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Solace blog

12th May 2016

An investment in a firm future

This article was originally published by the MJ in the printed edition on 21 April 2016.

VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and a catchall for “Hey, it’s crazy out there!” is an increasingly recognised acronym being used to describe the current environment in the public sector. So how do those in or aspiring to leadership roles respond to such challenges? How do you prepare to work in a “VUCA” world?

On many of our development programmes, we have stopped using phrases such as “ permaausterity”, “economic downturn” or “exceptional times” – this is the new normal.

However, what we do know is that developing talent and leaders for the future has taken a different emphasis and has become even more urgent if we are to have that pipeline of resilient and effective public sector leadership for the future. In key professions, we are already feeling the pinch of under-investment in the past, which in turn is having a detrimental impact on the supply of future leaders. We need managers and leaders characterised by their ability to work beyond their professional and technical expertise much sooner in their careers.

A traditional view taken by some is that their reputation and calibre will be measured by others on their track record and achievements in their chosen technical field. The requirement to promote or sell themselves not overly apparent to them as surely their CV should speak for itself? However, how often have we heard it said that first impressions occur in the first ninety seconds of meeting someone?

Those who are successfully managing their career and development path are no longer classing themselves as recipients of learning; moreover identifying and seizing opportunities to self manage their development. It is therefore no surprise that the ability to work beyond their immediate brief on a more corporate stage, build effective relationships and networks coupled with good influencing skills can often set apart those who can navigate that environment from those who remain reliant on the more traditional route of structured learning provision.

As an example of this approach, we at Solace offer a Springboard Programme for future leaders, which aims to create the conditions that enable those who have successfully secured a place on the programme to explore and expand those networks and relationships which should benefit them in the long term – but only if they are nurtured and valued and not seen as purely as a transactional tool.

Understanding self and managing self and those relationships with others require them to learn and practice behaviours that are more holistic, that will result in a positive impact on others and assist in unlearning some of those less helpful habits. This being increasingly important as they move into those senior roles where breadth of responsibility broadens as the number of senior leadership roles decreases in any given organisational structure.

This investment in people is critical to the future success of the sector. Let’s be clear – it is an investment, of both time and money. With the phenomenal level of demand, we are all under in just getting the day job done, issues such as staff development and succession planning have a nasty habit of falling down the list of priorities. We would submit that this is no longer acceptable – investing in our people is the soundest investment we can make.

The return on this investment is clear. For any local authority senior leadership recruitment – be it for a Social Worker, an Accountant, a Lawyer, a Town Planner, the wider skills and behavioural requirements are now invariably the same.

Being professionally credible is critical, but so is the ability to think commercially, see the bigger picture, to find the win-win, to lead others through ambiguity, to proactively develop and maintain effective and trusted relationships, to create the space to innovate and to create an environment of learning – all tools that programmes such as Total

Leadership can help develop in preparing the leaders of today and tomorrow. Ask yourself – are your organisation’s people being given the experience and opportunities to develop these skills? These are the things that the sector will be looking for in their future leaders.

By Trudy Birtwell, Head of Leadership and Organisational Development, Solace Group and Steve Guest, Head of Executive Recruitment and Assessment, Solace in Business