, that the pendulum has swung away from our being a deferential society, and that, along with the good things that come with that, something has been lost.  John comes from a private sector background, and we are the first public sector organisation he has surveyed.  It does mean that although the results are illuminating, we don’t really have anybody else to compare ourselves with just yet.

John’s model of leadership works on three pillars – ability, integrity and benevolence.  For anybody who has read Stephen Covey’s books, such as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Principle Centred Leadership”, he’s coming from a similar direction, striking a balance between traditional leadership qualities such as delivering, coaching and consistency, softer skills in the integrity area such as honesty, openness and humility, and kindness, moral courage and evangelising in the benevolence area.  John surveyed over 300 county council staff, and found that both the senior and wider leadership teams, and me, were strong on ability but weaker on benevolence.

The good news is that you think that leaders are honest and we deliver. On the weaker side, we rated less well on showing our vulnerability, which is not a great surprise, as it is not a quality that one would traditionally associate with leaders – it’s certainly not one that I would have named previously.  I would appreciate some feedback on whether this is something that readers in the organisation would like to see.  Equally, I’d value any thoughts from those that took part, or others, on what you would like us generally, and me in particular, to do more of, less of, or differently.  I found John’s feedback very useful and will be using it as one of the guides as I enter my third year in post.

Yours,

John Henderson

Chief Executive